L. has been with us for over a year and half now. He was 5 when he moved in, and it has been a very difficult journey for him and for us. There have been instances in which therapeutic parenting was thrown through the window. He has been resistant, defiant, challenging especially to my husband (he is scared of me). But there have been moments of hope, in which I think we might make it. As he grows up though he seems more distant, always angry when we pick him up from school (e.g. why did you not being the car? why do you have to pick me up? I want to go to so and so house, etc). A common phrase is I hate this family. There is always a reason for complain, and we often react and say how bored we are of him complaining and moaning ALL the time, which probably doesn't help. We both withdraw often, but in turns - not that we organise it that way, it just happens. Today was specially hard for me, we had 15 minute walk back home from school in complete silence, he angry, myself sad, my tears would just fall. Once home I couldn't face him for a while (I cried so much), but after a while I had to ask him why do you hate me, why are you always unhappy to see us. I asked if he missed his old daddy, his foster. I am just at a loss, when I think that we have another I don't know hoe may years of this I feel desperate, hopeless and scared. I am aware this is much of the parent's state of mind, if we are well we are more resilient and tolerant, but what kind if life is this. How can we help this child and ourselves?
'I hate this family'
It is hard sometimes to see positives when there are a lot of negatives. I remember some difficult days walking home from Primary School. When I reflected on it the reason for the comments on leaving school was often as a result of a hard day often masking anxiety at school. It is so easy though to be down on ourselves at these times.
It is easier to be resilient when you are feeling well. Even a walk can make a difference, especially if the sun is shining. I try to remember when things are hard to make a note of any positive in a day, however small. Maybe celebrate it with him too.
My AS had some play therapy, including life story work with me also involved, which was helpful in bonding. Not sure if this is possible currently. Have you asked your authority for an assessment of needs to see if you can get help via the ASF?
It sounds tough. I would try to access some play therapy or filial therapy. Both might help you to bond more and to find fun and enjoyment in each other's company. If that isn't possible, maybe try some special time each day (as described in "The Incredible Years").
Something that really helped us was rewards charts. I know many adopters think they come straight from hell, but for us they were positive. We had about 6 or 7 tasks the kids had to do each day, 3 of which we knew they would do anyway. So they were slightly challenging for them, but very motivating and manageable. They kept everyone focused and positive. My kids are young teens now, but I have just made new charts because my kids asked for them.
Sorry this all sounds really tough and some good advice above re therapy. One thing I would suggest is that you start to re- parent him and by that I mean treat him more like a baby/toddler so that you re-create a cycle of attachment which you do with a new baby. By doing this you will also fill in any gaps that he has missed - I am sure that his birth parents will not have done this. So you need to stay really close to him, spend time playing with him and if that means hours of Thomas the Tank engine whilst you do all the voices of the trains/Sir Topham Hat, then so be it!! Also in the evenings sit next to him whilst he watches the TV - if he will do this whilst sitting on your lap then even better, but you may have to start slowly by just sitting next to him and then work up to maybe stroking his hand or put your arm around him. This will mean putting all the housework to one side in the evenings so that you can just be with him. Also at bedtime have him sitting on your knee whilst rocking him and reading a story to him. Invest in a rocking chair and spend time rocking him in your arms whilst stroking his hair. Lots of hugs and cuddles. Also make sure that it is you and your husband (no one else) who meets his needs - he needs to start to rely and trust you both. If he is being really defiant then get out in the fresh air - go to playgrounds at the weekend - does he have a scooter/bike? , go to places of interest ( national trust membership is a godsend)- although in the current lockdown all of this will be difficult to do. Try and make the walk home from school fun if you can - play I spy, or just kicking the leaves, give him a piggy back when you get to your road, bring his favourite snack or treat to make the walk home more fun/bearable. Ditch the homework in the evenings too - if this is making his behaviour worse. Put a baby monitor in his room so that when he is in bed if he needs you, you will be able to respond right away to him.
Try not to take what he says personally, difficult I know. He has a lot to be angry about - he has no doubt spent a lot of time in the birth home and will have suffered trauma. So when he says that he hates this family empathize with him - tell him that if you were him you would probably feel the same and it's not fair that he has had to go through all of this. Tell him that you love him and know that it will take awhile before he feels the same and that is ok.
