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Chinese Lantern

If you’ve seen Disney’s Tangled, you may remember the Chinese lanterns filling the sky with warm light.

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Photo Cred: Chris Alcoran

Those lanterns are truly beautiful…in theory…with adult supervision…and safety measures in place.

 

 

See, this is inspiring, right?

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Photo Cred: Keith Williamson

Right?

Of course it is.

And a similar vision inspired our kid.

Sometime in the last month, our boy watched a “how to make your own Chinese lantern” video. This morning, he decided to put that knowledge into practice.

Without telling us.

I woke this morning to the unmistakable smell of burning plastic. Considering his propensity for experimenting, my first thought was,

What the heck did he put in the toaster?

I threw on my fluffy white robe and stumbled down the stairs.

“WHAT is that SMELL?”

Leaning against his doorframe with arms folded, I knew I exuded confidence in my momming abilities. Unfortunately, the fluffy makes-me-look-like-a-bunny-rabbit robe cancelled out my scowling face.

He immediately lied.

“Uh…I think that’s my toast.”

No, son, I’m sorry. Toast does not smell like Daddy did the day he replaced an outlet and found out our home’s previous owner had not marked the circuit breakers accurately. Shocking.

Our daughter appeared in the hall.

“Hi. I wiped the frame of the bathroom door, the spare bedroom door, my door and now I’m going to wipe the laundry room door.”

Due to some negative behavior this week, she earned a few extra chores and I told her last night that she needed to have them done before Daddy arrived home so she could have dessert.

Getting up in the morning to get them done is a strategy she’s used before, but giving me a detailed rundown of the few items she’s done is a clear signal that something weird is going on.

I thanked her and then stood in the kitchen, trying to figure out the quickest way to get the truth without the benefit of coffee to organize my thoughts.

The lighter on top of the fridge caught my eye.

“Hey. Did you see your brother with a lighter this morning?”

She paused. Froze like the proverbial deer in headlights.

“Did you?”

She shrugged. “Yes.”

I returned to his doorway. “What were you doing with the lighter? You have one chance to tell me the truth because I do not have the energy for this right now.”

He: “I was trying to make a Chinese lantern on the back porch. And SHE was laughing.”

She: “NOOOOOO! I was sitting at the table eating my breakfast! I wasn’t outside.”

After allowing them to spout about thirty seconds of conflicting stories, I said, “I’m going to look at the back porch. (To her): If I see your footprints in the dew, you are going to be in deep trouble because you knew he was playing with fire and didn’t come get us. (To him): If her footprints aren’t out there, YOU are in trouble for lying for saying she’s involved. You guys have from now until I get to the door to tell the truth.”

They both insisted they were telling the truth. No confessions.

Unfortunately, the dew didn’t cooperate. No dice on the footprints. The girl, however, couldn’t help herself. She hovered in the doorway, checking. I looked around and couldn’t figure out where the plastic smell originated.

“So, I can’t find the burned plastic…” I was talking more to myself than to her, but she answered.

“Oh, it’s right here,” she grinned, flipping the Welcome mat over. Sure enough, it was covered in melted grocery bags.

Then it hit me. The blinds were closed on the back door, and she said she’d been eating breakfast. At the table. If true, there’s no way she could have seen him burning the bag.

“So. You were here.”

Her eyes widened with feigned innocence. “I wasn’t outside!”

Mama Radar kicked in. There’s the tell.

If only she’d use her semantics superpower for good.

“You weren’t outside. But you were standing in the doorway with the door open. That’s why the whole house stinks. If the door had been closed, the smoke would have stayed outside.”

“But I wasn’t outside,” she repeated.

“Right,” I said, “but you know the issue isn’t about whether you were outside or not. The issue is that you stood there and watched him playing with fire. What are you supposed to do if he does something dangerous?”

“Come get you.”

“Did you come get us?”

“No, but I told him I was going to tell on him.”

“Right…but when I came downstairs, did you tell me?”

More pausing. “Well, no…because I didn’t want to get in trouble.”

