This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Things I wish I knew when adopting an older child

One of my close friends, Lisa, is thinking of doing a CD on adoption parenting strategies. Kind of a Cliff Notes on What to Expect When You're Adopting. She asks us to think about what we wish we'd known. What would be the most helpful to know? Would you rather know strategies or techniques? Expectations?

Things I wish I knew (in no particular order) -

1. Don't Make Plans, have visitors, throw parties, or even leave home at all for the first 6 months after bringing your new child into the home. Even after the first 6 months, do everything you can to keep the child from being overwhelmed - Downplay Holidays, Birthdays, and Other Traumaversaries, limit presents, keep rooms stripped to just the essentials, remember there is nothing you can give them to make up for their life before you.

2. Don't Put Off Enforcing Rules and Structure because they "don't know any better," are "having a tough time," or "going through so much right now." Rules are like fences, they need them to feel safe. Consistency! It's easier to start with all the structure and rules while they're in the honeymoon period than to try to establish rules and boundaries later. You can always lighten up if/ when they don't need the Structure/ Support/ Supervision

3. Developmental Versus Chronological age. I wish someone had explained to me that like most kids with trauma issues, my child would not "really" be 13 in any way but physically. How do you cope with a child who thinks they should have all the rights of a teenager, but can't really handle it? How do you deal with others who think the child is just acting like a typical kid his or her age, and you are overreacting, too strict/ structured, or not strict/ structured enough? 

Therapeutically parenting my kids based on their Emotional/ Social Developmental Age was tough, but I still wish we'd started it from day one, because it was what they needed and life was easier when I focused on parenting my kids where they were, rather than where they "should" be. "Normal" parenting pushed my child into immediate Dysregulation and Meltdowns and Rages. The "thinking part" of their brain stopped working and they'd be operating with the reptilian part of their brain. Chores, Responsibilities, and Other Things My Kids Can't Handle

3. What Works With "Our Kids" and What Doesn't. We had to learn by trial and error... emphasis on the error!  My Top 10 Things I Couldn't Do This Without This blog documents the results of all that trial and error, based on the research, seminars, advice from support groups and other trauma mamas... I hope you check out the right sidebar for more.

I felt we were told don't spank them, don't yell at them, don't, don't, don't - and that was about it. Love and Logic is great, but it is based on "neurotypical" children who understand cause and effect and care what their parents think. Knowing what not to do and why is important, but what to do would be better! I did manage to find Katharine Leslie and some other amazing supports, but it would have been great if they had a manual you got when you adopted! 

4. How to Find Support - local and Finding Online and Local Support - forums, Facebook groups, list serves, chats... for all those questions you need an answer to yesterday and all those answers you didn't even know to ask the questions about.

5. How and When to Hire and Fire members of your child's team like therapists, psychiatrists... what questions to ask them (Questions to ask a therapist and Interview Questions for Caregivers and Respite Workers), what constitutes a good or bad relationship, when to let them go and move on. For example, if they insist they want to see your child without you, want to do a type of therapy you know doesn't work with your child (like talk therapy), or make you feel patronized or incompetent... fire them. A bad therapist is worse than no therapist at all!

6. Prioiritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order - You have every right, in fact you NEED to prioritize yourself first. Your family needs you and if you're overwhelmed by PTSD and Caregiver Fatigue, then you're not able to help anyone. If you ignore the needs of the family as a whole and focus all your time, energy, and efforts on one child, then the whole family suffers. 

7. How to Advocate for Your Child's Needs. How to find out what services are available and then how to get them. 

  • School -- What is an IEP and how to get one, who can be present to support and advise you at an IEP meeting. What are Wright's Law and IDEA and how do they help? How to get around the stupid rules like "No Child Left Behind," Least Restrictive Environment, "mandatory" state testing.... 
  • Medical - Medication, getting a child diagnosed, understanding the many diagnosed our kids get labeled with {Overlapping Behavior Characteristics}, what is RAD/ ODD/ CD, PTSD, FASD?) why some doctors won't diagnose bipolar disorder in children, are labels always a bad thing {Labeling}...? 
  • Diagnoses and Therapy - helping others understand your child's diagnoses and all the different types of therapy (Attachment TherapyEMDR, DBT...), Finding and Funding RTC....

