Adoption Tuesday - Attachment.4
A common theme for kids with attachment issues is control, and that's what I'm going to touch on today.
These kids have lost so much in their lives, and it's always been out of their control. Because of that, they love to hold on to control wherever they can, and they do not react well when control is imposed upon them by others, be they parents, teachers, caseworkers, you name it.
Many of the behavior problems we see with RAD kids are based on their desire to be in control. When James' Reactive Attachment Disorder first began to surface, I treated his behavior problems the same as I treated any other behavior problems exhibited by my kids. In short, I tried to exert MY control over HIM. Each time, I was basically just lighting his fuse. And it was a short one.
He would engage in an inappropriate behavior.
I would attempt to impose a consequence immediately.
He would refuse to submit to whatever consequence I was handing out.
I would get angry and up the stakes, piling a bunch of "if - then" consequences on top of our already out-of-control emotional brush-fire.
Emotional responses ran amok for the both of us, and the rest of the family suffered the effects of an out-of-harmony home.
Through therapy, reading, and the support of the RAD community, I have learned to not react so strongly and emotionally to his misdeeds.
Instead, if he goes against household rules, I let him know, with as little emotion in my voice and on my face as I can pull off, that what he did was wrong. I then tell him we will talk about it later, and I try to remove myself (and any involved in this "conflict") from his vicinity.
When the stars are aligned, he will continue to perform some reaction-provoking behavior for awhile. I/we will ignore it. After some time, he will go up to his room of his own accord. Next day, he will apologize, and we will talk about consequences (losing his phone, for example).
Of course, it didn't always (and currently doesn't always) go this smoothly, because part of the control for him is getting reactions. We're mostly past it now, but when he didn't get the reactions he was looking for, he would often just up the ante. At different times in our past, police have been to the house, trips have been made to the ER, furniture has been upended.
The trick to parenting kids with attachment disorders is to know the difference between simple reaction-provoking behaviors that can usually be handled by not getting drawn in, and the more serious behaviors that can lead to injury to family members if not handled expertly, which may involve professionals, or possibly hospitalization for the child.
If the child is able to have a discussion (later that day or next day) about his behaviors and the consequences, I have found it's a good idea to let him help choose what the consequence will be by giving a few choices. This, again, goes to letting them hold on to some of the control.
Example: Couple nights ago, James wanted to watch a movie with my husband. Fred was pretty fried, and he had other plans which involved an early bedtime. B/c of James' history, he didn't take to this well, and started getting antsy. He began accusing his Dad of favoritism and being self-centered, and being old and just all manner of things. Fred went back and forth with him a bit, then realized what was at play and simply dropped himself out of the conversation. James lay on the sofa and kept slamming his arm against the couch. Very annoying, when done repeatedly, but really no harm, no foul, so we just ignored him. Luckily, there were no other kids in the room, or that would have been a whole other ball of wax. Every now and then he would resurface to say something more about Fred being self-centered, which we would just ignore. After awhile, he went up to his room, but not before telling Fred that he hated him. We ignored. Next morning, he still had a little troubling behavior going on with his sibs, but soon settled down. A few hours later, I had a talk with him. The conversation remained calm, and it spoke to why he is likely feeling these things towards Dad, as well as to why the things he said are inappropriate. Finally, it touched on consequences. He had three choices: lose his computer for the day, lose his phone for the day, or clean out dad's garage. He chose to lose the phone. Plus, of course, an apology.
If we had demanded ANY of those things last night, I can tell you it would have ended up VERY differently. Very differently, indeed.
Now, I know this is a very mild example, and pretty easy to deal with. Almost a no-brainer. But I use it to underscore the differences between a child with a troubled past, and a child who has grown up in a loving household his or her whole life. If one of my birth kids (or for that matter, my securely-attached adopted kids) had acted/spoken in this way, you can bet they would not have waltzed off to their room unchecked. That kind of disrespect would have been dealt with swiftly. But with traumatized/poorly-attached kids, this reactionary method to discipline simply does not work. It not only doesn't work, it makes the situation worse. By far.
So to summarize, when dealing with milder (non-threatening) behaviors with your RAD child,
1) Keep emotion out of it.
2) Give space, either by the child removing himself, or you removing all other family members from his vicinity.
3) Do NOT give out consequences in the moment, but wait until the child has completely calmed down about it.
4) When giving out consequences, always start the discussion with why the behaviors were wrong to begin with. Table-turning can be very helpful: "If I were mad at you, do you think it would be OK for me to tell you I hated you?"
5) Let the child have some choice in selecting the consequence. Present 2 - 4 choices of appropriate consequences, and let him have some say in which it will be.
I hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to use the comment form, or message me on FB, or email me.
If you'd like to read the other posts in my series on attachment, you can find them here:
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