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!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Best of the Worst Parenting Advice

This post started off as a comment on a comment at Parenting 24/7 to a person who implied something along the lines of "All teens do that, " but then I read this post over at Accidental Mommy , and realized I had to participate in her Best of the Worst Parenting Advice, and this was a biggie for me.

There is not one thing that can make me crazier, especially at a meeting with people who work with my children, than hearing something along the lines of, don't worry about it, that is just typical teen behavior. Whether it's "Oh, my son does/did stuff like that all the time," "Well, it's understandable that he would act that way," or "That's just how teenage girls are." In other words, I'm overreacting, crazy, expecting too much, and/or too strict.

It can be sooo hard to work with teens with RAD because they have all the same hormones and drama that "normal" teens do, but on top of that they have all the trauma, trust issues and actual brain damage from the RAD. Unlike kids with cerebral palsy or mental retardation, they don't have a lot of overt signs that there is something wrong. This means that those who haven't educated themselves about RAD, PTSD and other related issues may think what they are seeing is normal teen behavior, and maybe some of it is, but it is much much more intense and not something they're just going to grow out of without a LOT of therapeutic treatment.

A "normal" teenage girl might be moody, irritable and a loner. A child with RAD usually lacks the feeling of support (since they trust no one) and the skills and ability to handle these feelings and behaviors. Their issues are 10 times more intense, and usually are focused on family and anyone else they feel is getting too close. My children are experts at hiding their feelings and issues from adults and peers, saving it up to inflict on the family.

Closeness actually causes physical pain for kids with RAD. Imagine that as a small child you almost drowned when you fell through the ice in a frozen lake, and now people you don't trust are trying to get you to go ice skating. You're going to react as though they are trying to kill you! Logically as an adult you may know that they are not trying to kill you, but your emotional reaction is that of a child.

It is not possible to deal with a child with RAD as though they were a "normal" teenager, especially when it comes to discipline.

They do not have the same strengths and supports that a typical teen does. They think anyone trying to get close to them is trying to hurt them and abandon them. The child knows that he or she is a horrible people and if you get too close you will find out; so they must reject you before you reject them.

They do not understand cause and effect (if/then) because they didn't learn this as infants (if they cried, no one came to fix it, or they might have even been beaten instead of cuddled or fed). They learn to ignore their physical and emotional needs to such an extent that they can't feel anything even after the trauma is no longer part of their daily life (my daughter is not ticklish and does not feel pinches, she also cannot tell when she's hungry or full, she cannot tell you what emotion she is feeling....).

In other words, these children don't understand and have no faith or trust in themselves or the people and world around them. The slightest reprimand can trigger an emotional flood and overreaction, while at the same time if they are used to beatings or worse, then the threat of a time out obviously has little to no effect.

Parents of RAD teens deal with a lot of "behind the scenes" issues and many children deliberately make the parents look like mental cases who are overreacting, too strict, horrible disciplinarians picking on a poor, innocent child. Giving the child the "benefit of the doubt," "innocent until proven guilty," "blank slate," "it's a new day" approach reinforces all the wrong things. This child who already has issues with understanding consequences learns that all they need to do is move on to a new school, teacher, program, family... and they can do whatever they want with no repercussions. It may be a "new day" for each new teacher, principal, or behavior program, but it is most definitely not a new day for the family who have to be there to pick up the pieces, deal with the backlash, and live with this child especially if there are siblings involved. Many families, including mine deal with symptoms of PTSD from my "typical teens."

My other favorite piece of advice:

"Don't let him escalate."

That's it. We even took a mandatory class to learn that. Don't you wish you'd known that would solve all your child's issues?

This was my 5'9" 200+lb 13 year old (undiagnosed and untreated for bipolar and RAD yet), with us for less than 2 months after being placed for adoption from another state... son, who had been raging, often for no apparent reasons, but definitely if told No. (this is a picture of him at age 12!)

Some of the behaviors he was exhibiting all the time:

Threatening suicide

Running away (police would eventually find and return him every time),

Physically attacked Hubby several times - throwing punches, biting (Hubby still has the scar), kicking - almost always requiring police intervention,

In his first week of school, threatened to throw another 7th grader out a 2nd story window, cussed out a female teacher, and threatened physical harm to the vice principal,

Threw furniture (upholstered recliner), and various other household items at family members and into walls.