Check there is no bullying going on at school as this could be making his behaviour worse. Also try and get some fun back into life - piggy back to bed at night, do silly things together to make him laugh.
This is all a very intensive way to parent I know - I have done it myself, so you will really need to look after yourself whilst you do all of this. But it will be worth it and it will make a difference, he needs you to succeed at this.
take care and best wishes xx
You are doing fine!!! - I could have written your exact post about 5 years ago and added in "I thought I would be a good and kind mum as I really wanted to do this, but I seem to be doing it all wrong and I hate that I am making AS and me so unhappy - I am a failure - and its getting worse!
We are 7 years in with our AS who came to us at 3...... life was very similar to as you describe for the first few years, but IT DOES GET BETTER!!!
I used to feel sometimes that we had adopted an angry, aggressive, arrogant, nasty child who would look for any excuse to wind me up and hurt me - just because he could. It was an unrewarding, unhappy time and b***dy hard work! Whenever I showed AC my soft or nurturing side AS would jump all over it and trash it whilst telling me he hated me and wanted another family. AS used to call me 'mummy wee wee' as I was always going to the toilet - he didn't realise that this was so I could cry or have a quiet but serious swear to myself - which I needed to do a lot!
Roll on to now and what I feel that we adopted a lovely, funny and engaging child who under all the terrible hurt, fear, self loathing and sadness is really starting to trust us and heal from his destructive start. He can still be a complete toad but he is a sweet toad!
AS was taken into care as he had been neglected and been physically abused by various family members as well as witnessing domestic abuse between his parents. There was alcohol and drug addiction involved so his early life must have been total chaos. When he came to us via foster carers, this was his fourth home in 3 years - inside he was petrified; he had absolutely no control over his own life - grownups decided and grown ups, when they were available, could be scary and hurt him. We were welcoming a very much wanted small person in to our family to make it complete, but for AS it was a threat to his survival - who are these people? will they look after me? will they feed me? will they keep me safe? Why are their rules different from the last grown ups? what if they steel my dummies ... etc etc. It was a massive and scary experience for him - on top of all the others he has had in his life and he was only 3!
I realise now that this tiny, 'I'm all alone in the world' person came to us with a massive and overwhelming bag of worries/ stress/ anxieties and bad memories which he did not understand and could not deal with. With all this going on he seemed to be operating on a really high resting stress level that meant it doesn't take much to really send him into a big meltdown.
You probably know yourself that when you had a bad day at work, you might be short with your partner in the evening as you are still smarting over the criticism from the boss and want to take it make yourself feel better - and you do this by being 'mean' to someone else. You couldn't tell the boss what you thought of her or her criticism as you need the job, so you have stewed on it all afternoon and don't like how it feels inside - you get rid of the bad feeling onto someone you trust to take it - your partner. Maybe this doesn't really help things as then your partner turns round and has a go back and the whole thing ends up in a row and you tell him he has to sleep on the sofa..... Or, perhaps your partner ignores the fact you have had a go at him for not putting the spoon in the dishwasher when he made coffee and says 'are you OK you seem worked up tonight?' at which point you burst into tears and tell him what happened at work and how it feels that your boss is undermining you as the criticism seemed unfounded.
This is exactly what AS was doing with me - but on steroids as his bad feeling that he is trying to get rid of is immense trauma and not just a dress down from the boss! - also your 35 and can work out how you feel, he's 3 and is totally swamped by emotions that he cannot recognise or understand.
When AS first came to us, he couldn't understand how he felt, but the feelings were overpowering and drove his behaviour in a powerful way. It took me ages to work out that he couldn't tell the difference between angry and hungry, he could just feel something in his tummy and didn't understand what it was or like how it felt. I suppose, when you think about it, if no one helped you understand you feelings how can you understand them - you are just going to be reacting to these feelings to keep yourself safe and not feel bad....and as the old saying goes, the best form of defence is attack. That was ACs number one motto, probably still is to some extent.