8.  School. My child needed relationships and emotional healing WAAAYYYY more than he needed an education.   I'm a firm believer that what happens in school stays in school.  We have enough problems with relationships at our house; I don't need to fight the school's battles as well. Think about it, do you really want to raise a well-educated psychopath?  Advocate to make sure they get what they needed, but leave the rest to the school.  Family relationships are way more important, and you're not able to work on that if you're fighting about school.

Homework is NOT your problem.  If I force my kids to do their homework then in their mind it becomes MY problem (meaning no longer theirs!).  Also, the school doesn't get an accurate picture of my child's issues (Like most kids of trauma, my children have severe executive functioning and memory issues, which means they canNOT get/stay organized). My son would act out to hide the fact that he couldn't, or didn't think he could, do his homework.
I need the school to grasp and acknowledge my child's academic issues, and they won't get that if I walk my child through the homework. I give my child adequate time to do homework and offer help if they ask for it and remain respectful, but I will tell my child to put it down and walk away if it's obviously triggering him/her.  Maybe I encourage them to come back later.  Maybe not.  It depends on what's best for the emotional health of the family as a whole.

9. Where to Find Resources and Information on Attachment and Trauma (and someone to tell me that NO child in foster care comes without attachment issues despite what all the "professionals" claim or deny). I'd never even heard of RAD! Someone to say that there are several different methods for dealing with RAD and you have to pick and choose the techniques you use based on both you and your child's needs. {My Top 10ish Things I Couldn't Do This Without, RAD and Trauma}

10. It's Not All In My Head. Adopted kids, particularly those with RAD, will triangulate parents and deliberately create chaos. Family scares them. Love hurts. Moms, as the female caregiver, are most likely to be targets. {The Frozen LakeWhy Do They Act Like That?}

11. Adoption/ Foster Parent Training - tells you almost nothing! Don't expect them to know or be able to help you! Most of them have only been working at the agency for a very brief time. Most have never even met your child (or think they know them, but don't really). Most have only gotten the same training they give you (all one month of it). Ours never even mentioned attachment disorders, and while they did say something about sexual abuse - it was mostly, "report it," which doesn't help much with living with and helping the child.

12. There Is Always More Trauma, abuse, issues, diagnoses, history than you will ever be told about by the agency, caseworkers, or child. Sometimes this is deliberate (to make the child more "adoptable"), but most of the time they just don't know. {Why Won't My Child Just Behave?}

13. Parenting Biokids and Adopted Kids Together is hard. I learned way too late to shift my priorities so that everyone's needs were prioritized instead of focusing on the needs of the squeaky wheel. There were a lot of difficulties raising kids with differing abilities, needs, issues, likes, dislikes... {Biokids with Adopted Siblings}
Adopting Out Of Birth Order - adopting a child older than your oldest child. It's an unwritten rule that you shouldn't. I wish we hadn't done it! I'd be afraid to adopt if I had a birth child under the age of 7 or so, as I'd be worried that younger children would be unable to protect themselves (pets too). {Advice to a Parent of Young Children Thinking About Adopting a Child with RAD

14. Adopting siblings. Trauma bonds can potentially slow down or stop healing and can actually trigger more trauma. {Trauma Bonds - Adopting Siblings} An excellent article by Nancy Thomas -

15. Document! Document!! Document!!! This is probably one of the most important things you can do! And keep everything organized. All 4 tons of it.

16. Supervision. Just because they are school aged does not mean you won't basically be a stay at home parent. Finding childcare is not easy. After school care is still needed when our kids finish 5th grade, but no one provides it. Even after we got all the immunization records and IEP stuff worked out and got the kids in school, we still had to attend meetings, parent /teacher conferences, and recitals and programs (if you're lucky). My son was suspended on his 3rd day of school for threatening to throw another child out a second story window and then cussing out a teacher and threatening the principal. Several times the school had to call the police. Then there are all the appointments: Doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, psychological assessments, conferences... {Help! It's Summer! (and after-school and a holiday and my kids's suspended...)}

17. SELF-CARE!! Caring for the Caregiver. Go ahead and get your own therapist now. Don't wait. These kids will drag up issues you'd swear you'd dealt with, bring issues to a head, cause you to have new issues, make you feel paranoid, depressed, anxious, and probably dealing with symptoms of PTSD yourself (Caregiver Fatigue). Not to mention post-adoption depression which is very real.

