Saturday, July 18, 2015

My New Approach

Clearly, the behavior of my girls continues to be challenging, despite their progress. To understand more of what parents of institutionally raised children live with, please visit Attachment.org and read THIS.

One of the things I live with is the need of my daughters to control me. The way they do that is to do everything they can, consciously and subconsciously, to make me angry. Anger is the emotion they understand the best. It always has been, from the very moment I received them, mostly my oldest two girls. They say they don't like it, but that's because they aren't aware of how it works for them.

Several times over the course of the last two to three years with my girls, I've tried to not get angry or upset at their clearly manipulative behaviors. It gets much harder when the behavior is less clear. I find after several days or weeks of intense angry feelings that "they've done it to me again."

Now, I'm finally getting pretty good at it. The problem is that when they don't get the response they want, they ramp it up. A temper tantrum that would last 30 minutes if I lost my cool and yelled and cried turns into a 3 HOUR tantrum if I remain calm. It also escalates as my child tries harder and harder to anger me. The calmer I am, the worse they get.

Blossom is my tantrum girl. However, what I learned in the last two days and can now look back clearly and see, is that Sissy has been passively participating. By that I mean that she needs that state, too, to see one of them control me, because she allies with her sister on this matter, the need to be in control of ME, the adult caregiver in the house. Besides seeing the pattern retrospectively, which now jumps glaringly out at me, what finally knocked me on the head was that over the past week, Blossom has been relieved of any power over anything. I shut it down before it can even start using recommendations and techniques I learned from professionals who are specialists in this field. As Sissy sees Blossom lose that power, she perceives me as gaining more and she's going nuts right now and having tantrums herself - kicking the wall and yelling kind. She hasn't done this in a very long time. Key: She hasn't HAD to do this in a long time because Blossom was doing it for her.

Part of the new approach is to show more physical affection through hugging and offer more positive feedback. Sounds easy, but it's not when your child may not seem to do anything positive all day long. What I learned, though, is to look at things differently. Did Blossom calm herself down and sit on her bed when told to? Well, I didn't see it that way, but really, after 15 minutes of tantrum, she did, which is better than 3 hours of tantrum, so there it is, something praiseworthy. This doesn't mean fake or over-praise, this means that when I come to get her, I say, "You made a very good choice to calm down and sit quietly in time out." And I put my arm around her shoulders and give her a hug. Then, life goes on and we start anew, until the next time, but without any carry over from this last time.

Now, a side effect is that Blossom likes the hugs and connection and becomes like velcro and pretty soon I'm stepping on her every time I turn around because she's following me, turning into an appearingly ready helper, but it goes way over the top as it's designed to annoy then anger me. This is part need for the attention and affection and a lot of the need for control. So, it's important to redirect her. "I already gave you a hug just a few minutes ago, please sit down at your desk and finish your school work."

Our attachment therapist was extremely helpful in pointing out the ways my children "hold me hostage" from feining the need to use the bathroom every time we're ready to walk out the door (which makes us late, something my kids love to make happen to me), to pretending not to hear me when I tell them something, then they flock around me, all innocent looks asking me to say it again. You can hear the back of their brains saying to each other, "Watch me make mommy repeat herself over and over and over again."

The kicker and real hard thing for outsiders to understand, is that all kids pull things like this, but NOT LIKE MY KIDS DO IT. The difference is that normal kids do it sometimes and usually as part of a normal developmental phase. Then the child grows out of it and into the next phase with its challenges. When normal kids do it, it's also not malicious, it's testing. Normal kids also don't do it ALL THE TIME.

There is something that Sissy cannot stand. It's tortured her from the very beginning and she just can't seem to understand and get over it. It's the whole adults vs. kids thing, how adults have privileges that kids just don't have. But in that, specifically, is that she cannot stand it when I go out for an evening. She takes it as a personal affront and insult and a sign that I don't love her, rather than understanding that ALL adults need adult time, a break from the kids, once-in-awhile. And believe, me, it's VERY, VERY, VERY once-in-awhile for me.