This means that she was definitely involved, egging him on if not actually touching the lighter.

“Have we told you several times in the last two weeks that you need to come tell us if he’s doing something dangerous?”

“Yes.”

“Was this dangerous?”

“Yes.”

“Did you know it was dangerous?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. From here on out, if you don’t come get us IMMEDIATELY when he’s doing something dangerous, you will get the EXACT same consequence he does.”

She was not happy about this. We talked about it further and she finally admitted that she didn’t come get us because she wanted to see what would happen, then realized that since she stood and watched (and laughed, which she knows is his cue to continue), she would also be in trouble.

This afternoon after school, they both had to write a two-page single-spaced paper on the dangers of playing with fire, when fires are appropriate/safe (with adult supervision) and what one should do when tempted to play with fire (or watch). We showed them pictures of people and pets who’d been burned and watched a video of a veteran who’d been burned during a training exercise.

Hopefully we’ve seen the last of playing with fire. We explained to they boy that if he’d simply asked (and waited instead of following his impulse) we could have looked up the proper way to make a Chinese floating lantern and then created some as a family this evening.

I explained to the boy that Hubby would have created a plan including:

  1. How to actually build the lantern
  2. How to use it SAFELY
  3. Backup plan in case things got out of control

and he admitted he didn’t have any of those three in place. We assured him that we don’t have a problem with his creativity, just the impulsive behavior and lack of safety.

Maybe later this weekend we’ll make some lanterns.

Good thing I told the grocer I wanted plastic instead of paper…if he’d been working with a paper bag, he might have burned the house down.

In all this, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson.

Just because it’s above his line of sight doesn’t mean he won’t find it. No more lighters on the fridge. In fact, I’m just going to move them all to the garage.

And on the bright side, I recently listened to (Daily Show host) Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime.

He actually burned a house down, and he still turned out okay.

I’ll just lean on that hope for the next 7.5 years…

If you have a chance, get the book on audio (Audible.com or your local library); read by the author, it’s an absolutely gripping memoir of his childhood during Apartheid. Hearing it straight from Trevor (yes, we’re now on a first-name basis, since I’ve listened to it three times) is perfect. In five words: funny, sad, triumphant, don’t miss. 

X-Files and Erik Erikson

During college, a bunch of us gathered around the ancient donated television every week to watch Mulder and Scully try to catch each other—I mean, try to catch aliens. Anyone who watched the show knows the tag line…

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Photo Credit: Snailystitches

Unfortunately, wanting to believe is not the same as having the ability to trust.

Our boy has had a rough time, both at home and at school, since Dad passed away.

His Asperger’s (don’t tell me Asperger’s is not a thing…it’s a thing, DSM-V be darned) daily rears its head with tics and social ineptitude and difficulty communicating. Our ten-year-old is impulsive beyond belief and often behaves like a five-year-old. A five year old with moments of clarity in which he communicates like a forty-five-year-old…

 

Children who have missed certain phases of life may regress, especially in times of emotional upheaval. Remembering a college psych research paper on Erik Erikson, I found an article by Claudia Fletcher on the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) website. The site itself is very basic but presents excellent information.

The information isn’t new to me, but sometimes I need a refresher…and the best way to learn is sharing with others.

If your kid appears to suddenly lose his mind, perhaps he’s experiencing a missed stage. (Or, alternately, he’s simply lost his mind.)

Stage One: The First 18 Months
Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. Mistrust;
Basic Strengths: Drive and Hope

“[E]mphasis is on the mother’s positive and loving care…[using] visual contact and touch. If we pass successfully through this period of life, we…[can] trust that life is basically okay and have basic confidence in the future. …[I]f our needs are not met, we may end up with a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and a [general] mistrust of the world.”1

Our kids did not have any of the above in their first eighteen months. Both have low self-esteem, and our boy in particular has an ingrained mistrust of every human he knows.

