This could be me writing, except we only have two. It was so true to life I had to stop reading twice. *Breeeeeeeeaaaatthewhooooosaaaahhhhh*
Check it out:
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.
Many thanks to Art Becker-Weidman for allowing me to copy directly from his website. This is one of the most thorough descriptions of RAD I’ve found online.
An Overview of Reactive Attachment Disorder for Teachers
If a parent has given you this to read, you are teaching a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The family of this child has apparently decided to share this information with you. That sharing is a big step for this family and one you have to treat gently and with the respect it deserves.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is most common in foster and adopted children but can be found in many other so-called “normal” families as well due to divorce, illness or separations. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) develops when a child is not properly nurtured in the first few months and years of life. It is causes by early chronic maltreatment such as neglect, abuse, or institutional care. The child, left to cry in hunger, pain or need for cuddling, learns that adults will not help. The child whose parent(s) are more involved in getting their next drug fix than they are in nurturing the developing child learns that the child’s needs are not primary to the caregivers. Children born of drug or alcohol addicted parents learn even in the womb that things do not feel good and are not safe for them. In severe cases, where the child was an abuse or violence victim, the child learns adults are hurtful and cannot be trusted. The child with RAD may develop approaches or “working models” of the world to keep the child safe. The child may try to control a world the child experiences as dangerous if not controlled by the child. Without therapy child with RAD may not develop the attachments to other human beings which allow them to trust, accept discipline, develop cause and effect thinking, self-control and responsibility.
Children with RAD are often involved in the Juvenile Justice System, as they get older. They feel no remorse, have no conscience and see no relation between their actions and what happens as a result because they never connected with or relied upon another human being in trust their entire lives.
What you may see as a teacher is a child who is, initially, surprisingly charming to you, even seeking to hold your hand, climbing into your lap, smiling a lot, you’re delighted you are getting on so well with such a child. At the onset of your contact with the child who has been reported from prior grades as “impossible” you will wonder what those previous teachers did to provoke the behaviors you have not (yet) seen but which are reflected in the prior grade reports. A few months into what you thought was a working relationship the child is suddenly openly defiant, moody, angry and difficult to handle; there is no way to predict what will happen from day to the next; the child eats as if he hasn’t been properly fed and is suspected of stealing other children’s snacks or lunch items; the child does not seem to make or keep friends; the child seems able to play one-on-one for short periods, but cannot really function well in groups; the child is often a bully on the playground; although child with RAD may have above average intelligence they often do not perform well in school due to lack of problem solving and analytical thinking skills; they often test poorly because they have not learned cause-effect thinking. In addition, having experienced at an early age that nothing they do matters, they do not “try” or put in effort; why try when what you do has not effect?
A child with RAD may climb into your lap and pretend to be affection starved. Children with RAD may talk out loud in classrooms, do not contribute fairly to group work or conversely argue to dominate and control the group. Organizational abilities are limited and monitoring is resented. There may be a sense of hypervigilance about them that you initially perceive as no sense of personal space and general “nosiness”. They seem to want to know everyone else’s business but never tell you anything about their own. There is no sense of conscience, even if someone else is hurt. They may express an offhand or even seemingly sincere “sorry,” but will likely do the same thing again tomorrow. They are not motivated by self or parental pride, normal reward and punishment systems simply do not work.
They may omit parts of assignments even when writing their names just so that they are in control of the assignment, not you. This stems from a deep feeling that adults are not to be trusted, so the best strategy when you don’t trust someone may be to not do what that person asks you to do. When assigned a seat they may choose an indirect, self- selected path to reach the seat. When given a certain number of things to repeat or do, they often do more, or less than directed. They destroy toys, clothing, bedding, pillows, and family memorabilia. They may blame parents, siblings, or others for missing or incomplete homework, missing items of clothing, lost lunch bags, etc. They may destroy school bags, lose supplies, steal food, sneak sweets, break zippers on coats, tear clothing, and eat so as to disgust those around them (open mouth chewing, food smeared over face).
