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Girl Meets World and RAD Part 1

If you grew up in the TGIF generation (USA early 90’s), you might remember that theme song. In our house, the TGIF jingle signaled time to crowd in front of our little TV for Boy Meets World.


Sometimes I feel like I’m in my own show, Casey Meets World.

For five years and four months, I’ve searched for a way to reach our girl. We’ve powered through a trauma counselor, a mentor, a play therapist, outpatient counseling and in-home counseling. I’ve read every book recommended by every counselor, friend or acquaintance…and then some.

We’ve utilized an occupational therapist, speech therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, neurologist and several other “-ists.”

Three months ago, we descended to the proverbial bottom of the canyon to find rock. Rappelling without ropes, if you will.

She flat-out refused to do anything I asked, and in fact did the exact opposite of EVERYTHING. Her behavior was out of control in ways I won’t describe here, but if you’re experiencing RAD, know that you are not alone.

You’re not crazy, and neither is your child.

Primal need for protecting herself (or himself) runs unbelievably deep. However, when you find your family unraveling at the seams, underlying reasons for a child’s behavior don’t matter as much as the emergency of the moment.

By the time a family reaches the cold, dusty bottom of that deep, dark pit, all anyone can do is scrabble for purchase, trying to find a way back up crumbling walls.

We finally admitted to ourselves that our tween needed more help than we could provide and we had to consider a therapeutic setting outside the home.

Back to the beginning for a moment.

Upon the children’s arrival, I began re-reading books by a respected psychologist. As a teen (I was a little weird in choice of reading material for my age), several of his books helped me understand myself better. Nothing in the books worked for these kids. NOTHing. Finally, in absolute frustration, I emailed him, with a subject something like, “Help! We adopted two kids.”

I don’t remember the exact time frame, but shortly after I sent the email, my phone rang. His secretary asked, “Will you be at this number in twenty minutes? Stay by the phone.” And twenty minutes later, he called me.

I’m not one to be awed by position or title. I’ll chat up a CEO or a streetwalker with equal interest. Everyone has a story. Everyone is human. Nothing about who you are makes you more or less valuable than the person walking beside you.

However, I do recognize that people are busy. I’m a mom, a recruiter and a blogger, and I barely have a spare minute. As yet, I’ve never published, never been a sought-after speaker on radio and in person, never been the end-all authority voice about, well…anything. And I’m sure that’s not a definitive list of his responsibilities. I can’t imagine being that busy.

I was floored that he’d take the time to call a random individual, considering the hundreds of email he must need to sort.

He gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten.

Be clear with the child that you understand their motivation.

If you know they’re being disobedient so they’ll get the attention they crave, don’t be afraid to say,

‘Hey. I know you’re acting up because you need some attention. (Fill in the blank with behavior) will only bring negative attention. Do you want negative attention, or would you rather ask me to spend time with you for a few minutes?’

Be open. Let the child know you’re aware of their game. Explain cause and effect, and let them know where the behavior will take them.

Following the above advice, we explained residential therapy to our girl. We showed her pictures of RAD Ranch (not the real name, but if I ever direct one, I am totally calling it that), where children with attachment issues live on a working farm, attend school and have physical consequences for bad behavior. If you act like a poopie-head, you might get stall-mucking duties. (And for those of you not well-versed in ranch speak, that means you’re shoveling poop.)

She didn’t believe us.

With crazy-impeccable timing, the director of said ranch rang our home phone at that moment. While I discussed our situation with him, I heard Hubby ask her, “do you know who’s on the other end of that call? This is no joke.”

Returning from the call, I explained a few of the details to Hubby, in front of our daughter. She watched our conversation, head swiveling as though viewing a tennis match, as we took turns discussing pros and cons. Finally, we turned to her.






Adoption = Not Long to Live

A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone. – Billy Graham

Our girl is incredibly stubborn.

I realize that this quality will serve her well as she grows older and learns to use it in appropriate ways. For now, it’s just plain annoying.

If you’ve been reading Adoption = for any amount of time, you may have already noticed that I am also incredibly stubborn. I plan to win this daily show-down, but not for the sake of the bragging rights. Eyes on the prize…which is: Future Her, a successful, well-adjusted contributor to society.

We discussed, recently, how her current behavior would translate if she magically became an immediate adult.

Her take: “I’d probably end up in jail or homeless because I don’t want to do what anyone tells me, so I would get fired from my job and if I can’t pay for my house I’d have to sleep in a box and then I would have no money for food and I’d steal food and then finally they’d put me in jail for stealing so I’d be in jail for a long, long time.”

It took everything I had not to crack up at her catastrophizing. (Spell check does not like this word, but for the record, it exists. See here.)  For those who do not while away your spare time with a leisurely reading of the DSM V, catastrophizing refers to a person’s tendency to view everything as much worse than it is in reality.