Research has shown us how important it is for children to attach. Even so, in the first year after placement, we new parents still make the mistake of dwelling on behaviors instead of attachment. Things can change if we view a newly placed children of any age as a newborn:

  • Expectations. Can a newborn give back emotionally? Do chores like everyone else? Know how to have a reciprocal relationship? Of course not. Neither do older kids in a new family.

  • Response. If expectation changes, so does the response. Instead of thinking a child is refusing to comply, assume she is unable to complete the task. This nurturing, teaching approach often nets better results whether a child is being oppositional or is truly incapable.

  • Realizations. Until a child is attached, behavior will not change. If the child cannot bond with anyone, why would he want to please anyone? Too often adoptive parents expect compliance outside the context of a relationship. Without that relationship, however, a child has no incentive to behave better.

Our kids are not newly placed (we’ve had them over five years now) but our girl has not attached appropriately due to Reactive Attachment Disorder. Although our boy seems to have attached fairly well to us, he often seems unable to control his impulses.

To help children attach, learn to gently correct behaviors without over-reacting. Picture yourself as a new husband or wife trying to please the other and be genuinely attractive and worth attaching to. Long lists of rules and consequences that require consistent behavior management should not be the focus of this first stage.

As much as possible, create good feelings for the child whenever you are around. Use lots of laughter, pop a Hershey’s kiss in her mouth when she sustains eye contact, and give as much affection as she will allow. When the child misbehaves, stay calm and point out that the behavior is not appropriate while redirecting her to a new activity with you by her side. Actions and reactions like these promote bonding between parents and children.

Honestly. A Hershey’s Kiss, really? Not for either of mine, especially him…sugar sends him over the edge (yes, I’ve read the articles proclaiming that any perceived reaction to sugar is all in my head…and deemed those articles inaccurate per my in-person observation). 

One of the most significant pieces of this stage in understanding hurt children is Erikson’s definition of hope: “enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes.”2 Recognizing that many children who enter care do not believe they can get what they want provides insight into their little hearts. With no hope and no belief in their own abilities, they are victims in a dim dark world. And, according to Erikson’s theory, the only way they can develop the ego quality of hope is to attach to another person.

This last bit hit me hardest.

Too often, our son can’t quite believe in hope.

He wants to believe but is certain that eventually the adults in his life will fail him—as they always did in the past. Birth parents, social workers, extended biological family members, foster carers…all eventually abandoned him, left him or outright abused him.

A few weeks after Dad died, our boy told me outright,

Sometimes I still can’t believe that you and Daddy won’t get rid of me. I want to trust you but…trusting is hard.

 

He wants to believe.

We just have to find a way to help him get there.

 

 

 

Military Mama

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Photo Credit www.amenclinics.com

Tonight, I lost my cr*p.

Monday is Cub Scout night. Every single week, I hear gravel crunching under Hubby’s tires.

And I wait.

Every. Week.

Always something.

Unless he is 100% supervised, our boy always finds trouble. And every week, they burst through the back door in the middle of a reprimand.

Since Dad passed away, our guy has regressed to the impulsive equivalent of a five year old.

I understand from the many, many articles and books about childhood grief that this is normal, but seven weeks of the behavioral equivalent of Chinese Water Torture has chipped away my resolve to stay calm.

He almost made it through the evening this time.

But then, some pestering little kid he can’t stand ran by and hit him (probably explains the “can’t stand”).

Instead of coming to tell Hubby (which is what we tell him to do, every…stinking…time…), he ran after the kid, knocking people out of the way as he tracked his prey.

Hubby happened upon the scene in time to collar him.

We are exhausted.

We can’t leave him alone for five minutes unless he’s asleep.

It’s like we’re back to year one, minus the screaming (THANK GOD at least he’s not screaming. Yep, I can find a blessing anywhere. I’m pretty sure this means I’m mental).

I have another meeting tomorrow about whether the school will allow a one-to-one behavioral aide. I’m trying to get approval for an in-home counselor to help him cope. I am doing EVERYthing I can think of.

I know being at the end of the rope is not an excuse, but tonight, I’d just had it. I went all

Military Mama. 

It was either that or have an aneurysm, and I just don’t have time for that.

