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XP: Having a Hardtime

To be honest, the past 2 weeks have been really rough. Little J is being a typical toddler, and big J has been especially challenging. He gets so jealous, he is being more aggressive, and everything is a battle.

He just had a huge meltdown after little J's gymnastic's class. My MIL came to watch Big J, because I have to be with Little J the whole time (This was just a make-up, we normally don't do this). They have a play area and he was playing nicely with MIL and occasionally going to wave at little bro. He had a huge meltdown at the end, screaming, wanting to go home but not get up. I literally carried him kicking and screaming to the car. Then in the car he had a bigger meltdown. I could barely get him in his booster seat. He took his seatbelt off while driving.

I gave him a time-out yesterday, and he stomped on my foot and ran to his room. He has been aggressive with his brother and other kids, me and DH.

I actually have a couple calls into therapists, but am very picky about who I want to use for a variety of reasons.

I am mostly venting, but wondering if anyone has advice?



Adoption Blog Updated 2/15

Re: XP: Having a Hardtime

  • Refresh my memory, please.  How old is big J, and how long has he been with you?

    We went through some really, really rough transitional behaviors with M.  Several nights a week, we had huge blow-ups that lasted a couple hours each, and during which he let go of some serious, pent-up anger.  His strength amazed me, but he had to process through all his rage before he could accept us and know that we were here to stay and support him, no matter how ugly things got.

    The thing that worked best for us was ignoring the behavior.  He wanted to get a reaction--any reaction--out of us.  If we tried to calm him, hold him, or talk to him before he was totally spent, it would just reignite, and the tantrum would continue even longer.  We learned to recognize when his fits went from crying/yelling for a reaction to a completely, broken-down crying where he would call for me in desperation.  When he hit that stage, it was like he just needed me to come running to prove that I still loved him, and he didn't push us away afterall.  After that, he'd cry in my arms for a bit, and we'd work together to restore anything he'd torn apart. (He'd never go to bed without putting his room back together.)  It was awful and emotionally draining, but it's what he needed to go through to trust us.  Eventually, the tantrums became less and shorter.

    We also talked about how he could have handled things differently in therapy after each blow-up.  Once he learned he could tell us things he didn't like or that upset him and not get into trouble or risk losing us, he didn't have to act out as much.

    But mostly, it was just time and consistency.  Lots of consequences for his bad choices, but always being sure to let him know how much we loved him, before, during, and after any incidents.  Never being mean or rubbing the consequences in, and always still trying to find ways to enjoy one another's company, even when we were hating his behavior to the max.

    Mostly, just let him scream it out.  I would leave the room, go into my room, and lock the door.  I'd usually put on music or the tv to drown him out and try to shift my emotions, so that when he was ready to receive me, I could be loving towards him.  It would drive him mad (I was the main target of his anger, which is common).  He would do whatever he could to keep me from locking him out.  I explained that I loved him, but I wouldn't be around that kind of behavior.  When he was done, I'd be happy to be with him, and I always did.

    Books I'd highly recommend are:

    Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow - This book is the one that I always recommend first to parents adopting older children.  It really helped us understand what we were dealing with and how to best approach it.  It can be scary, because they talk about really bad cases, but it was so relatable and helped us avoid many pitfalls--especially triangulation!

    When Love Is Not Enough: A Guide to Parenting Children with RAD and Taming the Tiger While It's Still a Kitten (lecture on CD with booklet, http://www.attachment-store.org/taming-the-tiger-while-its-still-a-kitten.html) are good resources to understand children with attachment difficulties.  I personally felt that the techniques were too heavy-handed, but that's likely because I wasn't dealing with a child who had RAD.  Still, the insight into their fear and how they act and manipulate relationships because of it was invaluable in understanding my sons. 

    1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 - This book helped us get through the worst period with M, when he threw every acting-out behavior at us he could think of.  We never applied it the way the book explains, but just clung to the principle of not letting him see us affected by his behavior and always remaining calm and enforcing discipline with cool reserve.  It was a life-saver! 

    Parenting With Love And Logic - This book's main premise forms the basis of our parenting philosophy, but as with all parenting books, there are a lot of specifics that you have to sift through and take only what you are comfortable with

     


  • Thank you, Capt. Big J is 4.5 and little J is 2.  Big J is the size of a 6 yo, but probably more like a toddler socially and emotionally. We just brought them home in Dec. 

