Difficult and Demanding Behaviors

Difficult and Demanding Behaviors in Young Adopted Child

Reflection – Wednesday

I’m sitting here with a pilsner and I’m listening to Modest Mouse’s CD Good News for People Who Love Bad News, thinking about Sunday afternoon and my daughter’s interest in play.

2:40 PM “What Mommy? What’s going on? Why are you taking my hand? Where are we going? Why are you holding my hand? What are you doing?”  I lead my six year-old back to the playroom. A carpeted, well-lit, comfortable room with toys. I reply, “I’m showing you where to play. You don’t seem to understand to stay and play in here.”

“I do understand! I do know where it is! I do! I do! I do understand–”  This litany of arguments continues for another minute even after I leave. I listen.  Then the predictable singing. Calm, pleasing to the ear, sing song singing. She sounds content; I smile a little.

2:48 PM She is back in the living room, where I am working on paying bills and doing email correspondence. “I have a hole in my tights, it really bothers me. I need to show you. Mommy, lookit. Here, lookit. Mommy. Mommy, I am showing you something.”  I do not look up. I am not in the mood to lookit. I refuse to make eye contact. I decide to record the events that are transpiring.

2:52 PM “Hmmmmmrumpf. Ok, I’ll just go back.” She returns on her own to the playroom. Soon after her singing resumes. Sheeesh, I think to myself. But, then she returns.

3:04 PM This time she starts singing and rolling around on the floor. I wait, I count to sixty. I take a deep breath. Ok, now.

3:08 PM I take her hand and gently pull her up to a sitting position. She rises. “What are you doing? Mommy? What are you doing, where are we going? Why are you holding my hand?”

I lead her back to the playroom. A minute later I hear her building with Lego bricks– a distinct sound to us parents.

3:15 PM Footsteps and other familiar sounds emit from the kitchen. “I’m thirsty. I just decided to get some water. That’s all. I got myself some water. (Pause.) Ok?”  Ok! I yell over my shoulder.

3:24 PM Guess who’s back in the living room?  She rolls around on the couch. She looks out the window, she wonders out loud about the weather forecast. She then comments that it’s snacktime. Now, I get it. She has been watching the digital clock. The pestering begins. I observe to her that she had a late lunch. I tell her I’ll get her something small in a moment. Just go play a little more, I’ll come get you.

“I’m hungry! I am starving! I won’t be able to breathe!” (Actual, verbatim words.) “Why a little snack?! Why! Why?!”

My friend told me about her five year old and three year old kids getting out of their room after bedtime. So frustrating, right? Yes, I agree. I totally know that situation. I went through it with my two older kids. We had the most elaborate, detailed bedtime routine ever. Yet, over time and with a few talks with the boys in between, we managed to get through it and outgrow that. There came a time when I realized Hey! they are actually staying in bed and falling asleep within a reasonable time. I remember we started having an evening again, my spouse and me. We got into a routine of talking a little, then sitting on the couch together watching a tv show each night. Good times.

Parenting a child with special needs involves so many OTHER situations. Not just a difficult bedtime routine or meltdown before piano lessons each week. Every afternoon and most hours of our weekends, my daughter experiences distress related to the concept of playing with toys. My hubby and I, we joke to each other about how mean we are, how dare us! we actually direct her to the playroom to play with toys. What will the other families in our social circle think of us. My parenting of her involves unusual strategies. When I am neutral and matter of fact with her,  when the situations are black and white, she does better. Don’t even think about all those shades of gray. I cannot be the funny, silly, spontaneous mom that I am to the other kids– that is, my biological kids that I have had since birth. It’s different with her. I hope and I really believe that over time, this will change. She has a different energy, a different temperament, and different social/interactive needs than the boys. Are these traits genetic? Are these features nurtured from the environment? Would I be feeling this way if I had adopted her at birth? or carried her through a pregnancy? I know from reading material that she is delayed with social and play skills. And I really don’t know where on the spectrum we are and where she is at this time. I do think her early trauma and the experiences in her foster home have impacted on her. I do think that she will change over time and I won’t have to be so consistent and structured. I just wonder often, when? when will she enjoy using her imagination with toys. I looked up my use of the word play, to double check grammar. Here is what I read: activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, especially by children. When will we have an afternoon of family members — all members– just enjoying being around the house. Acquaintances say: Oh, yes, I know what you mean. My son is difficult too. Just the other day he lost his 7th jacket. Really? The other day you say?

difficult and demanding behaviors young adopted child

A Christmas card she made for us


Full blown temper tantrum. Over what’s that? did I miss something catastrophic? I said in a moment, you’ll have a small snack. And that is a scenario that will set her off — it’s not a snack delivered at the usual time and a smaller amount is not the usual amount. And of course, food was involved. Every day I have to find that delicate balance of humor, having clear expectations and being consistent with them, and compassion. It’s a tricky position. 



