Friday, June 13, 2008
Behavior Problems: Is It Adoption Issues or Just a Normal Phase
Sometimes I get frustrated because I don't know how to respond to Piney's behavior.

M always says, "Just do your best."

But I don't know what my best is because I don't know what the best response is.

He says, "Just handle it like you handled the boys at her age."

But there are many problems with that. For one, I can't remember our boys doing what she does- they might have, but it was too long ago for me to remember- and I certainly don't remember how I responded. Also, I don't know if she is acting out due to adoption/institution related issues or if she is just going through a normal phase and I shouldn't worry about it. Furthermore, I don't know if she should have a different response than a child who hasn't had her type of past.

So let's just take a look at what is going on.

I pick her up from school and she has pooped in her pants again.

Did I mention that she has been in the 3 year old class for over a month now? This is the class where you are supposed to be totally potty trained. She was staying dry in her 2 year old class for a long time, so they graduated her.

Now, she is reverting. When I ask her why she pooped in her underwear she usually responds with I forgot, or I was too tired, I didn't want to or something that shows she simply chose to not go.

But it doesn't stop there. I also get a note saying the following:

A boy in Piney's class was bending down to pick up a toy he dropped and when he was bent over Piney kicked him in the face. She would not apologize and said she didn't do it even though the teacher saw it happen.

When I asked her about it she said she didn't do it, and instead what happened is that Santa Claus was punching her in the face again.

As I have written before, Piney has been a model student. I never heard anything but praises. However, lately I have been getting some kind of bad report daily.

Later on at home....

I have asked Piney several times to stay out of the fridge. I tell her that if she comes to me and tells me that she is hungry I will make something for her. She refuses to listen to this. So, I often find partially eaten fruit in the fridge. I worry about this because the fruit has not been washed.

But yesterday took the cake.

I told her that it was time for bed. She didn't want to go to bed, so as I attended to some things with the boys she snuck into the kitchen, opened the fridge and got out a jar of chocolate syrup. She took off the lid and stuck her hands in it and started eating as much as her little hands could hold. She got chocolate all over her face, hands, clothes, the floor and the fridge. The dirty chocolate jar would have to be tossed now.

I came in to put her to bed and I was dumbfounded. I felt like I had just left her out of my sight for 5 minutes at the most. She looked at me with the guiltiest look you have ever seen. She knew that what she had done was wrong.

I did not know how to respond. Usually we spend a nice time together when I put her to bed.
We read stories, we make the bed up with the right stuffed animals, etc. But after cleaning her and everything up I just couldn't get myself to do that. I didn't yell or get mad, my mind was racing as to what to do, how to handle it and I didn't know.

It felt like she needed some kind of consequence. I knew from past experience that she does not listen to me when I just ask her nicely to stay out of the fridge. I did not know what to do.

Our solution: I told her that I was unhappy with her choice to get into the fridge and M put her to bed because I just couldn't do it.

I feel like I need to address these behavior problems, but I am at a loss because she is still very needy and very insecure.

Any advice would be appreciated.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
You say any advice, so maybe my comment won't be unwarranted. I am not a mother, but had a sister 10 yrs younger than I am. She was the fourth child, like Piney. When my parents put her in preschool she hid under the table from the nun and was very uncooperative. They removed her from school and sent her to a different one the next year. I would say, based on those experiences, that Piney may just not be ready yet. It sounds like normal behaviour. She needs to learn the correct behaviour and then have the opportunity for a fresh start. I would say just to be honest with her... even if she doesn't absorb, to say frankly what it is about what she did that wasn't acceptable and then not fuss too much about it.

Blogger daysgoby said...

Does she have consequences for her behavior?
My thinking is this: While she is (I'm sure) still needy and insecure and I recognize that you're trying to earn her trust and get her to realize that she's forever staying with you and not going back to the orphanage, surely at the orphanage there were consequences?

She might be more comfortable with a stricter environment with harsher penalties,(except now it sounds like I'm advocating whaling the tar out of her - umm, no) because that's what she grew up with.

She might be looking for a stronger response from you to make her feel better/more loved/really a part of the family.

I'm thinking as I type - sorry if that doesn't make any sense!

