Posted by: fatherof11 | July 1, 2007

Back to the Beginning

Along the lines of what this blog was originally intended for, I am going to post a letter from a troubled mother of an older adopted child and then my reply to her. All personal information has been removed from both of these.

Mother’s letter:

Now for our problem. We adopted from China lastJanuary, and our daughter turned 14 in July. We knew that the bonding process would take a long time, and that it takes a whole lot longer for a teenager to adapt to a new culture, but we did not expect everyone to be so miserable almost a year later. Our daughter exhibits many (almost all) of the signs and symptoms of RAD. We have been spared the rages and for that we are grateful. But we have a child who seems unable to function in a family setting. Although she spent her first 11 years with a family (not her birthfamily) apparently she was allowed to rule the roost. She will not follow our rules (and trust me, we only have a few), she constantly talks back, she has alienated her brother and, for a time, was abusive to our younger son. (When confronted about this, she simply smiled) I will not leave her alone with him now, and although I know she did it out of extreme jealousy and it may never happen again, I cannot forgive her nor trust her with him. She is jealous of all our other kids, even the grown ones. As long as we are not asking her to do something, or turning down a demand of hers, she can be pleasant. But Friday night, after an hour long, calm (for once) discussion about treating us and others with respect, and how much happier she would be(and all of us) if she would try to be nicer to everyone (therefore causing everyone to be nicer to her), and we thought we had finally made some progress she announces that we were the ones who needed to change. It would be too hard to be nice and follow the rules. We were the ones who were wrong. She did not have to do what we said. She could continue to refuse to eat, refuse to go to bed, or basically refuse to do anything unless she wanted to do it. We are exhausted. The whole family is unhappy. We have taken away her internet (messaging total strangers and visiting very inappropriate websites),and pulled her from the school athletic team because of her behavior. No changes. She attends a private school and although she excels in math, she has no real interest in any other subjects. She audited school last spring,and was enrolled in her age appropriate grade this fall. Major mistake. She really needs to be homeschooled, but that is not an option for us. She misses the other girls in the orphanage, and the closeness they shared, but we have boys at home. We need some guidance! Any suggestions, comments or ideas? We are so tired of the fighting. The other morning we sat at the dining room table for 4 hours because she refused to drink her milk. We have raised kids to adulthood, but dealing with her is more painful than anything the others ever did or are doing now. Help.

Here was my reply:

Wow, it sounds like you have some real challenges before you! I would be happy to help, if I can. My husband and I have had the privilege of helping a few families who are struggling like you are, and I sure hope we can help you, too. Hearing your daughter’s history, I am not surprised that you are having the problems you are with her. Not at all. It sounds like she may have been in a “family”, but didn’t have the family structure that we accept as normal here in the US. God’s plan for families is for the adults to be in charge and the children to learn from them and respect them. Any other form of a family is a dismal failure, as her’s ultimately was in China. It sounds like there was no discipline whatsoever. You are basically dealing with a 14 year old girl who never learned that actions have consequences, when she was a toddler. She never had the advantage of being taught respect for adults as a two year old. You have to go way back with her, to the point where she missed the basic facts of how adults and children must act towards each other.

My husband and I have what appears to be a unique opinion of RAD behaviors. This long, long list of behaviors that post institutionalized children may exhibit are sinful (wrong) behaviors that they have picked up during their life and have not been trained otherwise on, and they need to be dealt with as such. When a child does something wrong, they must have consequences for it, right? It sounds like you are already doing this, but you may need some help, encouragement and suggestions. As I read over the list of RAD behaviors, I see many things that our bio kids do that are on the lists! It is just when you put all of these things together on a list targeted towards a specific group of children (adopted) and then put a label on it that things can get dangerous. Parents and professionals alike may tend to let the kids get away with these behaviors due to the fact that they have been through so much, or because they are adopted, or due to a myriad of other reasons. The fact is though – these kids need to UNlearn those behaviors! They need to be trained to behave and obey their parents. This is particularly hard with older children who did not learn respect for adults when they were young. Many institutionalized children never even interacted with adults, much less learn how to respect and honor them. These teenagers, or preteens, must be taught and trained, (lovingly and firmly) as a two year old would!

One note on actual attachment issues – those are not necessarily the same as RAD. Certainly, these kids who have been in an institution may have great challenges in bonding with a family. That should not at all be surprising. We, as parents, should keep realistic expectations of these children and not expect more out of them than they are able to give. Even some bio kids are more affectionate than others. Perhaps we should not expect a child adopted at an older age to ever be emotionally like a child we nurtured from birth. That is a much different relationship. This does not mean that we cannot have a GOOD, LOVING, and HEALTHY relationship with that child – but we just need to keep a very open mind and see what the child is emotionally capable of.

