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Taking Control

We’ve come to realize that almost all of the recent craziness stems from our son’s obsessive need to control every piece of his own life.

Unfortunately, he’s too young.

We give him as much control as possible, whenever possible. Even when there isn’t technically a choice (as in, “get ready for bed”), he decides the order of operation.

He always chooses his own clothes (although I sometimes send him back with the directive “pick something that can be seen in public” when he tries to don a dirty, worn t-shirt for a trip to our favorite coffee shop, or to wear torn jeans to church).

“But these are my holey jeans. HOLY jeans.”

Sorry, no.

His in-home counselor (yep, she’s here about 10 hours a week) asked him what he wanted to control.

“What I eat” was at the top of the list.

This utterly confused me.

He orders his own food at restaurants off the kids’ menu. He makes his sandwich for lunch any way he likes. He chooses what to eat for breakfast. After he made his “what I want to control” list, I handed him a list of available food and gave him the opportunity to plan what the whole family would eat for a week.

He didn’t complete it, because…

What he really wants is to eat whatever he wants whenever he wants without anyone telling him “no.”

A few weeks ago, Hubby and I confronted him about his habit of taking or doing whatever he wanted without asking. He told us the reason he does this is his aversion to hearing the word

NO.

“If I don’t ask, you can’t say no.”

He’d prefer to experience a major consequence after the fact rather than hear “no.”

Being one of those individuals who tends to ask for forgiveness instead of permission, I understand a little. However, when I use this strategy, I’m looking for the quickest route to what I need, not for a reprimand. If there’s even a chance of a consequence, I check first. This kid just doesn’t care.

He’d also rather lie than tell the truth.

We’re not big on spanking, but sometimes, let’s be honest, we’re in a hurry and there isn’t latitude for a long discussion.

Right now, things are pretty crazy thanks to a move and an eviction (not our own, thank goodness; we kept our first little house as a rental and ended up with some tenants who were unbelievably inept at paying rent). On top of everything, Hubby ended up having a work trip the week of the move, so we decided to move everything a week early.

During the “quick, let’s get the stuff moved” effort, around 10 pm and on the third trip taking trailer loads to the new house, Hubby and I walked toward the truck and heard a banging noise. Really sounded like something hitting the side of my truck (yes, I drive a truck and no, I’m not a hillbilly).

We got to the other side of the truck in about 15 seconds. The boy was sitting, angel-like, in the back seat of the truck.

Hubby:  What was that?

Boy (smirking): What was what?

Hubby: The noise.

(Knowing his propensity for word games, we provide a minimum of information in our questioning, as he considers saying “no” to “did you take a cookie?” to be completely honest if the question we should have asked is, “did you take THREE cookies?”)

Boy (more smirking): I didn’t hear anything.

Hubby: I’m sure you heard it. Mama and I heard banging.

Boy: Maybe it was the hose?

Hubby: The hose?

Boy: Yes. You know…sometimes it bangs on things. Were you near the hose?

Hubby: *eyes narrow*

Me: The hose did not make the sound.

Boy: Oh, the banging sound…I think it came from over there. (Motions vaguely off behind the truck.)

Hubby: We don’t have time for games. It’s two hours to midnight and we’ve got two more loads to go. We’re exhausted. Just tell us. What were you banging on?

Boy: I wasn’t banging on anything.  (Emphasis on “banging” indicated we were involuntary participants in the Word Games game show, and the boy was our host.)

Hubby: Okay. I will count to ten. Tell me what made the noise, or I will spank you.

For those of you who gasp at corporal punishment, let me tell you…these spanks are not abuse; they’re few and far between and are just a swat on the behind. Maybe because they’re rare, immediately afterward he often acts as though we’ve pushed a reset button on his Behavioral Operating System, which was Hubby’s intended result. Honestly, I wonder sometimes if we should spank more often. My brother participated in at least one good spank session a day for years, and he’s turned out to be a fairly cool dude…but I digress.  

Hubby counted to ten, then popped him on the behind. The reset button was apparently not working that night, as the boy continued to smirk.

And then began to wail as though we’d thrashed him.

This kid has perfected the art of crying on command (the kind of cry that sounds like he’s broken a bone) and can turn it on and off at will. He knew the neighbors could hear. He thought we’d back down.

The counselor told us not to make allowances or remove him from a situation for a reprimand. He’ll think we’re too weak to give him a consequence in front of others, which leads to sometimes-uncomfortable scenes (sorry, mom). So, we let him scream.