Sleep whenever you can. You will lose as much sleep as you would with a newborn baby. All the things they tell new mommies (like remember to take care of yourself, eat well, exercise, sleep well, pamper yourself on occasion) are incredibly important, and you're probably going to ignore this great advice just like all new mommies do, but it's true! If you give, give, give, then kids will take, take, take until all that is left is... nothing. Which isn't good for you or them.
Also, be aware that many children of trauma have huge issues with sleep and you may want to invest in door alarms to keep everyone safe.

18. Triggers: All sorts of things can trigger issues for your kids --
  • Traumaversaries - Holidays, birthdays, traumaversaries (most of which you probably know nothing about, like the anniversary of the day they were first removed from the home, or their pet was killed, they moved to a new foster home -again, or a sibling was hospitalized...), Mother's day, adoption day, placement day, school starting, school ending, a big test, someone or somewhere that reminds them of something, crowds, overstimulation, scary movies, violent music, criticism (real or perceived), seeing another child get something they want, sounds, smells, food, bathrooms, bedrooms, hugs... 
  • Feeling unsafe, boredom, anxiety, HALT - Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired... Safety is PERCEIVED safety - the child feels unsafe even though there is no longer any reason for them to feel unsafe. {Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?} 
  • Calming Techniques
19. How to handle it all. How to stop feeling guilty for all the mistakes I made/ make. My need for validation. What to do when I want to chuck it all and am feeling overwhelmed. I think I've made a start with Finding the Joy

20. What to do when... When is someone going to write a reference book?!  A "What to Expect When You Adopt an Older Child" manual. This blog is my attempt. 

If you've ever read the series: What to Expect When You're Expecting, What to Expect the First Year... it breaks things down developmentally, and by issues, with an index in the back.
I want one of those! 

 I want to be able to cross reference my child and find the solutions to how I should handle every issue: 

  • placed in foster care at age 9; 
  • younger siblings still at home with biomom;
  • diagnoses: bipolar, ODD, PTSD, RAD, ADHD, abuse (victim); 
  • placed for adoption age 11, 
  • adopted age 13; 
  • currently age 14, 
  • emotional developmental age 4-5...

I want to know: typical developmental milestones, things to watch for, best discipline methods, how to deal with recent nightmares and bedwetting, what to do when your child lies and steals, poor hygiene, how to deal with jealousy of younger siblings, what can be expected from attachment therapy...

  • Most attachment books address younger children only.
  • Most discipline methods assume the child is neurotypical.
  • Most books on specific diagnoses assume the child only has one diagnosis, maybe two.

I want to know how to deal with my physically older but emotionally/ socially developmentally younger, severely mentally ill child with 6 or 7 big issues. My child has a below average IQ, is now in 8th grade, does 5th grade work unless stressed, when she does 2nd grade work (she's pretty much always stressed). has screaming meltdowns when asked to do chores {Chores, Responsibilities, and Other Things My Kid Can't Do}. When should I push her to improve, and when do I say this is all she can handle (or this is too much)?


OK, way too much for a 1 hour CD. Truthfully, I know Lisa utilizes many amazing strategies with her kids and I would love to see her therapeutic parenting in action.

I hope I've made some progress with sharing this with other trauma mamas on my blog. Please check out the right sidebar.

Time to take my own advice and get some sleep. Oops! It's after 3am here. NIGHT Y'ALL!


Lisa said...

EXCELLENT suggestions Squeak. This is exactly what I needed too.

Kari said...

I'll be linking to this post if you don't mind! Well said!

Kristina P. said...

This is so great! I wish ALL adoptive parents knew this. I see a lot of blown adoptive placements at work.

There's a woman's blog I read that is going through foster care adoption, that posted about adopting a sibling group of 4 kids. It fell through, but honestly, I was REALLY worried for all involved. A little too much rose colored glasses.

Robin said...

This is a great list. Thanks!

Unknown said...

This is a WONDERFUL list!!! I know you're talking about more school aged children and above but my brother was adopted at only 3 and a half and we went through all of this because of what he went through in those first short years of life. I am now walking through a lot of this with my youngest step daughter. Hands down she is RAD and every day is a struggle with her. What a great post. Thank you for raising awareness and getting the information out there!

marythemom said...

Thanks Wendy! I wrote this post for a person considering adopting a 4 year old. My daughter was only 4 emotionally/socially when she came to our home (chronologically she was 11). Our kids tend to get stuck at a much younger age. Maybe it will help you a little?