Today, I'm dealing with that from her on top of her perception that I've gained power as her sister lost power. Listening to her argue is actually quite funny. She says, "I know you like being the boss." Then I explain to her that as the only adult and mother in the house that I am the boss. Then she says, "I know that!" I say, "It's good that you know that, because it's the truth." But that's where she ramps up because I'm not participating in an argument with her. Then the insults start. Today, when I refused to participate and sent her to her room, she hesitated, trying to decide if she can back-track and comply and sit down for our meal or if it was too late. She figured it was too late and went to her room.

The attachment philosophy encourages "time in" instead of "time out" and I agree with this when applicable, but when I have daycare kids and Blossom is having a tantrum, she does need to have it in her room, well away from my daycare areas, and there isn't another option since I need to protect the small children in my care from seeing that and have to earn a living. As for Sissy this morning, she had to be prevented from having the power to disrupt our family meal, therefore, she could not stay in the room with us.

Clearly, these strategies are having an effect. I was warned that when I implement them to expect things to get harder before they get easier and I can certainly see the rebellion, but I also feel the benefits to me and my littler ones. The little ones feel more much more secure seeing that I'm in control. Jie Jie has started to rediscover her interest in learning "science things" such as learning about owl pellets and how things are made and she's voraciously reading. I have my moments of anger, but I'm recovering faster and not showing them to the girls. They are recovering faster so we don't end up having blown our entire day.

This all takes a tremendous amount of energy and I do feel more tired, but it's a much better tired than not being able to sleep due to the stress of it all.

Trying to see things from My Firefighter's perspective has helped me a lot. As he looks into my life he imagines that this is how things will always be. NO WAY! I REFUSE to live like this, constant sabotage and battles, disobedient, disrespectful kids here at home and charming to everyone in public.

Another strategy has been to separate the girls more. Now that they have reached certain developmental levels and levels of bonding with each other, it's time to let the ones who want to achieve to pull ahead of the pack. It's time to recognize and be honest about cognitive limitations and personal beliefs about themselves as well as physical limitations. So, if my 3.5 yr. old passes my 14.5 yr. old, so be it. I can't hold one back to appease the other. My 11.5 yr. old has to understand that it's not being mean to exclude my 14.5 yr. old and deprive herself of activities that the 14.5 yr. old simply cannot do.

While I am awaiting the results of Blossom's latest evaluation, her IEP form last year clearly qualified her for special ed in public schools. Last year, the middle school was definitely not in her best interest. This year, I'm giving the high school a try. It's a HUGE high school with over 3200 students. The special education program is supposed to be extremely good. I think it would be the best place to start Blossom this fall.

If I get financial aid, Jie Jie will return to the private school she attended two years ago for electives, but go full time this year. I've worked out how to meet her medical care needs there and the principal is excellent, willing to put her into any grade needed, regardless of her age. He was willing to do this with the other girls, too, but their academic levels are unreasonably low compared to appropriate social levels so this wouldn't work for them. Jie Jie is still tiny and immature in ways that make it fine for her to safely and appropriately be with younger kids. We'll start with fourth grade, which is two grades lower than her age-grade level, and move her one lower, if needed AND if it appears socially appropriate for her. If this doesn't work, we'll go back to homeschooling.

Sissy will remain homeschooled and we'll evaluate again for next year.

One key point in my research stressed that, "Young children also learn a great deal from each other. They learn how to share, to engage in reciprocal interactions (e.g., taking turns, giving and receiving), to take the needs and desires of others into account, and to manage their own impulses. Just being around other children, however, is not enough. The development of friendships is essential, as children learn and play more competently in the rapport created with friends rather than when they are dealing with the social challenges of interacting with casual acquaintances or unfamiliar peers."