For instance: “I’m out of milk. Oh, no! What if a stray kitten shows up on my doorstep today? It will probably be too young to eat solids, and I won’t have anything to give it. The little kitten will die right here in my kitchen, mewling and piteous. I’m sure Nancy from next door will stop by just then, see the horribly starved kitten, call the animal police and then the Animal Planet channel and I will be carted off to jail for animal abuse, and Animal Planet will film the whole thing and everyone in the world will watch and think I’m just awful and I’ll rot in prison for something I didn’t even do!”

I’m aware that catastrophizing can be a symptom of depression, and as she’s on medication to help her focus (depression can be a side effect), I keep the proverbial ear pricked for any signs of real trouble. Yesterday, I worried.

For several months, her ability–rather, willingness–to wash and brush her hair has fluctuated wildly. It’s not for lack of education; I’ve showed her many times and even done it for her. When clean, her hair is beautiful, and she begged me to let her grow it out long. Our agreement: as long as she takes care of it, she can keep it long, If not, we’re cutting it off, because she is getting old enough to take care of it herself (and we’re getting to the pre-teen phase…I feel a little awkward helping her with a shower. She reminds me, “we’re both girls,” but still).

The last few weeks have been one battle after another. She acknowledges she just doesn’t want to listen. “I want to do what I want to do.” At least she’s honest.

Finally, I realized that the “your hair is a mess!” issue is just one more clash we don’t need. Threatening to do something about it had no effect; in fact, I’m pretty sure she was leaving soap in her hair on purpose, making her hair look greasy and stringy. So yesterday, we went for a haircut. I planned to have it cut just above her shoulders, thinking it would be enough of a change to let her know I wasn’t kidding, but not enough to derail her plans to grow it out.

As I paged through the “Family and Children” hairstyle example book, she asked what I was doing. “Looking for a hair length. It’s easier if the hairdresser has a picture of what you want.” Ever pushing to be in charge, she began pointing. “Not that one. Or that one. Or that.” I gently removed her hand and said, “Thanks, I’ll pick it this time. I’m looking for something you can handle, so keeping it nice won’t be so hard.” I continued flipping pages, and she again leaned across me. “THAT ONE!” She pointed to a boy-short pixie cut. Surprised, I agreed that it would look cute. The hairdresser walked around the corner just then, and our girl said, “I want this haircut.”

Shrugging, I handed the book to the lady. “If that’s what you want.” Much shorter than anything I would have chosen, but a whole lot less trouble.

We left the salon, holding hands across the parking lot (she really did look adorable).  I said, “Your hair looks super cute. I’m surprised, though, that you wanted it that short. I was just going to have them cut it to your shoulders.” I was suddenly halted as she came to a stop, jerking my arm.

She glowered. “WHAT?”

I tugged her toward the truck. “What’s wrong?” Climbing in, she said, “You didn’t tell me you were only going to cut some of it.” I was confused. “Didn’t you see the pictures in the book? I was looking at medium length pictures. You said you want to grow it out, so I thought we could just cut off a few inches to make it more manageable, and hopefully by the time it got longer you’d be ready to take care of your hair.”

She huffed, clipping her seatbelt. “Well. I wish you’d told me before I picked this one. So I didn’t have to cut it this short?”

I pushed that giggle down, down deep as understanding came clear. Her desire to control the situation had just backfired badly, and she’d just realized what she’d done.

I still thought the haircut was super cute. “You didn’t give me a chance, and you said you wanted that particular haircut. In fact, you were so definite about it, I thought I’d just let you have what you wanted.” Under-breath-grumbling sounded from the backseat. I smiled. “Don’t worry. It’s cute. And you can still grow your hair out; it will just take longer.”

She grumped, “Well. I’m probably not going to be around for that.”

My radar pinged. “Around for what?”

“I’m not going to live that long, so I might as well just keep my hair short.”

Trying not to display the concern I felt, I asked, “Oh? What do you mean?”

She was silent for a few moments, then said, “Well, there’s that Bible verse about if you honor your father and mother, you’ll live a long life.” Ah. So the conversation last week about Deuteronomy 5:16 and Ephesians 6:2 hadn’t fallen on completely deaf ears. Still, I didn’t want to dismiss the comment completely. “So, why do you think you won’t be around?”

She said, “Well, if the verse says you have to respect your parents to live a long life, I probably won’t live that long because I won’t listen to you. And if I had listened I would still have my hair.”

I nodded. “The good news is, since the promise is ‘respect equals a long life,’ all you have to do is make a decision to ‘honor your parents.’ Sounds pretty easy, don’t you think?”

She slouched further in her seat. “Nah.”

On a side note, I’m rewriting Psalm 23: “Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Adolescence, I will fear no evil…”

Image from Google Images

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