Hubby suggested that maybe the boy should tell the truth. The boy insisted he had no idea what we meant by “noise.”

Hubby gave him another ten seconds. No dice. He gave another swat.

We went through this SEVEN TIMES.

This kid is determined. So are we. (And to be clear, it’s not about “winning” the argument. If we don’t find resolution to this ongoing battle, this kid is going to grow up into a lying, manipulating adult…and I refuse to do that to my future daughter-in-law.)

Finally, with an immediate and somewhat creepy change in demeanor (from screaming banshee to calm and collected), the boy said, “The noise was me. I was banging my shoes to get the dirt off.”

Um, what?

Now, to be clear, he never said what he was banging them ON (it sounded like my truck), so in his mind he was still in control of that piece of the truth, but whatever. At that point, we were so tired, we didn’t have the energy to pursue it.

We asked why he didn’t just say so in the first place.

He shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

This has been an ongoing battle, once again for control.

He is determined to have control of everything, including the truth.

He believes we can’t MAKE him tell the truth.

It’s true. We can’t.

For the last year, we’ve tried everything we can think of to help him realize that telling the truth is best, including giving him NO consequence when he tells the truth about something he’s done.

We started this mind-bending and counter-intuitive technique because he constantly says he lies to stay out of trouble. However, he’s only in trouble if he lies, so this reason no longer makes sense.

Literally. NO consequence.

(Of course, if he did something really awful, we’d have to make an exception, but we’ve stuck with this so far.)

Me: “Did you eat the entire package of cookies and stuff the trash behind the refrigerator?”

Boy: “Yep.”

Me: “Since you told the truth, I won’t give you a consequence. However, don’t do it again.”

Ridiculous? You bet.

And yet.

He STILL lies compulsively about almost everything.

This year has been exhausting on both mental and emotional planes. We spend hours every day trying to train character.

Popular parenting advice says, “pick your battles!” but popular parenting doesn’t have this kid. We can’t pick battles, because if he wins one, he’s twenty times worse the next time.

Counselors say, “give control of everything you can!” and so we have. But for him, it’s not good enough until he can do ANYTHING he wants. I’m not even kidding; this is an open conversation we have at regular intervals, and he consistently states he does not want anyone else telling him what to do AT ALL.

Recently, he’s upped the ante; he wants to control where he lives and WHETHER he lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Adoption = Can I Leave Her in Haiti for a Week?

This morning, I bit my tongue. Hard.

Well, at least figuratively.

The last few months have been okay, but there’s been an overarching feel of something I just couldn’t quite identify. Thanks to another blogger, I’ve finally got it.

Thank you, Sandy. (There’s the link to her blog.)

APATHY. (And taking a page from one of my favorite bloggers, I give you my Song of the Day.)

It’s been difficult to get our daughter to accomplish anything, especially the last few weeks. Unless I stand over her, chores take forever. Three days to clean her room (which wasn’t that bad to begin with). Four hours to put away laundry (granted, she needed to hang up quite a few items, but it should have taken half an hour). Requests to perform simple tasks bring grumbling and eye rolls. She does the bare minimum in her school work and her handwriting has tanked.

It’s difficult to teach cause-and-effect to a child who lived in foster care. Taking away electronics, toys, TV time, etc., for infractions has very little effect. When you grow up with nothing, you get used to it. Early bedtime is mildly annoying. I can almost read her mind. “It’s not like you’re locking me in an empty room. You people leave the door open, lights on and answer me if I say good night six times. Whatever.” 

Part of the problem is that she gets more attention if she doesn’t do her chores. Well, chore.

We used to alternate weeks; one week, she fed and watered the dogs, then our son took it for a week. We noticed a pattern. On his weeks, the dogs were fed and watered. He was consistent. On her weeks, she was also consistent–in NOT filling the water buckets or food dishes. We had to remind her, and unless we stood next to her, the dogs’ water access was not guaranteed. Last spring, in an attempt to motivate her, I told her that watering the dogs would be her chore until she did it on her own, with no prompting, for one week. She’s still watering the dogs…some days. If we don’t prod her, she doesn’t do it. (My husband or I have been giving the dogs water without her knowledge–no need to turn us in to PETA.)

Finally, we got frustrated enough to mention it to the kids’ counselor. She was shocked that a) we’d allow this to be an ongoing problem and b) filling the water bucket is our girl’s only consistent chore. She explained that the issue was either with us or with the dogs, then asked our girl whether she would give the dogs water if they could speak and ask for it. “Definitely!”