    I try to ignore things as long as possible, but feel it is harder if we are in public and have to go. Maybe I should just let him tantrum and not worry so much about other people, as long as he isn't hurting anyone. I also do what you do what you do, and have him pick up whatever he destroys.  I will say after a few times, he stopped knocking over his bookcase or bins of toys.

     

    I have read the last two books, but not the first two.  May have to check them out.

    Adoption Blog Updated 2/15
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  • I agree 100% Captain Serious! 

    Time and patience are the biggest things, but calm is also huge. my son was so used to being surrounded by chaos, fighting, abuse, ect that it was a total culture shock to come into a (relatively!) quiet, calm environment.  He pushed and fought and was nasty because he was so unaccustomed to being in the environment we were offering - that and he didn't want to connect or attach, and he wanted to push us to our very limits to see how "bad" things would get as a survival instinct.  

    Those first few months were honestly very dark and exhausting.  but SO worth it. I just wrote a blog post about how far we've come from those beginning days that might offer you some hope.  http://ctworkingmoms.com/2013/02/21/parenting-with-love-limits-lessons/

    In addition to the books mentioned above, I also really like Love Limits & Lessons.  

     

     

  • The first two books are invaluable, because they will give you insight to the typical behaviors of children who have experienced attachment trauma.  Some regular parenting strategies don't work as well.

    When M came home, he was legally 7, biologically likely 9.5.  Physically, he was small, especially his lower body (we could wrap our thumb and middle finger around his leg, just above the ankle).  He had very little muscle mass; malnutrition/hunger plus his heart issue prevented his growth.  But, he was STRONG.  He destroyed three doors in six months, fought against us if we tried to hold, carry, or restrain him, etc.  I was worried I couldn't control him and/or that he or one of us would be hurt.  Yet, he also had the maturity of a 3-4 year old, depending on the circumstance and transitional issues he was dealing with on any given day.  It was not an easy time.

    Just to clarify a few things, I would remove him from the public when he's tantruming.  (M almost always saved that for at home, because his public image was very important to him, to the point that if I helped him "cover-up" his teary eyes or whatever, he felt closer to me.)

    Also, when he destroys something, it is important to clean it up *with him.*  The thing is showing that, even though you don't like the behavior and there will be consequences for it, you love him and want to help him.  This is where parenting hurt children is a little different than typical children.  The consequence isn't that he has to fix it alone or have a time out, because that strengthens his idea that he's not intricately connected to you.  The natural consequence is that it must be cleaned up, but mom's here to help me because she loves me...but then, I usually also add a consequence that shows that the behavior's not acceptable. (e.g., You didn't want to go to bed because you wanted to continue playing with your favorite toy --> you lost that toy for a day/longer; You didn't want to do x because you were willful --> you now have to do these extra chores (with a 4 yo, I'd probably make him help you with setting the table, "help" in the kitchen/folding laundry/etc).

    I've heard it described as "time-ins," but never heard a good example of how that plays out (because I don't want time with me to be a punishment, our time should be fun, and M would never allow that if he were mad about being forced to spend time with me), until someone hear with a younger child said that during a time-in, her daughter is not allowed outside of arm-reach.  I've started doing this with J (who's 6), and it works well.  When he doesn't listen, he's confined to my side, when he shows me I can trust him, he's granted more independence.  It works well with him because he's extremely independent and willful (we call him El Jefe), and wants nothing more than to have that freedom. 


  • And yes, ctbride is right--once you get through this stage, you won't believe how amazing the transformation is.  M is the sweetest, most well-behaved kid, who wants nothing more than to make the right choices and avoid trouble.  He has become cuddly and it's a virtual love-fest now; before, I'd have to beg for a hug a day.  He is open and honest, and tells us when we upset him, but also tells others that he knows we love him and are fair, kind, and awesome parents.

    Also, when he was tantruming and he'd be ready to make amends, he'd actually call out for me and tell me "I'm done."  It was often the only way I knew he was really ready to receive me and start making things right again. 


  • Yes, I clean up with him. I don't think he really can pick up by himself without direction anyway, even on a good day.  We usually do, now we are going to pick up the books, let's pick up this bench, etc.

    When he is having a tantrum, I try to be in the room near him but not talk and ignore him.  Some of the parenting books say to out him in his room and lock the door, but I don't think he could handle that.

    He reacts so strongly to consequences, and it makes me wonder how adults have treated him in the past.