They may inflict self-injuries, pick at scabs until they bleed, seek attention for non-existent/miniscule injuries, and yet will seek to avoid adults when they have real injuries or genuine pain. These children have not learned how to seek and accept comfort and care from caregivers because their early experiences have taught them that adults don’t care. Children with RAD may have multiple falls and accidents and frequently complain about what other children have done to them (“he started it!”, “Suzy kicked me first”). Children with RAD can walk around in significant physical pain from real injuries and may minimize the injury until it is detected. They may not wipe a running nose or cover a mouth to sneeze or conversely will overreact or exaggerate a cough or mild illness. They often have not had experiences of being taught in a loving responsive manner how to wash, bathe, brush teeth, and engage in other self-care activities.
They are in a constant battle for control of their environment and seek that control however they can, even in totally meaningless situations. If they are in control they feel safe. If they are loved and protected by an adult they are convinced they are going to be hurt because they never learned to trust adults, adult judgment or to develop any of what you know as normal feelings of acceptance, safety and warmth. Their speech patterns are often unusual and may involve talking out of turn, talking constantly, talking nonsense, humming, singsong, asking unanswerable or obvious questions (“Do I get a drink any time today?”). They have one pace – theirs. No amount of “hurry up everyone is waiting on you” will work – they must be in control and you have just told them they are. Need the child to finish lunch so everyone can go to the playground. Need the child to dress and line up, the child may scatter papers, drop clothing, fail to locate gloves, wander around the room – anything to slow the process and control it further. Five minutes later the child may be kissing your hand or stroking your cheek for you with absolutely no sense of having caused the mayhem that ensues from his actions. Again all these behavior are NOT intentional. The behaviors are the result of having experienced significant early chronic maltreatment. These early experiences have created an internal working model of the world and relationship that mirror those early experiences and which are projected onto current relationships.
You can begin to understand what this child’s parents must face on a daily basis. The parents are often tense; involved in control battles for their parental role every minute they are with the child, they adopted the child thinking love would cure anything that had happened to her before the adoption. They have only recently learned that normal parenting will not work with this child; that much of what they have tried to do for years simply fed into the child’s dysfunction. They are frightened, sad, stressed and lonely. Many feel unmerited guilt for their perceived “failure” with this child. The mothers often bear the brunt of the child’s actions.
It takes a tremendous amount of work and therapy to turn these kids around so that they can experience real feelings and learn to trust. Parents who have embarked on this healing journey for their child need support and consistency from other adults who interact with the child.
What can you do as a teacher? CALL THE PARENTS. Have them in to talk with you about this issue. Call them and talk about what you see in the classroom and ask if they have any other strategies for managing things. Parents who are in counseling and therapy with this child will eventually open up to you and you’ll all be able to help the child get healthy or at least not contribute to his dysfunction.
Parents will tell you if time is precious on a particular occasion due to ongoing therapy, or whatever, don’t feel put off or shut out. They will talk to you when they have time and time is one of the things parents often run out of as they work desperately to save their child’s future. The therapy and home parenting techniques are exhausting and time consumptive. Try to respect that if it seems they are not focusing on your goal of home or class work. Do not trust schoolbag communication or expect things sent in a “communication envelope” to be as complete as when they left the school with the child. Use the phone, e-mail, and regular mail – it works.
Don’t feel you need to apologize if you have believed this child and blamed the parents. If they have given you this information they already trust you and do not blame you for not having the information you needed – likely they only just recently got it themselves. Make it perfectly clear in your interactions with the child that you will take care of the child and the classroom or activity. Remind the child, unemotionally but firmly, that you are the teacher, you make the rules. You can even smile when you say it if you can get the “smile all the way up to the eyes”, just remember to get the child to verbally acknowledge your position. Do it every day for a while, and then use periodic reminders. Insist upon use of titles or prefixes (Miss Jane, Teacher Sarah, Ms. Philips), they establish position and rank. Structure choices so that you remain in control (“do you want to wear your coat or carry it to the playground?” “you may complete that paper sitting or standing”, “you may complete that assignment during this period or during recess”). Remember to keep the anger and frustration the child is seeking out of your voice. Try to “smile all the way to your eyes” if you can, otherwise simply stay as neutral as you can. Structure and control without threat.