Explaining Adoption to a Young Child

Explaining Adoption – Her Adoption Story

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 4

I received advice on explaining adoption and telling our child her adoption story. One suggestion was to let her tell her story when she is older and ready. Another was to say to others, “It’s personal.”  Another was to provide just simple facts when asked what happened to her… ? Does she have attachment issues?  What about her real parents, what happened? All of the professionals involved in the foster care to adoption program stressed the need to accept the past rather than deny it. I wonder how to preserve the past and protect her from damaging details. Whether she was planned or unplanned, her birth parents messed up repeatedly and she suffered.

It’s such a different inquiry from any line of questioning I had related to my biological kids. With them, I voluntarily commented on my labor experience or a teething issue in a moms playgroup. Others would contribute a personal anecdote. We’d laugh or gasp in response. Whereas, with any curiosity related to my adopted daughter, the questions are:  “Did you meet the birth mom? Do you still have contact with her? Was there abuse?” It’s so different.

I have struggled with the concept of her story. It is entirely up to me to inform her on her past. It is up to me to go over the events and turn them into memories. Do I want her to know what happened to her when she was a baby? What about the foster family and their child caring practices? How about the first three years she has been in our care. Do I recount the turmoil and exhaustion we have experienced? The weekly sessions in therapy?

One counselor we worked with kept reviewing all the parental figures. Mommy number one grew you in her tummy. Mommy number two was your foster mommy.  And now you are with your forever mommy, Mommy number three. Seriously? In my view, it goes more like this. First lady went through a pregnancy and delivery. She made a number of poor decisions which got the State involved; she neglected her baby. The second caregiver chose to foster only and to pass on adoption. She let her teenagers help out often with childcare. So what numbers are the teens? Mommies three, four, five and six?

I feel like my role as forever mommy trumps the others. I am the Mother of moms. I deserve more credit than they do for what I am doing here. I have worked really hard to parent her. I’m not denying their roles in her life, I needed the others to get my child adopted. I just don’t understand the necessity to call them mommies. They were people in her life. The counselor working with her to prepare for adoption called the birth mother “sick”. Another concept that is troubling to me.

explaining adoption to young child

A mother bear wishes for a cub, who loves hearing his adoption story.

I have told my daughter that her first mommy had a lot of problems. The caseworker took her away from her first mommy and daddy because they did not know how to take care of a baby. The foster family took care of her while the judge made a decision– it was a very important decision. The judge took a very long time. The foster mother and the foster family gave her a place to live, food to eat, and a bed. They hoped that the judge would make a good plan for her. The judge decided that S should be with us because we know how to take care of children. We do not have any problems and we will be able to take care of her forever. The judge knew that we wished for a little girl and we wanted a third child.

That is a brief version of the story I tell her whenever she asks, which is often. I feel her need to hear that she was wished for.  I feel the yearning for being wanted. I just don’t know how to reconcile her early beginning from my tale.

Part 5 – How Old are You?!

Anxiety and Trauma

Anxiety and Trauma in a Young Child — Let Me Explain

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 3

Our new therapist Beth reviewed anxiety and trauma related behaviors. She described what anxiety looks like in a young child, like ours. She noted we may hear non-stop questioning of the same issue. I experienced this first hand. Every day, a flurry of questions related to dinner. When will a meal be served, what will be served, will she receive this meal, who else?  I remember how S asked about the dinner meal and I would answer. Not a big deal for me, everyone is curious about dinner. She then started asking earlier and earlier in the day, and more often throughout the day. After a week, she sat there with her breakfast and while chomping, she asked, “So what are we having for dinner tonight? …ok and what about tomorrow? What are we havin’ for dinner?”  Tearful distress when I laughed in response.  Beth went over the non stop chatter to fill the void. Yup, we knew that expression. Lived with it. S opened her mouth from the moment she opened her eyes, and closed it when she fell into a deep sleep.  Beth described S as an empty well, explaining that she had not experienced love and nurturing before. As a result she has a lot of anxiety around feeling loved. Oh yes. That must be why it is nearly impossible for her to be alone in a room and to be denied attention.

anxiety and trauma

All households have differences

Beth reported underlying this constant stream of neediness were key questions: will I stay here, will I be accepted, will they take care of my needs. Beth told us three birthdays, three Thanksgivings, three Christmases, and three school years for the older kids. Then, she will relax. What’s that? Beth noted S experienced three of each event in the foster home and was suddenly removed from that home. She was then transferred to our home. So yes, three of each. Then she can relax.