Blogger Debbie B said...
I think what anon said makes a little sense but since she was fine in her 2 yr old class I don't think it's that she's not ready. There might be something in her new class that is overwhelming to her. She just may not know how to let you know. Any chance they can move her back and see if she improves?
Can you put a lock on the fridge? I know you want her to eat when she's hungry but that can be the consequence. She looses that privledge.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Possibly too young to go to preschool and too much freedom for her maturity level? That means at your side at all times. She obviously is one who will get into mischief otherwise (from stories you've told). Its that basic rule from puppy school - short leash! Please don't take offence, I'm not comparing kids to puppies. Well not much. :-) If there is misbehaving, its often too much freedom. Not in a punishment way, but kids learn from us modeling behavior to them. What they learn in preschool if they aren't ready is mob rule. Kids aren't great role models for each other. The strongest wins. The weaker gets kicked. I just see little value in preschool at that age if there are behavior problems to be addressed first. Socialization should come after.

Have you ever read Building the Bonds of Attachment? With attunement comes the willingness to please the parent.

Just my thoughts and some things I have tried. Best to you.

Blogger jeneflower said...
Thanks for the comments.

A couple of more things to add- I don't force Piney to go to school. I give her a choice. She goes because she tells me she wants to go. Also, we used to have a fridge lock, but she figured out how to open it and after looking at the other designs I realized it wouldn't take her long to figure out any of them.

I don't know about stricter punishments. Maybe. I will have to think about that.

Blogger MMrussianadoption said...
If it is any consolation, my daughter is always getting into trouble left and right as well. But I am very consistent with consequences. It is the teacher in me. She is I believe pretty attached to me even though she does not get her way and gets into trouble when she does things that are not safe or that are no nos. Dont be afraid to handle her consequences like you would for the boys. Kids crave boundaries even though they wont admit it. And if the behavior gets way to much for you to handle, seek help from a behaviorist. I am always seeking help from EI therapists and outside doctors when I feel my kids need something. That is what good parents do. The most important thing is that you do right by your child. I know you want only the best for her. You are doing great I am sure. But sometimes we all need a little help. Trust your instincts and you will be fine.

Sorry for rambling

Blogger Maggie said...
It's hard to say, Jen. It may not be related to her past because kids do go through stages at her age. My best friend's daughter just turned three and all of a sudden is whipping out these huge tantrums that are completely out of character. Piney could just be going through a typical stage.

On the other hand, (and this is the scary other hand we always have to deal with), it could be related to past issues. Since she was much younger in the orphanage I don't think she's replaying learned behaviors. Instead, maybe she's dealing with some insecurities and anxieties. The food issues sound so much like Slugger. He will gorge himself or eat things he isn't supposed to strictly out of nerves.

Obviously she needs to be told her actions are wrong. You can't let things like that go by unmentioned because you'll just be asking for bigger problems. So give her consequences, but keep them gentle. Then start executing some extra special times with you, M, and you & M together. Give her extra holding and extra lovey-lovey times. Maybe some extra soothing and reassurances about your family will help her if she is indeed working through a PI issue.

Blogger Tracy said...
I have 4 older boys who have always been pretty well behaved, and then there's Alex :). He's almost 3 and he's such a handful. He gets into food ALL the time and loves making a mess in the bathroom while going potty. The other day, after being put down for a nap, he managed to open all the windows in his room, knocked out one of the screens, and hapily waved to our neighbors. Thank god my next door neighbor saw him and told me. He's just such a handful and I have to watch him really close. I was so nervous about leaving him when we went to Russia.Sorry, no advice, but I do sympathize with you :).

Blogger dana said...
A potential compromise with the fridge issue may be to set out a bowl with an apple or box of raisins in it, or maybe if she has a toy fridge allow her one or two pieces of fruit to keep in it a day. She would get that control over food access and might stay out of your fridge. If she still doesn't respect the real fridge, you could take away the bowl as a related, natural consequence.....

Blogger Elle said...
Dana's suggestion with the toy fridge is one thing. Also, I know it may be a pain, but have her cook with you as much as possible. Teach her the value in food and that things are not forbidden. Value far out weighs taboo in the psyche.

