Beyond Fed Up – Dealing with Severe Behaviors
Does your child lie or steal? Is your child defiant and/or aggressive beyond age appropriateness?
I have the book for you: Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control by Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post. Check out the website: www.beyondconsequences.com
Three years after we adopted our child from foster care, I was so fed up with the lying, stealing, and defiance. Beyond fed up. There were days when I could barely look at her, I was so fed up.
I am a reasonable person. I handle stress and frustration in decent, appropriate ways. And yet, three years of nearly daily misbehaving, I said out loud to my spouse: I wish a caseworker would pick her up.
I reached my breaking point two weeks ago. She had been stealing items from lockers at her school, en route to and from the restrooms. Her teacher implemented the buddy system at my request, for my child’s “special needs.” Still she continued to find opportunities to steal from others. Her teacher would gently pull her aside and question her. She would flat out lie.
I asked her to think about the other child. “What do you think that other kid is feeling, huh? You took his or her ________?” (Fill in blank: snack, hair barrette, pencil, book, homework assignment, sandwich, bead.)
“I dunno.” She shrugs.
I turned in private to my spouse, “She doesn’t care. There’s nothing. What a disrespectful brat.”
The lying and stealing occurred at home too. But the defiance; that was the behavior that broke me. Over anything and everything five times per week, then pure joy over the same anything and everything once or twice weekly. What the hell? It was too much.
I pleaded with my therapist. “Are there any medications to help with this?” My therapist answered, “Have I recommended this book yet?” She held up a copy.
I skipped ahead and read the chapters on lying, stealing and defiance. Our triad. Chills went up and down my spine. Did they know my daughter? I wanted to ask the authors: Were you a magical fly on the wall, watching us the past few years?
I read the testimonials of parents who had (yes, past tense) children exhibiting these awful, maladaptive behaviors daily/weekly for years. The parents admitted to hating life and having homicidal impulses. I could relate.
I felt comforted reading. There was hope.
I felt guilty and defensive. I had been trying my best here, my intentions were always good.
The authors explained where these behaviors come from, there were detailed explanations. I went back to the beginning of the book and started with Chapter one. The explanation that most resonated with me was: these kids are poor self-regulators. No one did it properly that first year, or those first few years. And they use these extreme behaviors to survive.
My daughter was gypped her first year as a baby, she was neglected by her birth parents. She lived in the same foster home for a few years and did not have her emotional needs properly attended to, resulting in almost four years of being in survival mode.
Lying, stealing and being defiant are her ways to cope with life.
She holds onto her lie, like fingers gripping the edge.
“I saw you do it.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I just saw you do it, right in front of me.”
“No, I didn’t.”
It was maddening to deal with this daily.
Her stealing behavior is likened to having a drug addiction the authors Forbes and Post reported in their book. It’s a quick fix to feeling agitated and stressed. One time, two times, multiple times a day a child will steal to alleviate the discomfort. Problem is, it’s a quick fix and does not last.
The defiance– old school theorists wrote about the child wanting control. Forbes and Post write about their new view on this behavior. Again, discussing how the child is not able to properly regulate and living in a state of fear.
I am about a week in to trying to parent differently. I have noticed moments of a calmer state. For her and for me.
I am better about addressing the cause, and not getting all wrapped up discussing the situation.
“Yes, sorry you’re having such a hard time. Whenever you’re having a hard time, you steal stuff.”
“Can we go out for ice cream?”
“Nope, not today. When you make better choices we can. Didn’t your teacher tell you about quiet area in the classroom, or how you can raise your hand for her help, or you can always go read a book on the rug?”
“Ok, so those are better choices. Stealing is not a good choice.”
It’s a relief to know that we are not raising a criminal. There’s hope. I don’t understand why after three years she is still in survival mode. But at least I have an explanation. I feel I can move beyond our despair.