Most people know that when you put a few normal children together, connections will be formed. Not for children raised in an institution. After nearly two years of church girls youth program, seeing and interacting with the same girls every Sunday and every Wednesday, my girls have still failed to make a single friend. Not one single friend. The fault isn't with the other girls, it's with my girls. My girls just don't know how to connect. Sissy can't even maintain her connection to her very best friend from China who has been undergoing a bone marrow transplant for the past several months. She doesn't ask about her friend, not even when, each day, I was counting down to when the actually transplant day was, or when the girl was having a very hard time. This girl constantly writes and sends packages to my daughter, yet my daughter doesn't respond without urging. Again, it's not that they aren't friends, because to see them together it's obvious they are really as close to sisters as can be after sharing an orphanage life together since infancy. The issue is that my daughter doesn't understand her side of a relationship and put any energy into relationships. She lets the other person do all the work.

In most of the articles I found, the focus was on young children. It's so much worse for the children the older they get in a "warehouse" environment. Sissy spent 13 years, 8 months in an orphanage, Blossom spent 11 years, 8 months in an orphanage, Jie Jie spent 6 years, 5 months in an orphanage but was with her birth family for her first 7.5 months of life, and Apple was 19 months old when I adopted her.

Well, this is very long and I've not proof-read it, but I hope to have passed on some vital information that will help another family out there with similar struggles and give better understanding to those looking into my life.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great info in these past two posts, K. The articles are helpful in understanding what might be going on in our kids' brains. It must be difficult to juggle two girls with similar issues at the same time. What one doesn't react to, the other one will. You must have to be at the top of your game all the time. No wonder you're tired! Know that you have the support and admiration of other parents who are walking similar journeys. So glad you are sharing yours.

Anonymous said...

I think trying school for the two girls is a *terrific* step, not only for them as individuals, but also for your family dynamics. Things will change, and I'll bet they will change for the better. :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3#, here. I think you are making some really wise choices for your girls and I hope they pan out well. Separating your girls may help them in a myriad of ways, most likely in language development and assimilation. Allowing experiences based on readiness as opposed to age, asserting yourself as a woman/adult first, mom second and showing your girls that you and your Firefighter can go to dinner, stay up later etc is great too. Don't let these girls (who are valuable and wonderful of course,) manipulate you.

A 14.5 year old who tantrums after 3 years home? I would have snapped a long time ago. And Sissy's, "You like to be in charge" comment is funny, although in the midst of it, you probably weren't laughing. I salute you!

Anonymous said...

I know I'm not in your house....nor have a window into your life and am certainly not telling you what to do....but I too have adopted 3 girls who are now 13, 12, and 10. Two were institutionalized in some way....one of them having lived in 6 different homes before the age of 9 months. They have been through unbelievable trauma, neglect and abuse. We weren't sure if my oldest would ever learn to read. (She did at age 9.5) Hands down the best decision we ever made was to put them all in school. They go to an accredited private Christian school (500 students) that is a hybrid. They are on campus 3days a week and home two days with all assignments, lesson plans, sent home with them. Even the high school is modeled this way. It gives the parents involvement but also provides opportunities for the students for social, strong academics and sports (should they desire) AND takes most of the pressure off the parent to figure out how to school them. Don't get me wrong....it is a TON of work and all 3 of my girls have some kind of learning difference. The flexibility of the schedule allows us to work on weekends or work ahead if need be which helps when they need extra time. They still struggle in their areas of weakness but have come so far....and have far surpassed what we thought they were capable of in the beginning. Having the 'box' of structure was so helpful.They fought it at the beginning but now it's their norm. Behaviors have subsided and my oldest even interviewed and got a job at the local science center. I hope this encourages you. Keep on keeping on ! There are answers and help out there!!

Chrissy said...

You and I both know that you and I know this stuff but sometimes seeing it in print, reading it again helps us remember it. Glad to see some improvements for the girls!