Dealing with Severe Behaviors

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?”

“Yes.”

“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. 

Sandplay Therapy

Sandplay Therapy

My daughter is doing sandplay therapy.  Our counselor discussed the concepts and I consented to this form of therapy.  The two of them are in a room with a sand box table. They sit opposite each other. Along a wall are a few long shelves crowded with figurines, dollhouse furniture, beads, stones, and animals — all sorts of props. The therapist gives a simple instruction– create something, or set up a situation, or go ahead. 

Near the end of the session time, I am invited in. My daughter points to what she has placed in the sand and tells me a comment or two about what is happening. “The lion is sitting near the tree, getting shade. This stone here is for the lizard to lounge on.” That sort of talk. After she leaves the room, our therapist offers a few interpretive statements. “It’s very early, it’s only our third session. But again today, there are mostly animals, only 1 or two people, well one is a fairy, and there are situations that involve safety.”

Am I up for this?

We have returned to therapy after two years. Last Spring, we started her on psychotropic medications prescribed by the clinic’s child psychiatrist. I’ve attempted to follow through on our therapist’s recommendations at home.  But she continues to stump us.  Even our therapist said to the psychiatrist during the last medication appointment: There is something unusual about her, I can’t pin point it.

So for various reasons, I agreed that using sand therapy to tap into her unconscious struggles would be of benefit. I am very curious about this process. I am mixed about receiving valuable information, and being confronted with my difficulties. I even entertain and prepare myself for possible themes:

Mean, restrictive mother

Appeasing, inconsistent father

Rejecting, older brothers

Harsh homelife with too many rules

I asked Beth, “So….I’m just wondering how this works. Do you plan for eight sessions, or do you go week to week and decide when you have themes?”

Beth explained she follows the child’s work and when there appear to be consistent themes, they’re done with the sand therapy.

Somewhere deep in my mind, I hope that we will get some answers. Some treasure that has been hiding, buried for years. Latent explanations for the lying, sneaking and stealing behaviors still plaguing our weekly lives. I understand she engages in these primitive antics when anxious. Yes, I understand. But what is driving the anxiety? What is it?

What is the Right Dosage of Ritalin

June 20, 2016

We are in the process of determining the right dosage of Ritalin for my kid. We went in for another medication review appointment with a child psychiatrist.  I noted the improvements — there are two. She has been better about taking re-direction and there has been a noticeable decrease in emotional meltdowns at home. However, the non stop chattering, interrupting, and pestering remains the same. Likewise, her teacher noted she still has strong reactions to little things in the classroom to the extent of requiring a school staff person to be called in to help calm her down.  In her defense, the end of the school year can be difficult for a lot of children. It’s emotional.  The psychiatrist discussed things further with me — asking questions, asking for descriptive situations. The doctor recommended a slight increase in the dosage, a slight titration. We would meet for another medication review in a month.Right dosage of Ritalin

The bio-chemistry relationship involved with psychotropic drugs continues to fascinate me.  Could we have a little more of this so that we get a little less of that? A little more chemical input to decrease the behavioral output. I was hoping that once my daughter could pull in the reins on her running thoughts, I would be able to do therapeutic exercises to help her stop, pause, and make a good choice.  Maybe medication is similar to finding a fertilizer that works best on the yard — bringing out the desirable green grass, encouraging new growth, and suppressing the unsightly weeds.

I tried not to examine each blade of her existence. Yet, I wanted to carefully keep note of behaviors improving, antics remaining the same, or difficult ones increasing in frequency. We had a little of each. What a relief to have fewer emotional meltdowns over for example, “Please go play outside, it’s nice and sunny and your brother wants to practice his drums in the playroom.” Still the same ones of non-stop chattering and nonsensical arguing. And then the last one. More stealing and sneaking behaviors– taking notecards from my desk, emptying out brother’s emergency inhaler (placed on his bedside table), and climbing onto the counters to reach an item on a high shelf. I even tried out this one because I doubted her abilities. I climbed up on the countertop. I remained on my knees to account for her 42 inch height and reached my arm up high. Yup, it was doable. It was totally possible to reach the now consumed 8 pack hamburger bun package. Silly me for placing it there, for thinking that our family of five could have Sloppy Joes later this week. Instead we had pasta with meat sauce, a tangy BBQ flavored meat sauce.