YOU ARE NOT THE PRIMARY CAREGIVER for this child. You cannot parent this child. You are the child’s teacher, not therapist, nor parent. Teachers are left behind each year, its normal. These children need to learn that lesson.
Establish EYE CONTACT with this child. Be firm, be consistent, and be specific.
Try to remember to ACKNOWLEDGE GOOD DECISIONS AND GOOD BEHAVIOR
CONSEQUENCE POOR DECISIONS AND BAD BEHAVIOR. Poor decisions and choices like incomplete homework, wrong weight jacket for the weather, also need to be acknowledged (“I see you didn’t complete work from this activity period. You may finish it at recess while the other children who chose to finish their work go outside and play.”) Nothing mean or angry or spiteful – it’s just the facts. Remember they have difficulty with cause and effect thinking and have to be taught consequences. Normal reward systems like treats and stickers simply do not work with these children. Standard behavior modification techniques do not work with this child.
Consequencing is a good teaching technique– there is a consequence associated with each good behavior, each poor behavior – teach them what those consequences are – they will not think of or recognize them without your direction.
BE CONSISTENT, BE SPECIFIC. The child with RAD may be “good” for you one or two days or even weeks and then fall apart. This is normal. No general compliments like “you’re a good boy!” or “You know better.” Be specific and consistent – confront each misbehavior and support each good behavior with direct language. “You scribbled on the desk – you clean it up”, “You hit Timmy, you sit here next to me until I decide you may play again without hitting.” “You did well on the playground today, good for you!” “You completed that assignment, that’s a good choice!” Be positive when you can.
This NATURAL CONSEQUENCES thing is important. Do not permit this child to control your behavior by threatening to throw a tantrum (let him, out in the hallway or in another room -“You can have your tantrum here if you choose to”), “I see you’ve wet the rug, here is a rag and bucket to clean it up”, or puttering around doing his own thing when it delays the class’ departure for a planned activity (“I see you’ve not gotten ready to go, you can wait here in the supervisor’s office until we get back”).
Time-outs do not work for these children – they want to isolate themselves from others. Bring the child near the activity he has had to be removed from and have them stand with or sit in a chair along side you. It’s called a “TIME-IN.” If you can take the time, speak quietly about how much fun the other children are having and how sad it is that she cannot join in right now. No raised voices, no anger. Don’t lose your temper if you can avoid it; remember he is manipulating you to do just that. If you are going to lose it, seek assistance from another adult until you are back in control of yourself.
RESPONSIVE, ATTUNED, EMOTIONALLY ENGAGED INTERACTIONS with this child. It is very important that this child experience positive regard and that the child is good, even is the behavior is not acceptable. This helps the child move from feeling overwhelming shame to experiencing guilt.
SUPPORT THE PARENTS. The child who is losing control at home and in the classroom because folks are “on to him” will get a whole lot worse before he gets better. Listen appropriately. Absolutely redirect this child to parents for choices, hugs, decision-making and sharing of information you believe is either not true or is designed to shock or manipulate you. Follow up with the parents.
REMAIN CALM AND IN CONTROL OF YOURSELF. No matter what the child does today. If the child manages to upset you, the child is in control, not you. Remove yourself or the child from the situation until you are able to cope. The child may push your “buttons.” But remember, these are YOUR buttons and it is your job as a professional to disconnect the buttons so that pressing them has no negative effect.
If your classroom is out of control because of this child, get help. Many school counselors and administrators have not had exposure to the RAD diagnosis or how to handle it in schools. There are many resources available. Don’t give up. These children are inventive, manipulative and very much in need of everything you can offer to help them get healthy. Remind the child you will be speaking with her parents on a regular basis. Report to the child’s home as often as you can without feeling burdened by the effort. Expect notes to be destroyed. Use the phone. If you do not get a response to written communication and the parents seem to be out of touch with general information, do not blame them. Chances are they never got the message, never saw the right number of papers and have no clue what is going on because that is just how the child likes it. It takes control from the parent. Give it back by communicating directly whenever possible.