In less-than-quiet decibels, I explained to our boy that although I spend hours and hours and HOURS every week in meetings and filling out paperwork and researching and reading and trying to find solutions that will help them, he and his sister are NOT my top priority.

Hubby is.

And I am

DONE

watching the kids disrespect, ignore and disobey my husband.

I went nose-to-nose with the kid.

Imagine this, but with longer hair (probably the spit is accurate):

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Photo by KoiQuestion

 YOU WILL OBEY, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME SOLDIER?!

Not kidding. I went there.

By the time I was done, he was yelling, “SIR, YES, SIR! I MEAN—MA’AM!”

I don’t really know if it will make any difference.

I know the kid is grieving; we all are. Military Mama is probably not what he needs right now.

Why am I telling you this? Mostly because I’m still pretty upset, both about his behavior and about my reaction. Writing keeps me sane.

I’m telling you this because I think I come across as got-my-stuff-together a little too often, and that’s just not real life. I’m totally winging this.

Also, I want you to know that if you’re in the middle of

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Photo credit: Alonzo Lawhorn

you are

NOT ALONE.

Joshua 1:9 is one of my favorite promises: Be Strong. Be Brave. You are NEVER ALONE.

Even in the moments we fail, God is still there.

Even when Military Mama takes over.

Stand strong. Be brave.

You can do this.

 

 

 

 

Great Expectations, Part 1

 

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Photo by Sandeepa Chetan

Tonight ended with our girl laughing in uncontrollable hysterics. This is not normal, by any means. It’s what happens when she discusses emotions that are uncomfortable.

It’s also the result when the lens through which she views the world becomes a little fractured.

For instance, when life doesn’t meet her Great Expectations.

This morning, I was not laughing, hysterically or otherwise. Our boy has had a rough six weeks since my father-in-law passed away. In addition to the trouble he finds all by himself, some of his classmates have figured out that if they blame him for things, he’ll either get in trouble or blow his stack (and then get in trouble).

On Friday, he was blamed for two things I’m fairly (because nothing surprises me anymore) certain he didn’t perpetrate. I didn’t have time to talk with the principal after I found out, so I left him a message this morning before school.

Yes, I’m that parent. Luckily he’s very patient.

He called me back while I idled in the dropoff line in front of the school. I stepped out of the vehicle to speak with him. He agreed that the incidents in question did not sound like our boy and assured me he’d look into it further.

As I thanked him, bloody-murder screams of, “GET OFF ME, GET OFF ME!” reverberated through my tinted glass windows. In spite of the tint, I could clearly see Boy stretched across the back seat onto Girl.

Ensuring I’d pushed the off-button (because who wants the principal to hear you threatening your kids), I yanked open the door and climbed inside.

GET. IN. YOUR. OWN. SEAT.

I glared at my son. “WHAT is so hard about staying on your side? HOW many times do I have to tell you not to touch your sister? WHY can’t I have a three minute conversation without you two acting crazy? WHAT THE HECK???”

Our son, who is starting to get the idea that telling the truth might occasionally be a good idea, said, “I was trying to untie her shoe. I’m sorry.”

Frustrated beyond a clear mental state, I growled at him, “I am sick and TIRED of telling you not to TOUCH your sister. This is riDICulous.”

Then I noticed.

My daughter was cutting her eyes toward him with a smug little smile. She realized I was looking straight at her and the eyes went wide.

Wait…

“How did this start?” I drilled her with my best Military Mama stare.

“Well…he was lying on the floor with the coat over his head and I was doing this in the air (hands waving) to pretend it was raining. I just did this (more hand gesturing) and pretended it was raining in the truck. (Pause.) It wasn’t really raining.”

I stared at her. “Of course it wasn’t really raining. You think I believe it would rain inside the truck because you waved your hands?”

She gave a little shrug. “Well…no.”

“So let me get this straight. He was in the floor, covered by a coat and you waved your hands in the air and pretended it was raining, and that’s all, and the next thing you know, he’s grabbing at your feet.”

“Yes,” she nods.