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Isolation as a Special Needs Parent

Isolation

We went camping with 12 families over the long holiday weekend. We were invited to join this large group for a three night trip. We had not gone camping for a while — my youngest not able to handle the usual activities of hiking, quietly sleeping with others in a tent and appreciating the outdoors. So initially, I was ready to spend just one night with her, ready to pack up our belongings and drive back home if necessary. Instead we decided our family would join the others early Saturday and return home late Sunday night. We all wanted this to work out.  I know the names of all the parents and kids. I can identify the makes of the SUVs and vans they all drive. I can closely guess the grades the kids are in and the professions of the parents. Yet, I really don’t know most of these families that well. What I did find out during that weekend was that in our group, about ten households had an issue. I came to this awareness from listening to a parent of each family unit describe something troubling going on with their child — behaviors, medical concerns, mood disorder and social issues, sexuality, and learning problems. We all had children with special concerns. We all needed to seek professional help for our kids. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I saw my daughter in a different light– a more gentle glow. And my hubby and I relaxed a little. We were not going to stand out, we were not so different from the others. All those times we suffered behind our closed doors, disturbances were occurring in the privacy of other homes.

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Stealing and Lying Behaviors

Stealing and Lying Behaviors

Reflection – Tuesday 

Parenting — the good, the bad, and the ugly behaviors.  I am sitting here with a pilsner and listening to The Essential Johnny Cash cd. I think back on what happened earlier today.

I was waiting my turn.  I stood behind a few other parents — we have the difficult ones, the children who have rough days. Other parents wait across the blacktop or are in deep conversations, quickly glancing up and nodding to Mrs. M that they are present for dismissal.  I moved up the line.  Mrs. M informed me of how my child hurt another classmate’s hand. She goes on to briefly describe other parts of the day.  I asked her where on the spectrum in her class of twenty does my child’s behaviors fall; how typical are her behaviors? Mrs. M quickly responded: far from typical. Mrs. M bent down and said gently to her, “I really hope that you have a better day tomorrow.”

stealing and lying behaviors

Despite all the difficulties, we assure her she is well loved.

Why do I feel defeated, why do I personalize my children’s difficulties?  A few times a week I am hearing from her kindergarten teacher an entire day of disruptive and/or aggressive behaviors. The time has come.  When we returned home, I took a deep breath and composed an email:  Can we return to see you again? She is not doing well.  I need help too.  

I have been reluctant to write to Beth, to ask if we can return to therapy. I thought I could figure this out, try another reward system, give it time and let her mature on her own. I fluctuate between acceptance of having a special needs child and wanting to defend her actions, to rationalize her personality traits. My youngest has a different energy than her older brothers. She loves to be silly, she wants people to laugh at her, she’ll do anything to get attention. She does not care for rules — she decides when she wants to follow them.  She is chatty, she is loud. Well actually so are the boys — at times. They know when and where to be comical, when and where to rebel, and how to make friends. Does everything challenging need to be directly related to her adoption from foster care?! Is she going to have special needs for the next 12 grades?

I was perusing the hundreds of informational websites on adoption. I came across an interesting post from creatingafamily.org. There was a list of questions that potential adopting parents should consider. One was: if she were to not get any better than the way she is now, could you handle her behaviors?

I know we have made tremendous progress in our home over the past three years. Yet, this past weekend was a doozy.  She snuck food, she took items from family members,  and she lied. She fed the dog an entire box of frozen appetizers from Trader Joe’s. That is what she answered when I found the empty box. Or did she lie and consume all 15 pastry pups herself? We waited nervously for 12 hours monitoring our dog’s digestion. She took items from her brother’s room. I confronted her, inquiring about the items. With a quizzical face she answered, “I don’t remember doing that…”  I observed to her that the dog was circling her, did she have food with her? She answered, “Not in my hands.” I searched the entire playroom, then found sesame seeds in a lego container. Not my jumbo bagels, I had three left! I had just re-arranged our kitchen by placing all the yummies on higher shelves in the pantry cupboard. I didn’t know how else to protect the contents of the larder.  My husband said to her:  do we really need to put cabinet locks everywhere? even here (pointing to the base cabinet), where the condiments are? would you eat this?  She informed him she would not be interested in the sealed glass jar of thai curry sauce as the glass jar would make a noise when she opened it.

* OMG *

The food obsession, stealing items from others, and lying. I don’t understand how and when she had become wily; she’s become a master of deceit. Will I be able to handle these behaviors lasting a lifetime? Maybe being able to tolerate is a better way to phrase that question. Maybe it’s a question I don’t want to give much thought.  I think about her negative behaviors.  All of them involve an outburst of some kind — emotional or physical, and a lack of judgement.  She has no impulse control.  She doesn’t have that skill, that ability to pause; she just reacts. Is this anxiety? a heightened sense of arousal due to her early trauma? is this a form of ADD/ADHD?

I know sage advice is to not take things personally. For me, it’s difficult to heed that saying when parenting is involved.  I’ve invested time and emotions into raising my kids. I’ve entwined myself with their difficulties.  And yet, something is off, something feels different.  Her hypersensitivity and impulsivity are looming large — lengthy words and heavy conditions. We don’t have a grip on either or both. It’s been three years and she is now 6 ½. I took a deep breath, I tell myself:

We are parents to a special needs child. She is floundering at her school and at home. It’s time to return for professional help.  We need strategies and we may need medication.

Beth, please email me soon.