Cussed, screamed, threatened and intimidated all family members, all the time.

Repeatedly running away from respite when he (and his sister) was pulled from our home pending a child abuse charge (he got a tiny bruise on the day he had to be restrained because he was kicking Hubby, threatening to jump through a 2nd story window, had sliced his arm with a homemade razor, bit a chunk of flesh on Hubby's forearm...).

We put him on a wait list for residential treatment (luckily his home state paid for RT since TX never would have), and had to decide what to do while we waited for a bed to open up. Never telling him no was an option I guess, but with 3 young children in the house it wasn't a good one. Luckily the psychiatrist was willing to chemically sedate him (large doses of Depakote). At one point we asked Bear if he wanted us to reduce the dosage and he asked us not to because it was the only way to control his behavior which scared him.

Because the only support we got from the adoption agency was this lovely piece of advice, and there was NO WAY to comply, we would have had no option but to disrupt and return him to Nebraska. Luckily he was not the ward of Texas so we were able to keep him in the residential treatment center long enough to get him properly diagnosed and medicated before he was returned (6 months).


brenkachicka said...

WELL SAID. My little guy is 4, and we get the same thing all the time. That it's just typical 4 year old behavior. I just politely tell them that no, he takes it to a new level.
And he's only 4.

r. said...

Your description of the "they all do that" comments reminds me of trying to convince my dad that his father was showing signs of dementia. (My dad was in complete denial.)

Yes, lots of people accidentally back their car into things. Yes, we all forget words from time to time. Yes, everyone has days where they wear the same clothes from yesterday or don't brush their hair. Yes, older people do sometimes miss parts of conversations due to hearing loss. Of course everyone gets stressed out or loses their temper once in a while.

At the end of the day, though, those symptoms don't all happen to the same person, in the same week.

Even normal things (not rages, etc.) can add up to paint a picture where something's seriously not right.

Essie the Accidental Mommy said...

Ugh, "they all do that" is the same as saying flat out... you do not know what you are doing. They do not all do "that" for 4 straight hours and at the highest level of intensity and day after day after day.

Don't let him escalate. Wow, profound! If only I knew! Seriously though, I don't have that luxury. I get no warning I just get explosion. My kid goes 0-60 mph in under one second!

Gotta love it! I know people mean well, they just don't get it. Maddening, and makes the mom feel worse! As if that were possible!

Bill and Ronni said...

Thank you for starting this post out as a comment, and continuing it here. You are an awesome resource for RAD parents, and if there is anything we can ever do for you, let us know. I'm thinking you may want to take that post and make it into a book. There aren't that many good books out there from a parent's perspective.

Anonymous said...

Two comments:

First, write a book! Wow, now that's an idea with some serious possibilities... better not dismiss that suggestion, Mary.

Second, the reason we parents of "normal" (using this word due to lack of creative alternatives right now) teens say things like "they all do that" is because it makes US feel better! Our "normal" kids are driving us nuts, too, and to hear that other parents are going through the wringer with their teens make us feel "normal" and we hope that saying "they all do that" will help you feel "normal" too. IOW, we're well-meaning (which in my family we say "mell-weaning" because anyone that "well-meaning" is probably pretty mixed up.)

Anonymous said...

AMEN to "all kids do that" BS.
I was told that my eldest was just being like a normal boy. Yea. A normal taking-everything-in-site thoroughly drug-addicted boy. And my girl, yea, they all act like that. Til she did cutting and was quickly diagnosed as severely depressed. Yea. They all act like that, it isn't any big deal, they will grow out of it IF THEY LIVE LONG ENOUGH. What really gets me is that it was the teachers and even some of the doctors who were telling me this!

I'm not sure if I was ever told "don't let it escalate" but I know that there were times that every single thing I did or did not do, said or did not say, was an excuse for escalation. I guess the best response for these people is "Wow! Do you have any idea how lucky you are? It is so nice to meet someone with such special kids because there are days I really wonder if I'm trying to live in a fairy-tale world. We just aren't there yet."