Beth talked to us often about how our young child knows only a handful of feelings, most likely happy, sad, angry, and curious. We needed to explain and describe other feelings. She was probably experiencing different versions of anxiety and not understanding that particular emotion. Saying things like, “I wonder if you are feeling _____ about (the situation)” would help her understand feeling anxious, bored, frustrated, nervous, worried, eager, and irritated. Beth discussed from time to time the need to go over her story. It was not necessary to repeatedly go over details like one is cramming for an exam, but rather to talk about her past like you do with any kid and a special memory. Beth suggested reminding our daughter of just the significant events. When she is older, if and when she wants to, she can tell others her story.

Part 4 – Her Story

Therapy for Us

Therapy for Us – Off We Go!

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 2

When our child first came to us, she was in therapy with a counselor. She was assigned to our child when the judge changed the permanency plan to adoption. The counselor’s focus of therapy was to “prepare” for the adoption. Now, I don’t know what exactly was covered in those sessions from January to June. I know that the biological mother made an appearance and said goodbye. After our daughter moved in with us, we continued with weekly sessions. The counselor inquired how things were going? were there any new problems? did she have any accidents? was she eating? sleeping? were we following her advice on talking about first mommy, second mommy, and me as the third mommy?

The counselor did a certain weekly exercise with my daughter. She got out a floor mat that had 12-15 faces with different facial expressions. She piled rocks on the side. She said to my child: put rocks on the faces you have been feeling this week. Sometimes S piled them all on the happy face. Other times each face received a stone. Another time, a different arrangement. I had to reach down deep to hold back my smirks. During one session that my husband and I both attended, the counselor was persistent on addressing the timeline of parents for our daughter. She went over Mommy number one and Mommy number two. She asked several questions and reviewed the actual answers with our child: your first parents were so-n-so, do you remember? and your next parents were the foster parents and their names are such and such. She kept drilling this information to which our child started grunting in response. She regressed before our very eyes, letting out non-verbal gutteral sounds. It was painful to watch. My mouth went dry. I looked sideways at my spouse– his mouth and eyes open, frozen like. I endured these sessions for a few months, then I insisted to our caseworker that WE needed help.

therapy for us

This should be read by all forever mommies

We were blessed to get approval to transfer to a counseling clinic in our part of town. There, the therapists are trained specialists in the areas of foster care and adoption. The first few sessions, our new therapist Beth observed S and myself interacting in the playroom office.  She then interviewed my husband and me. Another time, she interviewed just me. Finally, after weeks it was time. In that session, she informed me that she had read over the case records and previous mental health assessments. Then she started talking of why my daughter behaved, reacted, and responded the way she did. I can only say that the best analogy is having a translator interpret a small provincial dialect. The fog lifted. I heard words that made sense. There was finally clarity.



Adoption Expectations

Adoption Expectations – Wishing for a Young Child

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 1

I wanted to relive the preschool years. I had no desire to have another biological child– to go through a pregnancy, delivery, and a hormonal roller coaster. Did that, did that twice. I did not miss the sleep deprivation, the teething, diaper changes and all those day to day moments of the first two years of life. I wanted to adopt a young child. I wanted a girl. I wanted to skip over the three years and get right into imaginary play, conversations, storytimes at the library, questions while we went on neighborhood walks, ballet lessons at the community center, frequent changes in clothing after jumping in puddles and making mudpies, a partner while I ran errands, a helper when baking.

We adopted our daughter when she was three years eight months. She was verbal, she was toilet trained, she slept through the night. She did not know how to play with toys, she could not tap into her imagination, she could not follow simple directions. She threw tantrums when denied anything, her requests relentless.

Wishes, desires, anticipated life situations. Be prepared to be flexible and give it all up. That should have been the inspiration for me to hang on the wall. Not the painted wooden ones with messages of “Hope” and “Dream.”

She refused to play with toys. She fell when running a short distance. She burst into tears when told to drink water. She screamed at me while I was driving: turn here! go faster! don’t just stop, keep going! She climbed onto the counter to reach a knife, waved it at me saying, “Here you go.”  She stuffed pieces of paper into her nightlight. She squeezed toothpaste all over her bedroom rug. She took her clothes and tied them into knots.  She chewed teeth marks into the edge of the dining room table. She constantly interrupted family members during dinner time. She ripped pages out of books. My daughter demonstrated inappropriate behaviors the week she moved into our home. I know we didn’t teach her those things. She was raised by other people, who used practices very different from my own.  She endured experiences that are almost inconceivable to me as a parent, yet for her, real. Will her early years forever impact on and haunt her?


I am still mourning the wishes I had. My daughter is now six and in grade school.  We did not become regulars at story time. We do not bake together. I’ve readjusted my hopes for her, and for us. I hope that in time, she will realize we have given her a better life. I hope in time she will develop strong passions and friendships. I hope in time I will experience her strengths more often. I hope in time we will have fun, shared activities. I hope in time I will enjoy her company.

Part 2 – Off to Therapy We Go!