This child can and will be helped to get healthy and you can be a part of that process with the right tools. Keep in touch with the family. Remember that what you see in school is only the tip of the iceberg – family life is terribly threatening to these children and what the parents have to deal with every day is nearly unimaginable to other uninformed adults. Blaming the family or failing to communicate with them adds to the dysfunction and puts the child at greater risk of never getting healthy. This child is learning in therapy to be respectful, responsible and fun to be around. It will take time, it will be an effort, if in the end it is successful it will be because the adults in her life were consistent and the child decided to work in therapy. Your contribution as his teacher cannot be underestimated or undervalued – his parents will be grateful for the support and the therapist will have fewer inconsistent venues to sort out while helping the child to heal.
BOOK AND RESOURCES
Creating Capacity for Attachment, Edited by Arthur Becker-Weidman & Deborah Shell, Wood ‘N’ Barnes, Oklahoma City, OK, 2005.
Attachment Facilitating Parenting video/DVD. Center for Family Development, Arthur Becker-Weidman, Ph.D., 5820 Main St., #406, Williamsville, NY 14221
Building the Bonds of Attachment, 2nd. Edition, Daniel Hughes, Jason Aaronson, NY, 2006.
Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD
Center For Family Development
(c) all rights reserved
We need adoption resources in Cambridge (UK). Urgent.
Support groups, services, mentors, counseling…specifically trying to find help for a child and support for the family. Experience with attachment, trauma and behavior issues would be helpful.
If you can help, please email me: Casey@hypervigilant.org and I’ll pass on the info to my friend.
Many thanks, in advance.
While writing the Adoption Disruption series, I began bookmarking helpful sites for future use. Then I realized…YOU might like to have these, also!
Below, in no particular order, you’ll find
- the organization name
- a link to the website
- a short synopsis copied from the site
I’ve also included a few specific articles.
This list is not definitive; if you have additional links to Adoption resources, please share them in the comments.
Inclusion in this list does not mean I promote the organizations, only that I’ve found helpful information on their sites.
Focus on the Family: Adoptive Families
http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/adoptive-families *Adoption articles and broadcast episodes about attachment, bonding, multi-racial adoption, identity, expectations…you name it.
Focus on the Family is a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. We provide help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.
We’re here to come alongside families with relevance and grace at each stage of their journey. We support families as they seek to teach their children about God and His beautiful design for the family, protect themselves from the harmful influences of culture and equip themselves to make a greater difference in the lives of those around them.
No matter who you are, what you’re going through or what challenges your family may be facing, we’re here to help. With practical resources – like our 1-800 Family Help line, counseling and websites – we’re committed to providing trustworthy, biblical guidance and support.
Adoption group on Reddit
r/Adoption welcomes all members of the adoption triad: adoptive families, birth families, and adoptees.
If you are:
- considering adopting a child
- considering surrendering a child
- searching for your biological family
- seeking a copy of your original birth certificate
- involved in access-to-records activism
- struggling with issues related to being a transracial or transnational adoptee
- affected by any adoption-related issue
…r/Adoption is a great place to share news stories, self-posts, and support.
https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/adoption/postplacement/stability/transitions/ Article: Preventing Disruption/Dissolution and Facilitating Transitions
Casey Family Programs
Casey Family Programs envisions a nation where supportive communities nurture the safety, success and hope of every child.
Jim Casey, the founder of United Parcel Service, established Casey Family Programs in 1966 to help improve the safety and success of vulnerable children and their families across America.
Thanks to his leadership and vision — and the commitment of his brothers and sister — Casey Family Programs is able to carry on this important mission today and for decades to come.
Jim Casey spent his working life revolutionizing package delivery across the globe. He drew on that experience to guide and inform the efforts of Casey Family Programs to provide and improve — and ultimately prevent the need for — foster care.
North American Council on Adoptable Children
Founded in 1974 by adoptive parents, the North American Council on Adoptable Children is committed to meeting the needs of waiting children and the families who adopt them. For more information about NACAC, click on the Services link or download our 2014 annual report.