And as far as other behavioural problems go... tighter reigns. I know that the boy acts up constantly when I give him more freedoms. The more structured I am with things the better he acts. We have a no second chances policy in our house. Call me super strict, but it works. Anything asked with a whiny tone is met with a no. Anything demanded is met with a no. Not doing what you are supposed to do first (getting dressed) is a loss of a privilege (television).

Get the book Raising Children who think for themselves and then talk to Suzanne. That woman is the master of the logical consequence. Her children have the potential for wildness and misbehaviour, but if you were to meet them in person you would never know.

Blogger Tonya said...
Here's my advice. I would NOT giver her a choice about school. I think kids her age are too young to make big choices. It stresses them out and they will act on that stress. I would tell her if she poops her pants, she stays home and I would stick with it. Don't give in if she wails and crys. That will just make her feel like she is in charge and that is scary for any child, adopted or not. One caution though. If you tell her she will have a certain consequense and then don't follow through consistantly, you will be shooting yourself in the foot and making things even worse.

Second, I would not put a lock on the fridge. That is not teaching her to obey you. She can still try to get the fridge open which is disobedience in attitude, even if she can't actually follow through with her plans. I would impose strict and immediate consequenses for ANY disobedience. Do it with a pleasant attitude and no guilt. She will feel much more secure with you if she knows that she can't get away with disobeying you. If you act angry, hurt, upset or anything else, she could interpret that as a lack of affection. A few calm swats on the thigh with a wooden spoon (not in anger) and then an eye to eye explaination "I gave you a swat because you disobeyed me. I love you and I want you to be safe, happy and healthy. It is very important for little children to obey their mommies all the time. Do you understand?". That's all. Then a hug and a kiss and maybe a little training where she practices NOT opening the fridge while you cheer for her for obeying.

A very unPC approach, but one that I have found to produce the happiest, most well adjusted of children (including the one by adoption).

A great website for inspitational reading on parenting this way is Rasing Godly Tomatoes.

I'm not sure I can give you any advice seeing as I don't have an adopted child and I know that situation is unique. (and it seems you've received some good tips to try here already anyway!)

I did want to say though that I can so relate to that feeling of questioning how to react to her behavior.

My oldest son was diagnosed with cancer when he was 2 1/2 years old. He went through 6 months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment and during that time his life (and our family life) changed dramatically. I had no idea how to discipline him while we were going through all of that. He was just about the same age as your little Pineapple. (He celebrated his third birthday while still on treatment) I didn't know if his random behavior issues simply had to do with his age, or if he was acting out because of his illness and the disruption it had brought to his life.

I always felt terrible punishing him for anything and would second guess myself constantly: maybe he just needs more attention, maybe he just wanted to be held more today, maybe he needs more boundaries, more structure....on and on it went in circles in my mind. I never knew what the "right" thing was to do.

It's always a tough call when you're raising a child that hasn't had a "normal" first few years of life. You want them to know they're loved unconditionally, yet you don't want to let them get away with stuff only because of their past struggles either.

If it helps at all, my son is 2 years in remission now and he only has vague memories of that time when he was so ill. He's very well behaved now and is right on track with the rest of his classmates at 5 years old. I hope you see things even out with Piney too as the years pass. I wonder how much she'll remember of her birth place when she's 5 or 7 or 10?

The only thing I will say to be perfectly honest, is that Dillon is especially sensitive and emotional to this day. Much more so than his younger brother and his peers. He seems to need my reassurance and physical affection more often than others his age. But who knows if that would have been in his personality anyway, or if what he went through shaped that in him. I suspect even if he doesn't have many memories of his 2nd and 3rd year of life, it still impacted how he deals with the world around him.

Maybe you'll have to come up with totally new and different ways to discipline your Piney compared to how you dealt with your boys at the same age. I'm sure you'll find a method that works for her :)

Sorry for writing a book on the subject! Thank you for sharing- it's nice to know other Mom's out there have struggled with similar things that you've gone through yourself. Makes us all feel a little more capable of overcoming the rough patches I think.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I also have 3 older daughter is 3 3/4 years old. She is the most difficult child I have had! My boys were by no means perfect angels, but she is so difficult! I realize she may be a "tad bit" spoiled by us and her brothers...we certainly didn't try, but.... you know....