“And you NEVER touched him?”

“I just made my hands move like this…” 

I cut her off; when she doesn’t answer the question directly and gives me that big-eyed stare, she’s lying 99% of the time. The other 1%, she’s thinking about lying.

“Did. Your. Hands. Touch. Him. Or. Any. Thing. That. Was. Touching. Him. For instance, the coat on his head?”

She blinks. “I tapped him a little. Like rain. And then he started pulling on my shoes.”

“She was LAUGHING,” he interrupts. “And then she started screaming at me!”

Screaming like he was attacking her.

Something still didn’t ring true. I made her tell me the story again, from the beginning, fast. Trying to tell it quickly sometimes trips her up. It worked. In the middle of her two-minute explanation, she said something about yanking the coat away from him.

I stopped her and told her she’d better tell me the whole truth the first time, or the consequence would double. She still had a couple false starts. Then I asked them to stop and listen.

“What do you hear right now?”

The boy said, “I hear that man walking across the parking lot.”

The girl said, “I hear cars on the road.”

I said, “I was standing right outside the truck. Do you think I can’t hear and see through glass? Tell me the whole truth, NOW.”

Turns out, she started the whole thing.

 

 

Continued…

Learning Not to Punch the Teacher

When your mom borned you, she took one look and threw you in the trash.

The classmate who delivered this charming nugget to my son probably had no idea how close he was to the truth. No concept of how deep his words would wound.

Afterward, we had a long talk about how it’s okay to want to punch someone but it’s not okay to actually put hands on someone. I am proud that even in the face of such soul-searing spite, our boy did not retaliate.

I suggested that he find a constructive way to deal with the painful feelings. Punch a pillow. Draw a picture. Write your feelings.

Tonight, I take my own advice.

Our son’s teacher vacillates between understanding and intolerant.

She is personally offended by his need to draw while she talks and doesn’t understand his Aspie idiosyncrasies.

But after Dad died, she gave our boy a lot of grace as he worked through the grief in the way all the articles predicted: a nosedive in school behavior and performance.

My emotions conflict often when dealing with her.

Today, I received a text.

I saw your son violently kick a student from another class. Please encourage him to behave appropriately in school.

The text bothered me.

If he “violently” kicked another child, I should have been picking him up from the principal’s office, not finding out after the fact.

This was followed by,

He didn’t eat his lunch today.

and

During the test today, he took a red pen and drew on his arms.

This last one, I’d already noticed, a fabulous red dragon tattoo. Although I’ve asked him not to draw on himself, I’m not that concerned about impermanent ink decorations. If he sneaks off to get a real tattoo, well, that’s a problem. No tattoos until you’re 25, when your brain has matured fully. That’s the rule. 

I responded, “Yes, I saw. Did he do anything right?”

She didn’t answer.

I added, “He mentioned that his friend showed him new shoes that change color and invited him to hit them with his foot. Was this the kicking incident?”

No response, then,

He asked permission to bring a cannonball and a bullet to school. He said you will help him bring the cannonball to school. Cannonballs and bullets are not allowed in school. Please discourage him from bringing these items to school.

Good grief. A family friend gave our little history buff several artifacts collected over the years. Our guy’s first response:

“We’re learning about this in history! I bet my teacher would love to see these!”

I told him that he couldn’t take them to school but that possibly I could get special permission to bring them in so the kids could see the display. Evidently he was too excited and brought it up to her.

This is the kid who smoked me in the “Jeopardy” category World Wars and corrected his teacher (accurately) when she taught about Pearl Harbor.

He’s really thrilled about history. Instead of encouraging that passion, she’s just annoyed.

My true difficulty with the situation is this:

I get it.

I understand fully that he requires ten times more direction than any other kid in class. He needs someone to help him see the connection between his actions and consequences (good or bad). He is frequently distracted by a buzzing light, a whispered word, a tapping foot or a bug doodling around the room. He doesn’t think through actions or words before he does or speaks.

I want to be on her side. I want to be a team.