Minnesota Adoption Resource Network
Since 1980, the Minnesota Adoption Resource Network (MARN) was Minnesota’s only organization fully focused on advocating for the right of every child to a permanent, nurturing family. We will continue the original focus, but today MN ADOPT offers specific services and resources that also help sustain successful adoptions. We are now: MN ADOPT.
Children’s Service Practice Notes
http://www.practicenotes.org/ *This site is intended for social workers but has excellent information for foster/adoptive parents.
Welcome to Children’s Services Practice Notes, a newsletter designed to enhance the practice of North Carolina’s child welfare workers by providing them with information about research and practice models.
Practice Notes is sponsored by the North Carolina Division of Social Services and the Family and Children’s Resource Program, part of the Jordan Institute for Families and the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Tools and Resources for Families Formed Through Adoption, Fostering, and Kinship
EMK Press publishes a variety of books and helpful resources as your families evolve on the journey of parenting. Our editors and contributors have a wealth of personal and family experience, professional expertise, and supportive advice. We believe in educating all those who participate on a child’s team so you will find resources for teachers, social workers, therapists, agencies and extended family.
Attachment & Trauma Network
The Attachment & Trauma Network has been the VOICE for traumatized children and their families since 1995. Through our mission of Support-Education-Advocacy, we seek to improve the lives of children impacted by early childhood trauma, abuse and neglect, and prenatal exposures. We believe that trauma-informed, attachment-focused therapy and teaching parents therapeutic parenting strategies are significant factors in helping our children overcome their early traumas and build resiliency and healthy relationships.
The Fatherhood Manual
In recognition of the important role fathers play in the welfare and development of their children, this manual builds on the information presented in earlier user manuals in this series as it relates specifically to fathers. It was written to help child protective services caseworkers work effectively with, support, and strengthen the role of fathers in their children’s lives.
Child Abuse and Neglect User Manuals
Since the last update of the Child Abuse and Neglect User Manual Series in the early 1990s, a number of changes have occurred that dramatically affect the response to child maltreatment, including advances in research, practice, and policy. This third edition of the User Manual Series reflects the increased knowledge and the evolving state of practice and address trends and concerns relevant to today’s professionals.
Evergreen Psychotherapy Center, Attachment Treatment & Training Institute
Attachment is the deep and enduring connection established between a child and caregiver in the first several years of life. It profoundly influences every aspect of the human condition — mind, body, emotions, relationships and morality.
Attachment is not something parents do to their children; rather, it is something children and parents create together, in an ongoing, reciprocal relationship.
AdoptUSKids provides tools and technical assistance to support states, tribes, and territories in their efforts to connect children in foster care with families interested in adopting them.
Our mission: (1) To raise public awareness about the need for foster and adoptive families for children in the public child welfare system; and (2) to assist US states, territories, and tribes to recruit and retain foster and adoptive families.
Article: http://www.americanadoptions.com/adoption/celebrity_adoption *This article lists famous members of the Adoption Triad: Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents and Adopted Children. I like showing our kids these kinds of articles. When they arrived with us, neither had a concept of future success, of growing up to be amazing. These days, we have a chef-fashion designer and military architect in the making (next week, it might be something else). Give kids a vision of what CAN be.
In 1991, after recently graduating from college, a young Scott Mars was in search of a way to give back to the world. Having been adopted as an infant, and having watched his parents foster around 140 babies, he felt that giving back through adoption would be a wonderful way to honor his unique history.
Thus, Scott, never having been one to back down from a challenge, founded American Adoptions out of the basement of his parents’ home. With the support of his parents, he worked tirelessly to grow this one-man-show into the national agency it is now.
After 25 years of serving adoptive families and birth parents across the country (and beyond), American Adoptions has completed well over 3,000 adoptions.
Reactive Attachment Disorder SUCKS. (Sorry. Feel free to substitute another word that means “is horrible in every way and makes me want to shoot myself in the face.”)
So, we’ve made some progress in the last few weeks. I was already making some minor efforts (mostly guilt-induced) to connect with our girl before posting about my commitment to do better.