OK, if you are like me, you are wanting some practical applications now!! I certainly understand that, as I am a very concrete person. Well, basically you need to choose a particular area or two to work on with her and then buckle down to concentrate on that and put other problems on the back burner for now. “Choose your battles,” as we say around here. Find something that you and she both know she CAN DO, so that she cannot use the excuse of, “It’s too hard – I can’t do it.” One thing that might work is to require her to say “Yes Ma’am and Yes Sir” to you when you tell her to do something. That is a habit for our kids now, and they don’t even think about it. She CAN do something like that, if she can speak English, right? You could also insist that she pick up her clothes, or put them away, or put her plate in the sink when she is finished, turn lights off when she leaves a room, etc. The goal is to establish a habit of obedience and to avoid big issues at first. This will also help to establish your authority over her, though, a bit at a time. As the Bible says, “Precept upon precept” (one thing at a time, building on the thing before). Work on perfecting your calm “game face” when doling out the consequences. “Oh, I am so sorry that you chose to not do that, honey. Remember those consequences we talked about? Well, now I have to enforce them,” (with a smile on your face). DON’T negotiate with her. Your terms have been set already (you stated what the consequences would be for particular behaviors) and you must follow through with them. She WILL test you over and over again, to see if you are serious and if you will be consistent. This will take up much of your time for a good while, but it is imperative that you get it done now and not wait until she gets even worse.

Also, carefully consider what things are importan
t to her, so that you can start your strategy of taking them away from her, as consequences for her misbehavior. Does she get an allowance? Charge her a quarter for every time when she does not say it. Does she watch television? Take away a certain number of minutes per day for every misbehavior. Make sure that she knows ahead of time what the consequences will be if she does not obey you in the area that you choose. Then, FOLLOW THROUGH EVERY SINGLE TIME. Every time. Did I mention that you need to do that every time? 🙂 In a calm manner, state that she will now have the consequences that you have chosen, whatever they are. You may need to keep a chart or do something that she can see the privileges being actually taken away (or money out of a bank, etc). Now, be prepared for additional misbehaviors in other areas while you are doing this. Do not try to deal with them all, though. It will overwhelm you and you cannot do it. This is why you need to choose your battles carefully – make sure you choose the ones that really matter but are not the huge issues that you aren’t ready to touch yet. Try to not get upset when she misbehaves in other ways. You can state calmly to her, “We will work on that misbehavior later.” That way, she will know that you are not letting her “get by with it”.

Also, let your older son know what you are doing, since he may be the brunt of some of her additional misbehaviors. You mentioned that you do not have many rules in your home. You may want to consider making some new ones. Kids need the structure of rules, whether they realize (or admit) it or not. There was once an experiment done at an elementary school where they took the fence away. All of the kids huddled together in the middle of the playground, afraid to venture too far out. However, once they put the fence back up, the kids felt free to wander all the way around the playground, within the safe boundaries of the fence! Go figure!

You might also want to give her a list of the few items you are going to expect absolute obedience on, and another list of things she has a choice on, so that she won’t feel overwhelmed. She will still have some opportunities to assert herself, but on the other hand she will be learning to obey as she goes along. Once she gets those few items of obedience down pat, then move on to other things. A good illustration is the training of a horse. They must first learn to wear a bit in their mouth. This takes a good while. After they get used to that, then they get one more piece of equipment for a while. Then another. Then another. Then, they start to get trained for riding. BUT, that is not done all at once, because the horse would be a bucking bronco and completely unmanageable!! (I don’t consider kids and animals to be on the same level at all, but I do like to use animals for illustrative purposes at times.)

One more thing. You mentioned food issues. Kids (especially girls) are great at making the table a battleground. Parents are so afraid that kids will starve – I must admit that I have this same weakness. However, it is highly unlikely that they will. It would take many days of going without any food at all for a child to starve. Many, many days. They might get weak and green around the gills, but that could be a good lesson for them. If she starts to balk at eating what you set before her, then cheerfully say, “Oh, I am so sorry you are choosing to not eat this. I will put it in the refrigerator for you and you can eat it at the next meal!” Then, do it. Do not let her eat anything at all in between meals. This may mean taking all snacks out of your house, if she insists on making this a big deal, so that she cannot sneak in at nighttime and eat. You may have to bring this unsightly plate back meal after meal after meal, but if she gets hungry enough, she WILL eat it, so that she can go on and eat something else. It sounds like you have the perseverance for this, since you made her sit four hours one time when she didn’t want to drink her milk.

OK, really one more thing this time. Our kids have really been easy. I give the glory to God, fully and completely, but I know that one way God used was to convince us to keep them at home for a time, away from their peers. We were able to deal with any and all behavioral issues at home, rather than on the school battlefield. It helped for us to be able to work on them all day, and not just in the evenings and on weekends. So many families that we see spend as much time UNdoing the negative effects of peer pressure as we do training our kids each day, and they have not even gotten started with the training time! I know you say that homeschooling is not an option for you right now, but in the long run it might end up saving you time? That is something you have to decide on your own, though. It is a very personal decision, just like most parenting decisions are.

Well, I will let you digest this for now. I tend to ramble and get carried away, so forgive me if I have done that now! Please ask me more questions, too. I do best when I have specific questions to address. Our own personal guide book for parenting is the Bible, and all of our advice is given with a prayer and the hopes that it lines up with God’s Word in every way. I will be praying for you and looking forward to hearing back from you!

End of reply.

copyright, 2007

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