School is the biggest stress inducer in AC, he finds it hard to concentrate for as long as he needs to in class and he finds a lot of it uninteresting 'whats the point in learning french? - its hard enough doing english lessons and I don't want to ever go to France anyway if they speak french - its a stupid language' which translates to 'I find French lessons very hard and I find it a real struggle to understand, I don't enjoy it at all as they make us say the words out loud and I hate people looking at me as this is really scary as when people look at me they may see how rubbish and stupid and horrid I am. the whole thing just makes me really anxious'. He finds pier relationships difficult and kids say such horrible things to each other, and he finds it very hard to say no or make good choices when under pier pressure. The terrible shame he feels when he is demoted on the class behaviour chart can go on for days, and once when a teacher flippantly said she would call the police in if he behaved like that again he was sooooo petrified that he would not go into school without me for days and I had to go into the school to get it all sorted out..he still will not look at the teacher she scared him so much.
AC would come out of class every day doing a walk of shame or a walk of angry... I use to hate going to get him from school - if we made it back to the car without him saying something horrible I felt that was a result! I still don't particularly look forward to it as its usually doom and gloom in some way shape or form. but I have come to accept that school is hard and I need to let him switch off and forget it as soon as he is out...if that makes sense.
My calm school/ home transition tips are:
1 - dont ask how their day went or any specific questions as it gives them permission to take it all out on you whilst they are still steaming. they will tell you about their day if and when they want to. I found this very hard as I wanted to share his world - I had to learn that his school world is not really for sharing.
2 - if they seem really worked up, don't go straight home - I like to try and keep home calm so we go to a local park for a play as this gets some of the stress out physically before he tells me what he may want to about the injustice of the day. Also keep a scooter handy and will get him to ride around the block on it whilst I try to keep up before we go in.
3 - Make home as calm as possible when you get in. I always have a little sweet or biscuit waiting and some grapes or other small fruit and I make a drink whilst he washes his hands, he knows that this is the routine and it seems to be a good 5 minutes calm when he first comes in even if he has been in a bad mood. He likes food so this is a nice routine for him.
OK, I'm going on a bit here, but my other tips in terms of things that have worked for us are to do with when AS is having a meltdown or is in toad mode:
1 - When AS is being angry, nasty or has collapsed in a heap crying his eyes out, I listen. As I listen I try to work out what he is feeling to make him act this way, and comment on the feeling - label it if you like so he understands where he is coming from and then try to validate the feeling... ' It looks to me like you could be feeling scared about this, would you like a hug' or 'what do you think we could do to help you not feel scared' . This is often a lot easier said than done and AS will tell me when I have it wrong sometimes now. I have got better at it over time.
2 - Try to separate yourself from what AS is saying. Its not personal, its because you are there and safe that he can do this. Try not to react to the words themselves and keep calm. I concentrate on my breathing and keep it calm and steady so that I don't snap back and say something mean myself - which I have done on occasion when it has just got too much - doesn't help anything if you do react it just ups the anti and then you feel bad later! If I can be calm, this helps him to become calmer more quickly.
3 - I try to remember that all feelings are valid and let them be OK - anger is a hard one for me, but all feelings are his feelings and I try to accept them all. If he is angry after say a fall out at school, because someone said he was 'a weirdo' I will say ' Looks like you are angry and I would be too, its not a kind thing for someone to say is it'. I try really hard not to judge the feeling just to let him know I accept that he has that feeling. does that make sense?
4 - Whenever there has been a meltdown, after AS has calmed down I always tell him I am proud of how he handled the situation and I am glad he trusted me to talk to about it, and that I love him (sometimes right at that point I might not feel it, especially) . I always offer a hug, sometimes he wants one and sometimes its too much - that not a rejection of me, its how he is feeling so thats OK.