In the five days since, I’ve stepped up my game. Some of my tactics:
- Look straight into her eyes when speaking with her (this is harder than it sounds)
- Hug her or touch her shoulder every time she walks by
- Hug her every time I feel like shaking her (this is harder than it sounds)
- Listen to the nonsense chatter (this is a RAD thing)
- Attempt to craft a conversation from the nonsense chatter
- Spend time explaining homework that I know she can do alone
- Be extremely clear and repeat directions
- Make food she likes
- Immediately praise/encourage when she does something right
- Try to ignore negative behaviors or react as little as possible
- Smile and remain calm
And it’s working.
It’s working because
- she’s become incredibly rude to me
- she disobeys me at every turn
- she pretends to be sick
- she spends time screaming
In the past, rudeness was subtle; muttered words or nasty glances. Now, she’s turned it on full-force. Previous disobedience was generally minor or “forgetting.” Now we have outright defiance. Sickness and screaming are behavior regression; I haven’t seen them at this level in a couple years.
During the month before arrival at our house, they lived with a respite family. I talked daily with the mother. This conversation happened several times each week:
Experienced Respite Mom: “Well, last night she screamed herself into a fever and threw up.”
Naive Casey: “Is she in bed with chicken soup?”
ERM: “Nope. She’s at school.”
NC: “Doesn’t the school have a rule about no school with a fever?”
ERM: “Uh, yeah, that’s if the child is sick. She’s not sick.”
NC: “But she had a fever. And she threw up.”
ERM (chuckling): “Yes, she did. Her temp was up because of the screaming. She threw up on purpose. She’s at school. You’ll learn.”
NC (thinks to self): “Dang, that’s harsh.”
When the kids came to live with us, our girl told me that at their last placement (prior to respite), the family made her clean up her own puke.
What horrible foster parents, I thought.
NAIVE NAIVE NAIVE Casey: “Oh, honey, I promise you, that will never happen in this house. Every child throws up. Parents should clean it up.”
Then I found out she could hurl on command.
Yes, I know about bulimia. This was different.
She didn’t like a consequence? Regurgitate.
Didn’t want a certain food? Toss the cookies. (Ok, not cookies. She likes dessert.)
Hoping to skip school? Upchuck.
Have to do homework? Do the technicolor yawn.
Holding to my promise, I never made her clean it up.
New foster/adoptive parents: promise NOTHING. “Probably” and “maybe” are your new favorite words.
On occasion, she took a break from chunder tactics. During refusal to perform a simple homework assignment, she began to scream.
I picked her up, carried her to her room and deposited her upon the bed. “You stay here. Let me know when you’re done screaming AND ready to cooperate with homework.”
She screamed for half an hour. I thought for sure she’d lose her voice.
As she became more comfortable with the routine at our house (and learned that consequences can be positive or negative—her choice), screaming and barfing waned, then disappeared altogether.
For the last four years, she’s directed her anger at bio-mom toward me. Like a laser beam.
She’s terrified of connection and is afraid that if she lets me in I’ll fail her, too.
Once, when she first arrived, she spat,
“You don’t KNOW me. And you WON’T know me because I won’t LET you know me!”
She pushes me away, hoping I’ll leave her alone. And hoping I won’t.
I admit that she wore me down. For a while, I didn’t even want to be around her (although I tried very hard to never let it show). Over the past months, I’ve been working harder to connect and bond.
This week, I turned on the fire hose. She’s getting all kinds of love from me.
Here’s the thing.
RAD kids really DO want to connect, but are scared that if they allow themselves to be vulnerable, the adult will fail them.
The unfortunate truth: most adults fail most kids at least once. I have failed both our kids, at times.
Since I’ve increased my intent to communicate love, her defenses are dropping. And rocketing skyward.
She wants to connect. She wants to let me know her.
But for a RAD child, connection = DANGER.
So, instead of returning the hugs like a typical child, she stands rigid. Sometimes she puts her arms around my waist, barely touching.
And she fights in every way she can.
Last week, she became “sick” when she didn’t want to do something. Her head ached, stomach hurt. Finally, I told her to stay in bed. Or, she could choose to join us but must stop complaining.
Because I wasn’t 100% certain she was faking, I took her temperature. Normal.
Five minutes later, she began calling me. The first time, I dropped by her room. “My head hurts,” she whined.
