Saturday, June 16

Raising a Challenging Child

I have thought about this post for way to long. It is time to just get it out there. Many children, like my daughter Hey, with challenging behavior, can tell you all about the rules and why their behavior was inappropriate, but this knowledge doesn’t help them. My beautiful daughter was diagnosed at 3 yrs. old with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as well as several developmental disorders issues and learning disabilities abilities. With professional help, we are still trying to figure out if Hey's behavior is still RAD related or something different.
Hey had a very hard start in this world when her biological parents were homeless, drug users and not emotionally able to handle a newborn. More than likely Hey has a problem with impulse control not only from inherited disabilities abilities, but also because of her prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, severe neglect, as well as damage to her frontal lobe, which controls inhibitions and judgment.

If you are interested in the difference in neurological development of traumatized children, Dr. Bruce Perry has done some great research and has published a great book, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook--What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing.

Trauma effect on a child's brain

When we adopted Hey at 22 months old, we were told she seemed to be well bonded to us since she made great eye contact and was so well behaved in preschool. The problem is Hey’s behavior with us at home where she can relax and be herself. She shows no respect for our authority and always pushes to the limits. She overreacts to minor things and shows little to no reaction to what you may think is hurtful or traumatic. She is a drama queen most of the time.

As parents who strive to be the best, we have been trained and practice parenting models: 1, 2, 3 Magic and Love & Logic. Chances of it actually working go out the window most of the time, when you have a child with impulse control issues. When you can’t find the one thing to help her make better choices, it takes an incredible amount of patience. She has no toys in her room. Many times she decides that loosing privileges, things or going places are not as important as her being in control and getting what she wants.

Temper Tantrum of Challenging Child
How do you teach a child impulse control? I read a nice blog on how to practice self control in order for a young child to learn it.  It sounds great, but I think that is the best way to teach a somewhat regular child. Hey’s rage, aggression and outbursts are far from normal at home. The worst is after a day where she has been at school, hanging with friends or being out in public. She seems to be okay and holding it together, then when she is relaxed and comfortable, Hey lets it all out. The poor behavior and choices when exhausted can be common for many children, but I cannot stress the degree she takes it up to. Unless you live with a raging child, you don’t truly know. I have found the people who understand best are parents with RAD or autistic children. Interesting enough all of the developmental disorders issues and learning disabilities my daughter has are on the autism spectrum. Yet, she is not autistic. 
We are told to rehearse scenarios, practice difficult situations and predict triggers. It can be exhausting trying to figure out how to prevent the outbursts, temper tantrums, rage, and consequences of a bad decision. It doesn’t help when you are in public and Hey doesn’t realize other people can hear and see her.  People look at you as if you are the reason for your child’s poor behavior. I understand; I used to think the same thing before I had children. My mother and I were at a mall in Vegas once where I had to put Hey over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes to take her to the car to leave. We were a long walk from the car and at the age of 5 Hey was 50 inches tall and weighed more than 50 lbs. She was kicking, screaming, shouting about what a horrible person I was and other mean things kids say when they have been told ‘No’.  I think people thought I might be abducting her, but I kept saying out loud, “I said no, I am your mother and I love you no matter how bad you act.”
Then there are Hey’s trust issues. How do you get a child to trust you, especially when the child’s brain is wired to not trust and has impulse control issues? 
Hey doesn’t believe what I tell her. She tests whatever I say. For example, while looking at her Cinderella snow globe she asked me if it was water that allows the sparkles/glitter float in it. I told her, off the top of my head, it was probably some sort of water like liquid that probably had some chemical in it to suspend the particles in it better than just water alone. She asked if I was sure it wasn’t just water. I told her I was sure and since we can’t open it up to check I could google it to verify, but first I had to go to the bathroom. When I returned to the room the Cinderella snow globe was broken open on the carpet. She said it was an accident that it slipped and that indeed it was not just water because it did not taste or smell like water.

Hey being herself at home.
 She is like a teenager or adult with trust issues. She never can take your word for something. She has to check and verify. When I warned her to stay away from the hot curling iron, she touches it ‘by accident’. She has done that twice. She has burned her hand on the stove twice too. She has run into traffic as well. If I say “stop”, unless she can see the danger for herself, she won’t listen. This can be annoying in an adult (I do it myself sometimes), can you imagine it in a 7 year old?
After 16 sessions with her new therapist here in Tucson, her therapist asked me if she is always so condescending. I thought, “It took only 16 sessions to let her guard down, does that mean she is getting better?” 
This is the summer of discovering our children’s gifts and talents so that we know where to invest our time and effort for extracurricular activities for the school year. This past week Hey was in theater workshops for the week. She spent 4 hours each day learning how to be an actor in a live theater production. Clearly her ability to hold it together and knowing how to act in public is becoming her talent. She had her lines for the play memorized by the second day. She projected her voice during the performance like a real pro. She made some better choices when we told her attending her acting workshops each day were optional. We may have found the thing that has meaning to her. She may never be famous, but if it helps her channel her inner Drama Queen, I will do what we can to continue to foster her talent.
I am thankful for Hey being in our family. She has made me a better parent, learning that I need to trust other people more, stop being so selfish and still need to move away from serving my own self interest and instead serve others. I am reminded that God decided we were good enough to be Hey’s parents. He allowed us to adopt her into our family just as He adopted me, a greatly flawed individual, into His kingdom. I am humbled and reminded daily of the forgiveness God gives me for my sins. I can only hope and pray that Hey grows to trust God as she has taught us to trust Him.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." Philippians 2:3-4

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1 comment:

Amanda said...

She looks so different in the photos! I had never noticed those issues with her - that's great that she can control it in public.