AS can now talk a bit more about what he calls his 'big sad feeling' that is inside him all of the time, things are getting a little easier as he is starting to recognise triggers and his own feelings in situations. It will take time, the big sad feeling is a massive mix of sad, fear, upset, hurt, loss, angry, shame and confusion amongst other stuff that the poor child has to carry around all the time. I think of it as a bag full of lots of balls of wool that have all been tangled and knotted up so its a big old mess.. and AS is carrying this around and trying to unpick it, but its a big overwhelming mess and he can't remember where the balls of wool came from or how they got so tangled. As he was only 1 when he was taken into care he has odd snapshots of memories about what happened to him and strange overpowering feelings that he can describe but not always put into a context. I just listen to him and try and name the feelings with him. In some ways, if you can get a feeling out, and have a look at it you can see what it actually is and then its just not so powerful anymore. This seems to work for AS. We have had some very candid conversations about things he remembers pre-care, to do with being very scared about being hit and then actually being hit - he said the actual hitting bit is over now so he cant feel it and that memory is not bad but the being scared of going to be hit is a really big fear in him still ( has nightmare about this still). Some of his recollections about seeing his Mum and Dad fighting and one of them getting badly cut were really scary and I had to pull a 'mummy wee wee; after and have a good cry. But its so good that he is getting this stuff out there, and knows that he is not just carrying it around himself.
Anyway, AS is making progress, I love him to bits and am super proud of him, but after such an awful start in life he is a work in progress and he is making slow and steady progress.... and so will you all, You are sorting out an innocent young soul who was badly let down by his first grown ups, he is probably scared to death to trust you, but at the same time petrified of losing you. Its a really hard situation for everyone and I feel for you, I remember once thinking to myself in a dark moment ' this adoption has been a mistake , why did I think I could do this?'.....and then crying with guilt that I was in control of this small person's life and doing it badly - as it felt at the time.... It wasn't badly - these things take time , time for you all to adjust to being a family to adjust and get used to each other and to get to know each other.
I had a different user name in the old days but I use to trawl these boards regularly to look for help and ideas and if I didn't find stuff that helped Id post. Most of the stuff I do was with the help of ideas from here, and from other adopters I know. Some things worked well with our AS others didn't, you will work put between you a way to communicate and support each other
You will get there , it will get easier, in the meantime I am sending you big hugs and all my support as I know how very hard it can be
Bee Id have to say this is the most helpful post ever and I thankyou for your detailed setting out of all this which gives me hope as Im so keen to see actual ways of helping my future child and this was really helpful and clear thankyou. (Im a prospective adopter ) .
Apologies for not replying to thank you all earlier. We got locked out from Linkmaker for eagerly trying to read the responses from both our devises :). Your messages and advice have been and are fantastic and an important source of support to us. Bee and Windfalls, I am starting to implement the advice (after a hard Saturday), closeness, playing, making schools walks fun; it is so easy to forget how small he really is and how much he enjoy it all, if only one perseveres and engage him. I get that we are probably parenting a child that is so many ages at he same time, who switches from the cool (wannabe) 6 years old, interested in Nerfguns and video games to the tantrums-toddler that hates us, cries so bitterly and cannot manage a transition. He rather goes to school because he can play with friends, I have never heard: ' I want to stay home -with you'. That brings a deep feeling of emptiness, failure and guilt in me, for not managing to be liked/loved by him (but I guess I am being selfish and insecure). You have helped me to go back to basics: empathetic with his feelings, trying to help him name those feelings, letting him live them (I guess mindfulness - D. Siegel has a nice talk about it). Bluemetro and Chessnuttree, there is not ASF in Scotland, as for the LA, we haven't heard from them since May (maybe?). L's adoption was granted in Sept. only, and I feel a little resentful that his LA for not followed up with him. I have definitely planned to have Theraplay at some point; this seems to be the right time. As for life story, I recently attended a helpful online course, we need to start some activities with L, but I think we definitely need a professional as well. I could only find one Theraplay practitioner in Scotland.
Thank you all again and good luck Scully, this is a difficult journey, but there are moments of happiness that make it all worth it, that's for sure!
Glad to help. One thing in your post stands out -that he cannot manage transitions. Lots of adopted children have stuff other than attachment/developmental trauma going on and if you think about it - it makes sense. There are reasons why birth parents are unable to parent properly, lead chaotic lives and are unable to put their children's needs above their own and that is because a lot of them have undiagnosed mental health problems themselves such as ADHD, ASD and also learning difficulties - all of which can be inherited. Not being able to manage transitions can be a feature of ASD as are meltdowns/tantrums. I am not saying that your son has this, but it may be worth keeping an open mind on this. Look up the features of ASD and see if any of them fit your son.