     

    This was his first big public tantrum. He usually saves them for home as well for me ;)

    Adoption Blog Updated 2/15
  • How do you mean, "He reacts so strongly to consequences?"  So did M, but that's because he thought it was a sign that we didn't love him or because he was trying to make us give in and not follow-through.  With time, he got to the point that he began asking what his consequence was, once he stopped acting out.

    Now, when we think something's not working to stop a behavior and we change it up to make it a more meaningful lesson, he'll often tell us, "but I thought I was just going to lose video games for a day" or something like that.  I explain that he was betting that the consequence wasn't going to be too bad, and that it would be worth it, but it's my job to make him understand that the behavior is never okay just because (or even when) the consequence might not be that bad.


  • For about a month, he would take time-outs and be okay with it.  The past 2 weeks, any consequence is a meltdown.  He at times ends up rocking himself or curling up in the fetal position.  He acts like we are going to hurt him.

    I am trying to come up with rewards he can realistically make instead of all consequences.  He really likes doing his sticker chart still, but I wonder if it is still effecting his behavior.  We have tried to say "If you are gentle today--no hitting, pushing, etc, we can do a special outing tomorrow.  But he has only made it that long once.

     I will say his behavior changes seem to coincide with little J getting a toddler bed and having trouble getting to sleep.  He used to get more 1:1 or even 2:1 time at night when little J slept, and that has been cut in to.

    Adoption Blog Updated 2/15
  • A lot of books I read say that rewards-based systems don't work with kids who have attachment issues.  I think they can work, depending on the kid.  J really doesn't care about rewards or losing consequences, because he feels that if he doesn't have one thing, he'll have another.  It's all more than he ever had before.  But M was really motivated by his start chart.

    I also know that M's outbursts were always at bedtime, because we'd go over his day's stars right then.  There were 5 responsibilities/behaviors.  If he did any of the five well all week, he got a dollar for that item.  If he missed a star, he didn't get the dollar at the end of the week.  Having him miss one start one day was the end of the world to him, because he wanted that money so bad.  Losing a single dollar was the end of the world to him, because he was always saving up for something, and I guess on some level, figured that if he had his own cash, he'd be less dependent on us.  Those tantrums I mentioned above--very frequently started by him just not earning a star.  Which would turn into him never being good enough.  Which would turn into him facing all his fears about us leaving him.  I've come to realize, it doesn't matter what the thing is that sets them off, when they are simultaneously resisting and wanting that attachment to you, the simplest things can result in the worst tantrums.

    J cried an ugly cry in church after the service the other day for about a half hour because I told him he lost his TV privledges for the day as a result of his willful behavior during church.  It was so bad, I had people come up to me and ask if he was okay.  We just waited it out.

    One thing I did learn is that rather than having to make M go all week to earn his reward for a task, to make the reward smaller, and have it reset every day so there's more chance for success.  Luckily M never figured it out (sometimes his lack of understanding of time really comes in handy), but if he ruined his chances for his "good behavior at bedtime" star on Sunday, there really was no incentive for him to try to exhibit that behavior the rest of the week.  With J I will change this.

    Honestly, with Big J, I think the chart will affect his behavior.  But it's got to get worse before it gets better.  Maybe make smaller rewards for morning, afternoon, and evening.  "If you are gentle this morning, you can have your favorite breakfast.  If you are gentle this afternoon, I'll spend time playing your favorite game with you. If you are gentle this evening, you'll get 5/10 extra free time minutes/extended bedtime/to pick the bedtime book."  Do you think that would work?

    In the end, he's going to have to manufacture eruptions/behavior incidents to see how you react to them over and over before he'll be able to trust you.  Whatever the impetus is, you just have to keep giving him chances to make choices, act out, and work through the behaviors.  Unfortunately, I firmly believe that nothing can circumvent this process if a kid who's been through attachment trauma is trying to trust/attach to a new adult.


  • image lizlemon2:

    For about a month, he would take time-outs and be okay with it.  The past 2 weeks, any consequence is a meltdown.  He at times ends up rocking himself or curling up in the fetal position.  He acts like we are going to hurt him.

    Also, the fact that he seemed okay with the behavior at first is a sign that something else is at play here.

    I highly recommend you check out the Nancy Thomas things I posted above.  They really helped me get the full understanding of the child's mentality as they go through the process (although, as I said, I think her methods are too draconian except in the most severe cases).