Maybe the last two years (with fabulous teachers who recognized the diamond shine under the inches of behavioral coal dust) have spoiled me. We worked together to find solutions and they’ve offered advice for his current teacher. Those two years weren’t perfect and there’s no way to dream they were, no matter how flexible your imagination. But we worked together and tried each others’ ideas.

She discards ideas faster than I can suggest them.

Seriously, I just want us to work together to point this kid to success; the success I KNOW he can have. In a recent IEP meeting, his caseworker shook her head and said, “even with all his focusing struggles, he’s still keeping his grades up. I can’t believe it.”

I CAN believe it.

He’s brilliant. When he barely studies, he still passes (sometimes with 100s). With the right guidance and focus, he’ll be unstoppable.

Right now, though, she’s just telling him (and me) what he’s doing wrong. And that really gets me steamed. I have NO problem with consequences and the Assistant Principal can vouch that I lend full support to every intervention.

However.

He responds to consistent recognition of what he’s doing right. If he knows he’ll be consistently rewarded for doing the right thing, he generally does the right thing. I say generally, because he’s far from perfect (aren’t we all) and it doesn’t always work, but 8 out of 10 times, it does.

She says, “it’s too hard” to catch him doing well. She thinks it’s ridiculous to give him a “good” point for eating lunch (which the psychologist suggested as at least one guaranteed good point for the day). She argued against most of the interventions that everyone else (school counselor, head psychologist, principal, case worker, mother) agreed upon. She has 20+ other kids and doesn’t have time to devote to my kid. Just “thank God” when he’s quiet and ignore him.

I get it.

But this constant “tattling” (because that’s what the texts above felt like) is just wearing me out. Tomorrow I’m taking the conversation to show the principal, then asking what can be done.

The last time I asked, every other class was maxed out and there’s no possibility of moving him to another class.

Maybe there’s no solution other than,

“Hang in there.”

We’re in school for about four and a half more months. Almost an eternity, yet I know the time will dissipate like clouds puffing past a skydiver.

Fifth grade is not the end of the world. No one wants to know, “How were your marks in elementary school?” No one asks, “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office before middle school?” Maybe we just need to make it through.

In the meantime, though, Hubby takes me for walks and I write.

Tonight, as we trudged down the moon-drenched driveway, I said,

“I want to punch her in the face.”

This is not entirely accurate; I don’t actually want to punch her because then I’d have to deal with legal action (this is the forethought I hope to instill in our boy). However, I want to write about it, and thereby feel better. And so, with a tip of my hat to the best rhymer ever, I write.

 

For Teacher

I must not punch her in the face

Though maybe just a spray of mace

Just a smidge, only a sample

No, I must be an example

Must not, must not kick her knee

Shall not, will not put a bee

In her coffee piping hot

Flick her? No.—NO! I cannot.

 

When I am so mad…I’ll write!

Get some extra sleep tonight.

Go for long walks down the drive.

In her car hide a beehive.

Oh, wait, that last one is wrong;

Instead I’ll sing out a song

Whisper a soft little prayer

That she will lose all her hair.

 

Oh, no, there I go again.

Paying vengeance is a sin

I must let it go, be done

Show forgiveness for my son

That boy’s always watching me

And I so want him to see:

 

Great achievement’s possible

Mercy is unstoppable

Even on the hardest day

Grace and faith will make a way.

 

There.  I feel better.

And bonus, I’m not going to jail for punching a teacher. So, there’s that.

When life just isn’t fair, how do you deal with it?

 

 

 

 

 

Trauma Mama

I can’t figure out how to reblog this page, so here’s the link. Her blog is fabulous and this link sends you straight to a bunch of great books and resources.

Click below for the

Super Resource List by one of my favorite trauma mamas.

RESOURCE: An Overview of Reactive Attachment Disorder for Teachers

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.

www.ATTACh.org

WWW.Center4FamilyDevelop.com

Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD
Center For Family Development
www.Center4FamilyDevelop.com
(c) all rights reserved

Help a Girl Out?

At some point, we’ve all searched for parenting or adoption or mental health resources.