I told her to close her eyes and try to rest. Three minutes later, she was yelling again. I opened her door. “My stomach!”
Explaining that I had chores to finish, I told her to come get me if she needed something. I went upstairs. She started yelling.
I called down to remind her that she could come get me if she needed me, but I wasn’t coming back downstairs for a while. She started screaming. I shut my door.
Several of my RAD-experienced friends might say I missed an opportunity to bond with her by showing my availability to meet her needs. Unfortunately, we’ve found that whatever behavior gets attention becomes her “thing.”
If I ameliorate imagined aches, they become worse. Much worse. We’ve worked with several counselors; they agree we have to be vigilant about what behaviors receive attention.
Half an hour later, she still screamed my name, which told me two things:
- She’s determined.
- There’s no way she has a headache.
I heard the clothes dryer stop. As I walked down the hall, I called, “Had to come downstairs to get the laundry. If you need me, come get me.”
She called, “My legs don’t work!”
This was new.
Opening her door, I asked, “What?”
“I wanted to come get you, but my legs don’t work right now.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, “but you still may not scream. If you need me, come get me. If it’s an emergency, your legs will work.”
I went back upstairs. She started screaming. I put a movie in for our son, to drown it out.
When she finally stopped, I ran downstairs. “Hey. Just checking on you, now that you’re quiet. How are you feeling?”
She groaned. “Horrible. I think I’m very sick.”
“Oh.” I paused. “Too bad. You have that event tonight. We would need to leave in half an hour. But if you’re sick, you’re sick.”
She sat up. “I forgot!”
I started to close her door.
“Wait,” she said, “I think I’m better! We’re going to eat before we go, right.” It was a statement, not a question. I didn’t like her tone, but ignored it.
“Sure, if you’re hungry.”
She hopped out of bed. I went to the kitchen, heated ravioli and put about a quarter-cup in her bowl.
She sauntered into the kitchen and wrinkled her nose. “I can’t eat.”
I reminded her she’d “asked” whether we’d eat before leaving. In a petulant tone, she informed me she simply wanted to know whether we were going to eat; she didn’t want to eat.
I smiled (not on the inside) and said, “Well, that’s why I only gave you a little bit. Since you’ve been sick.”
“If I eat too much, I’ll throw up,” she said.
Oh, geez. This again.
“Okay, well, if you don’t think you should eat it, don’t. I have to run upstairs.” And I did.
Five minutes later, our son yelled, “I think she’s puking!”
I put her back to bed.
“But we were going to my event!” she wailed.
“Right,” I said, “but you felt sick, and now you threw up. Sounds like the flu to me, and we can’t risk it. Stay in bed.”
She began to argue, but I stopped her.
“I’m not accusing you of anything, but you and I both know that you can choose to puke. I’m not asking whether you did, because it doesn’t really matter. If you didn’t, and you’re sick, you need to stay in bed. If you did make yourself throw up, you’re still staying in bed as a consequence.”
She huffed and flipped over.
Hubby arrived home, already aware of the situation. When he opened her door, she acted sick for about thirty seconds. Then, wrapped up in their conversation, she dropped all pretense. (Surprise: she wasn’t really sick.) He bade her an early goodnight. We didn’t hear another peep.
The next morning, she “had a headache” before school.
Hubby can always see right through her. “If you complain to your teacher even once, or if you go to the nurse, your afternoon activity is cancelled.”
I worried a bit that she’d be truly ill and try to power through instead of asking for the nurse. I imagined her passing out, falling out of her desk.
Those concerns? For nothing.
That afternoon, she bounced out to the car. “I had a great day! I didn’t feel bad even ONCE!”
Here’s the thing. RAD kids use negative behavior to push the “dangerous” loving adult away. When they start to feel connection, they push even harder in reaction.
When I told the counselor about our week, she said, “Congratulations! We’re making progress!”
And then she reminded me that this will probably continue for the next four years. It might get worse before improving.
I have to go…I think I feel a headache coming on. And I might throw up.
But in the meantime, I know you have a thought to share. How would YOU handle this? What’s worked for you?