    To Big J, if he's really going through attachment issues, he's trying to protect himself for dear life from becoming attached to you.  In his mind, becoming attached to you is his biggest danger, because then he can be profoundly hurt.  But at the very same time, he wants and needs to attach to you.  He's starting to life the way your love and the structure you provide feels, and he's craving it.  That puts him in a very tumultuous position.  He pushes you away so that you can't reject him.  But when you love him back, he's petrified he's going to lose you, and wants you back stronger than ever.  Consequences mean more to him now because, each time, he's afraid that this time he's pushed you too far, and you will no longer want him.  Then, when you pull him back in with love, he's more attached and scared than ever, because it will hurt so much more when you eventually let him go.

    The meltdowns are 2-fold:  1) to drive you crazy so he can feel like he's the one who pushed you away first; and 2) because he really doesn't want to lose you and is terrified he just did.  That's why M's tantrums always had two phases:  the first was when he just wanted to make us feel awful, and the second was when he really broke down, called for me, and just bawled his energy all out because he needed to be reassured we were still going to accept and keep him.

    And M has been abused in the past.  The first time I picked him up, threw him in the car, got him home, carried him up the stairs, put him in his bed, and walked out and closed the door behind me (he had run away, but just far enough to entice us to keep chasing him), he was shaking like a leaf, petrified I was going to beat him.  After a few really big outbursts, though, he knew for a fact we weren't going to hit/hurt him.  That didn't mean he wouldn't totally break down each time like Big J.  The attachment is so much scarier to them than any beating, and it will illicit those responses.


  • Oh, I just remembered, if you want to get an understanding quicker than you can read a book, check out Healing Trust.  It's three CDs, and it really made me feel like I had a better understanding of what M had to go through, how he was going to do it, and why he was acting the way he was.  It made me feel more in control, because I knew what we were going through was normal, I wasn't completely messing up, and that this was all just part of the process he had to go through.

    http://www.attachment-store.org/healing-trust.html

    (with all my regular disclaimers about Nancy Thomas) 


  • I'm still thinking about this.  I think your observation about Big J's behaviors ramping up just when he's getting less one-on-one time because of Little J are significant, too.  He's likely scared that his importance in your life will be replaced by Little J.  For a kid already dealing with all the rest, this has got to be doubly scary.

  • The user and all related content has been deleted.

  • image CaptainSerious:
    I'm still thinking about this.  I think your observation about Big J's behaviors ramping up just when he's getting less one-on-one time because of Little J are significant, too.  He's likely scared that his importance in your life will be replaced by Little J.  For a kid already dealing with all the rest, this has got to be doubly scary.

     

    I appreciate the thoughtful responses from everyone.  I love hearing it is going to getting better.  On a positive note, we do already have a lot of good times. We is very sweet, affectionate, and loves showing us what he makes at school.

    Adoption Blog Updated 2/15
  • image fredalina:
    I'm not addressing the discipline stuff right now but a 4 year old who takes his seat belt off is not ready for a booster. Big or not, he needs to be in a harness.

     

    Thank you but he exceeds the weight and height limit for almost every convertible seat, except for the Britax.  Even that seems like it would be really hard to get him on there.  He would know how to get out of his harness as well.  He was having a bad day, and doesn't normally undo his seat belt.

    Adoption Blog Updated 2/15
  • image ctbride08:

    I agree 100% Captain Serious! 

    Time and patience are the biggest things, but calm is also huge. my son was so used to being surrounded by chaos, fighting, abuse, ect that it was a total culture shock to come into a (relatively!) quiet, calm environment.  He pushed and fought and was nasty because he was so unaccustomed to being in the environment we were offering - that and he didn't want to connect or attach, and he wanted to push us to our very limits to see how "bad" things would get as a survival instinct.  

    Those first few months were honestly very dark and exhausting.  but SO worth it. I just wrote a blog post about how far we've come from those beginning days that might offer you some hope.  http://ctworkingmoms.com/2013/02/21/parenting-with-love-limits-lessons/

    In addition to the books mentioned above, I also really like Love Limits & Lessons.  

     

     

     

    I was just able to read your blog post.  Exactly what I needed to hear.  I will check out that book, if I ever get time to read.

    You have a beautiful family and it was amazing to see how far your oldest has come.

    Adoption Blog Updated 2/15
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