I’m compiling a list…please forward me links, book titles, etc.

If everyone sends 2, we’ll have

over 1000 resources

on our list!

(I’m assuming there will be some overlap.)

People need help. Let’s be the community where they find hope, healing and health. 

Add info in the comments or email me: Casey@hypervigilant.org

*Commentary on the resource is helpful but not required (e.g., “great guide to first-year parenting,” or, “this agency provides post-adoption support in Cambridge, UK”).

To Her Teacher

Dear Miss Stacey, 

You have hit the jackpot. I say this without sarcasm or irony. My daughter is every teacher’s dream.

At times, she will hang on your every word. She will work to keep her classmates in line. Will absolutely follow every directive and do everything you ask with a smile on her face. If you need extra help in the classroom, she’s your girl. She will do everything in her power to ensure you see her as the sweetest, brightest, most charming child.

And for the most part, she is that child.

At school. 

When I tell you she refused to do her homework, you’ll eye me with suspicion.

When I describe how she pretends not to understand simple math calculations, it will sound like delusion. Especially after you watched her complete the work easily with you.

When I explain that we’re late to school because she intentionally poured a cup of water down the front of her outfit just before leaving the house, you’ll assume I’m crazy. 

Her charming, adorable—angelic, really—demeanor will belie every detail of any stories I might share with you.

But I’m not making it up.

In the beginning, she truly will be your ideal, perfect student. This may last well past Christmas if you’re lucky.

Once the school honeymoon has worn off and she begins to recognize you as an authority figure, you will likely begin experiencing RAD.

This doesn’t mean you won’t still enjoy her. Her third and fourth grade teacher (she looped with the class) absolutely loved her. But she was fully informed about the RAD symptoms and messaged or talked with me several times a week.

Last year, RAD manifested in the following ways: 

  • Wandering into class late or at the last minute (even though she was dropped off on time)

  • Taking excessive time to get organized

  • Obsessive playing with items in her desk instead of doing her work

  • Dropping pencils or other materials

  • Multiple bathroom trips

  • Difficulty getting along with peers in more than surface interaction

  • Bossing or controlling other children (she’ll call it “helping” them)

  • Not reading or following the directions on assignments

  • Ignoring, daydreaming, “zoning out” during teaching

  • Sitting by herself and “looking sad” to get other kids to ask her what’s wrong (at which time she regales them with stories of her past and of being adopted)

    These may sound like “regular kid” issues but are actually her bid to control her life…and your classroom.

 

A prime example of her determination to have control: she decided she “won’t” be good at math. Her refusal to learn endangered her ability to graduate 4th grade. We’re still dealing with this.

 

She’s willing to crash and burn

in order to live life on her own terms. 

 

(RAD kids) 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.

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 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.

-Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD
Center For Family Development
www.Center4FamilyDevelop.com
(c) all rights reserved

Our girl is a beautiful, bright kid. She has the potential to do anything she wants in life.

Right now, what she wants is control.

We want her to have some control but she needs to learn she can’t control the people around her in negative ways. 

We are working with a therapist to help her resolve her issues. She’s made slow progress in the five years with us. She may try to discuss this with you or other students in order to garner sympathy. If that happens, please remind her she can talk with us or her counselor but may not share life details at school.

A couple years ago, she convinced a teacher we were mistreating her and Social Services paid us a visit because the teacher called. If she says anything concerning, please ask the principal to call her counselor. School administration is aware of her situation.

Please don’t try to counsel her yourself; if you have any concerns (or if you see the behaviors listed above) please text or call me as soon as is convenient. I will be happy to work with you to find creative solutions. 

Our goal is to show her that adults can be trusted to protect and care for her. We appreciate your understanding and willingness to work with us. It’s not easy.

Trying to help her develop trust is exhausting.

Someday, though, she’ll graduate. She’ll be a healthy, happy adult. She will succeed. 

And you’ll be one of the people we thank.

 

 

 

Help for an Adoptive Family near Cambridge

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photo credit: marc falardeau

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.

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