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. 

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.

 

 

Forming Attachment

Forming an Attachment is Hard with Adopted Children

As a foster and/or adoptive parent, you will use this word endlessly. Attachment. I remember in college viewing black and white videos on Margaret Mahler. She was a psychiatrist who originated the two year process of separation-individuation between mothers and babies. This is significant to forming one’s sense of identity. There are two things that have stuck in my memory. One is that when you heard her voice in the voice over, in her East European accent, she repeatedly made a little whistle sound. I remember thinking that’s an unusual speech impediment. The other key recollection is how young the subjects were in this classic study. Babies.

“The attachment needs to come first and be strongly established,” our therapist Beth informed us. Until then, there is anxiety around the following:  will I be accepted, will I be loved always? will this last? is there a trust? She told us that working on the problematic behaviors now is ok, but most changes will occur once the attachment is strong.

forming attachment is difficult

attachment

Our adopted daughter is tight with my husband. I see the beginning of an attachment to him. I hear it in her requests to have him make her lunch, to take her to school, and in her sobbing when she watches out the window as he backs out of the driveway to run an errand.  I know it’s hard on him that she is this way, it’s actually not as gratifying as it should be. He feels badly and a little guilty that I don’t have IT yet. Our therapist explained it is more complicated with me, the female parent, the primary caregiver. Our daughter has formed relationships with not one, not two, but now a third mother figure in her short lifetime. She knows that I am the keeper of the household. Beth tells us that more is at stake in investing feelings with me. I’m a strong person. I’ve worked in mental health. On a logical level, I get it. But it does hurt. And sometimes I let out a sarcastic remark: You really want to wait for Daddy to get home to make your lunch…? Ok! Whatever!

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Traumatized Young Child- What does that look like?

Traumatized Young Child

I embraced my new position of soon-to-be adoptive parent. I was educated on her early trauma by professional mental health workers.  My kid was removed from her biological parents as an infant. She was placed with a few different relatives, all of whom could not be long-term resources. She was transferred early on in her first year of life to a foster home, where she lived for over three years. We welcomed her into our home when she was 3 years 8 months. I anticipated several months of adjusting to our home. Three years later the storm has still not calmed down. 

traumatized young child

Peeling off the layers

Understandably, she has emotional issues because of being removed from her biological parents.  She may not remember her first year and what that entailed. But I am sure that somewhere in her psyche is this primitive response to not getting her meals on time and not being soothed when in distress. She is still aching for that satisfaction. She is like a bottomless well with us. It does not matter if we just spent two hours interacting — playing, cuddling, singing, reading, eating– she will turn to me and ask frantically what are we going to do now? and often with tears, she will ask: will you play with me now?  While leaving the children’s museum, she whined when are we going to the zoo? we haven’t gone! I let her pick out a decoration for an upcoming holiday, her response was why can’t I have three? The give me, give me, gimme syndrome. If you ask her thirty minutes after a huge feast if she is hungry, she will nod emphatically and say yes. It is never enough, she does not feel satisfaction or a state of content.  Continue reading

Special Needs Adoption

The Concept of a Special Needs Adoption is Broad

We adopted from the state foster care system a few years ago.  She was just under four years of age. Several months later, our therapist informed us that she has special needs. The concept of special needs is broad.  And for most of us, we need professional help to really understand these kids. Children who have experienced disruptions to their home environment will likely have emotional and behavioral problems.  Some will present with temporary difficulties, others with long-standing. A number of children in foster care have significant psychiatric conditions.  I highly recommend finding a therapist who specializes in foster and adoptive families.

I have visited several blogs by parents who write about having kids with special needs.  My heart goes out to them.  I truly appreciate these amazing people who have taken on children with severe problems.  The bloggers identify the medical conditions and/or psychiatric disorders that they have, that they live with all day long.  Their days are long. The spectrum is vast and long.  I am not sure exactly where my daughter falls on the scale.  Some days her placement is higher, other days low.  I wonder if it is fair to other families to even consider my kid as having special needs.  I don’t want to be in any way disrespectful.  Is it ok for me to gripe about my difficult days? Is there a catch phrase that I can use for my life with a kid who has maladaptive behaviors, but is smart and who does not require a teacher’s aide? What group are we in…?

In any case, parenting a child with developmental issues off the usual course is challenging. Adopting a kid that was raised by others for a period of time is challenging. Adding a child to a home which has biological children of the parents can be challenging. My intention is not to compare difficulties or challenges, but rather to reach out to anyone who struggles with parenting.  I never know what kind of day we’re going to have, ever.  I just know that I am not alone.  I remind myself each day, or at least I try to, of how far we’ve come and I give myself a lot of credit. Somebody has to.

Post-Adoption Contact with Foster Family

Post-Adoption Contact with Foster Family

We adopted from the state foster care system. It was risky, the outcome unknown. We found our child from a single page narrative written by her caseworker. The first paragraph was about what had brought her into the state system– a few sentences about neglectful parenting. The second covered her placements. The next had a brief description of her foster household. Then, a few statements about the current lack of medical conditions or developmental concerns.  At the end, there was a descriptive sentence of a preferred permanent home. The caseworker was hoping for a loving, non-violent home where the caregivers are willing to provide to the child’s needs.  

Any child removed from their initial environment and placed in another home is likely to have an adverse reaction. A kid with multiple placements is more likely to be traumatized.  The age of the child can be an additional major factor. Our child was removed from her biological parents when she was an infant. She was placed briefly with a relative, then lived in the same foster home for 3+ years. When we read that she had been in this one home I figured we were getting a less traumatized, less problematic child. I was wrong.

When you adopt from the state foster system, you are adopting a child that will be susceptible to emotional disturbances related to the disruptions in their home life. You are also adopting a kid that was raised by others. Yet, no one tells you in detail about the nurturing and child caring practices used in the foster home.  I made assumptions about them.  No one told us what we had to do or should do or what is expected when it comes to contact with the foster family. I was not prepared for how different we could be.

Soon after we were informed that we were matched to our child, the foster mother emailed us. Mrs. Foster informed us of their daily schedule of activities– wake up time, breakfast, one tv show, outdoor time, lunch and so forth.  I was told by the caseworker to try and follow the schedule as closely as possible when she was in our home.

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