I think a lot of our children have both developmental trauma/attachment difficulties as well as other things going on, my AD certainly has. We brought her home at aged 13 months and at age 6 she was dx ADHD/ODD, dyslexia aged 8 and then ASD at 11. Once we had the ADHD under control we found all this other stuff - it was like peeling an onion. But to be honest I always had a feeling that ASD may be in the mix as she was very literal in her understanding of things, lacked imagination - would play but would follow my lead, had difficulty with friendships and so when she was dx ASD I wasn't surprised at all. She also has attachment problems and that is our next line of enquiry.
So please do keep an open mind and do take care of yourself. If you need any more help remember we are always here xxx
Also my ad has never told me that she loves me - it just would never occur to her to say it. communication is just a way for her to have her needs met - she lacks empathy and has an inability to see things from someone else's view, no self-awareness whatsoever - all of these are features of ASD. xxx
Glad to help, please remember that you are not alone - we've all been there to different degrees. I've definitely been there. AS might not say he loves you as its too scary to admit it to himself - let alone to you..it shows he might need you and that makes him vulnerable.
Our AS would tell my hubby he loved him often, and right from day one but didn't tell me for ages, years.....first time was in a shop when he got scared and he said it loudly, "I love you Mummy" whilst looking scared -the ladies in the shop were all cooing over what a perfect child he was and I felt an idiot as I just felt a bit used at the time... he was just saying what he needed to keep me close to him and keep himself safe. Still what it did mean that he trusted me enough to say something that meant he wanted me to keep him close and keep him safe. He does say it now, but boys aren't great ones for this sort of stuff, we have a grown up birth son (20s) and its not something we here from him that much, but I know he does love me because he trusts me and enjoys being with me (most of the time anyway! I think with love, actions speak louder than words., have fun and enjoy time together - he will be enjoying it to and the bonds of love will be slowly growing and without needing to say it, you will know he loves you in time.
There has been so much precious advice given already (thank you everybody; I find it very useful).
I just want to share one piece of advice which I had read in the past and which has been an absolute lifesaver for me.
When you deal with a negative incident with a child, deal with it and then move on. Don't dwell on it, don't re-punish the child (or yourself); address it straight away and then 'forget' about it (unless you need to reflect on it later so that you can learn from it/process it properly ).
Example: My daughter would not like the fact that I did not give her something sweet for her snack and would shout and try to stab the table with a fork, leaving marks on it. In the past, I would put some discipline measures in place (such as asking her to leave the table and returing only once she calms down, apologises and is ready to eat her snack) but then be still grumpy about and 're-punishing her' by, for example, not allowing her to watch TV after the snack when she asks for it - as I would be still cross with her in my mind and feel like there needs to be further consequence...
Now, I put one discipline measure in place to address the unwanted behaviour straight away and then move on - once she calms down, apologises and starts eating her snack, I have a normal, fun conversation at the table and do not re-punish her for her earlier negative behaviours as she had been already disciplined for them; I don't remind her of them later on; I don't dwell on it; it has been dealt with, she has moved on so I need to move on too.... (Often, I continue fuming about the incident in my head but by pretending that I have moved on, I do actually move on.)
I do the same when the children say something hurtful etc - I deal with it now and then and then move on.
I find this approach very useful since my previous attitude would create a lot of negativity in my head which would cause further issues. Unfortunatelly, I cannot always follow this advice as sometimes my strong emotions simply get in way, however, when I can, I can see the difference it has made.
You have already identified that making statements such as that how bored you are of him complaining and moaning ALL the time; asking him why he hates you etc is not beneficial to him - I can see how easy it is to get to that stage :-), however, I hope you do find the strength to highlight/praise all the positives to him instead of/in addition to focusing on the negatives. I would 'exaggerate' anything positive he does and 'reward him' for them (not in a material way but a way which works for him).
Something that our children found helpful was for us to always separate the child from the behaviour. So we said "We still love you, but we don't like that behaviour". It made them feel secure and emphasized that they are not defined by an instance of misbehaviour.
My children have a lot to say about other parents' parenting techniques and they have always mentioned this as an example of what those "failing" parents should do. :-)
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