“If you would give the dogs water if they ask, but won’t do it when your parents ask, then you don’t want to listen to your parents. Why?”

Blank stare.

The counselor didn’t back down. I love this woman.

Our girl finally said she didn’t have a reason not to listen. Combined with the other behaviors we’ve been seeing, this added up to one thing: control. The counselor announced, “You’re trying to control everyone. Here’s the thing. Do you pay any bills?” Our girl shook her head. “Do you buy the food?” Another shake. “Do you clean the whole house, do the laundry, buy gas for the cars or cut the lawn?” Multiple shakes. “Right. If you don’t do any of the big responsibilities, you don’t get to control any of the big stuff. When you grow up and pay the bills, THEN you get to decide whether you do a chore. For now, you do what you’re told. When you drive your own car, THEN you decide if you want to show up on time. For now, you’re not allowed to make everyone late. Your parents tell you what to do, and you do it. Got it?”

I wanted to kiss her, but that might have been weird.

The counselor also told our girl that it is ridiculous, first, that she has only one daily chore, and second, that it’s not getting done. She’s aware of the RAD, so made it clear: “This isn’t coming from them. This is coming from ME. You are going to get more chores, and you’re going to do them. You’re going to do your best in school. You’re going to work hard to follow directions. You don’t get to do fun things unless you do your part. Understood?” Affirmative nod.

Things have been better in the last two days since the chat. Yesterday, both kids were late getting ready for school (which equals earlier bedtime), but I told them they could earn some of the later bedtime back by behaving at school. Both kids piled into the truck that afternoon with cries of, “I was good at school today!” and I realized we might be going about this backwards. What the counselor said to us finally became clear– we give them everything, then take it away when they don’t behave. We need to start out with nothing, then reward the good behavior. This is especially true for the girl, who thrives on attention (any kind).

We’re not going to assume Friday is Movie&Pizza Night. Friday night is Nothing Night, until they earn a movie and pizza by doing their part. Bedtime is now an hour earlier than usual, but they can earn a later bedtime as they move through their day.

Ready to leave by 8:15? Stay up ten minutes later. Ready to leave by 8? Twenty minutes later. Didn’t use your strategies to check work before turning in your math and got a D? No minutes. Teacher confirms that although you have a D, you used some of your strategies? Ten minutes. You would have had a D, but used your strategies and found mistakes, bringing it to a C? Twenty. Had a fair day at school, with no major issues? Ten minutes. Your day was stellar? You get twenty for that. Got a note home from the teacher about how amazing you were at school? Bedtime is thirty minutes later!

Our son will be finding ways to stay up until midnight.

The girl is definitely not happy about the changes we’ve already put in place.

This morning, I told her that her new daily chore is to empty the dishwasher. (Some of you, like me, will roll your eyes a bit…we didn’t even HAVE dishwashers, right?) She turned from me to face the wall, arms folded, and grouched, “I never thought my life would be this…” she trailed off, and I chuckled, walking around to see her face. “What, hard?” She nodded slightly and turned her back on me again. It took all my self-control not to laugh out loud.

(Insert bitten tongue here.)

I have seen poverty first-hand. Know the types of things some of my friends have had to endure to survive. Experienced, for short times, the devastation of developing countries. Calling her life “hard”…I have no words for the explosion of incredulity that happened in my head.

Yes, these children had a very tough beginning. Understood hopelessness, experienced an American level of poverty, lived through neglect. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not minimizing that.

But the last four years, they have lived a charmed life. We go on amazing vacations, including a trip to Disney World, a place most kids can only dream of visiting. They attend a wonderful school with teachers who actually care–and put up with their nutty behavior because they understand the underlying issues. Each has a (huge) bedroom, a closet full of really nice clothes, tons of toys, and pets. We provide everything they need and most of what they want. During the school year, we’ve allowed school to be “their job.” They do occasional chores, but for the most part, they leave messes for others to clean up (which I’ve done; yes, I know, I’m part of the problem).

As usual, blogging leads me back to the root of the problem: me. My own apathy. I’ve been letting it happen, because it’s just easier than fighting. But the winds, they are a-changin’…and they’re not bringing Mary Poppins.

And honey, when you’re 13, we’re heading to Cité Soleil, Haiti or Korogocho, Kenya, so you can see “hard” with your own eyes.

Apathy no more, baby.

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