She has done similar things as Piney and I just want to flip out at times. The other day she got into the fingernail polish, painted the palms of both of her hands and tiger stripes on her arms and proceeded to touch EVERYTHING in the house!!!!I am very watchful, but sometimes I forget to put things away and she knows when she has a minute or two to do these things. She knows she is wrong because she will immediately say "I'm sorry!" ...with a smile... the minute I have caught her! I have been asking EVERYONE I know with girls if this is "normal." Most all have said yes and have shared their own horror stories with me...seems as if 3 is the "magic" number for bad behavior. Something to do with them not yet being a big kid but not a baby anymore...

One mom told me that once, after a particularly horrible day with her daughter, she made up a sign that said "FREE! Potty-trained and current on shots" and stood her on her grandmothers porch holding the sign and rang the doorbell and hid to watch. :)

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Any chance Piney misses the routine or friendships of the 2 year old class? I moved around a lot as a kid, and each class can be so different with personalities of kids and teachers. Could you sit in on the class and see if notice something ?

I remember when my oldest (now 10) was little I'd read an article about toddlers and eating habits. I think it was parenting magazine. It suggested taking an ice cube tray and filling it with things snacks, like fruits and vegetables and then leaving it in the refrigerator where the little one could find it when they were hungry. Maybe something like that would work for Piney. Maybe since she is the youngest of so many children she is trying to catch up to everyone else and wants to be just as big?

I remember you mentioning wanting a love and logic book for parenting. The one that helped the most when my sons where younger was

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood.

I also took a course with a friend when they were little. And they mentioned something which stuck. It's that if something unexpected happens and you don't know what to do, don't force yourself to come up with something that instant. It's ok to say I have to think of the consequence of this action. And then ask around and figure out a logical solution when you are calmed down.

Good luck with it all. I enjoy reading your blog. It seems we are all trying our best. Sometimes the kids end up acting like Calvin and Hobbes and it's challenging.


Blogger Cathy and Nick said...
I agree with many of the others in that she appears to be testing you to see your response. You and M need to establish clear guidelines re consequences and both of you sit down to discuss them with her. We use lost privileges as a consequence for poor or clearly defiant behavior. Refuse to put pjs on at bedtime when asked? No reading a book at bedtime. Go into the refrigerator and take food when told not to? No snack/dessert (and in the chocolate syrup case, she would have had to help clean it up and "pay" for the ruined food with her allowance/gift money). I try not to raise my voice (and sometimes succeed) to keep the "punishment phase" calm and logical. I may go in the bathroom later on and scream into a towel but I want the kids to see me as in control, loving them but being disappointed in their behavior. Truly the hardest part is being consistent and making sure that she is not playing you and M against each other (nor allowing her to use the boys to shield her from taking responsibility for her actions). At three she is old enough to understand the rules and take responsibility for her misbehavior.

As for the school thing, I might ask if she could move back to the 2year old class. Since her behavior and potty issues started with her promotion to the three year old class, it sounds as if she may have regressed in part due to the stress of the new classroom situation. She has had to adjust to a lot of new situations and environments in her short life amd many of our adopted kids actually function at a younger psycho-social level for the first couple of years. Will the school work with you on this? To me, it is not giving in to her poor behavior but rather, addressing the fact it may be more than she can handle right now and the only way she can "tell" you is by misbehaving.

Hang in there! I am always second guessing myself as to whether it is normal misbehavior or PI behavior. I try to remember that in any case, my response has to be the same every time in order to reinforce the family rules and our expectations and help our kids learn self control in their behavior.

Blogger Richard & Sarah said...
I don't have experience with adoption so I don't know that I can add any specific advice, but I would like to second what M said. Also, when I first had a baby an older Mom's piece of advice to me was to "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall make your paths straight." Prov. 3:5-6
Hope that helps a little. :)

Blogger Dreamer girl said...
I think that you are very diligent in caring for Pineapple. You think about everything and it shows your dedication to her. Keep on being there for her. I hate to say it, they should have made manuals for kids. You can't compare apples to oranges. Girls are very different. And to be an adopted child that lived in an orphange, lots there. So, have some logical consequences that you think should happen (you know what you are doing) and keep on being there for her. I personally liked love and logic and something magic (cannot remember). Good luck! I have faith that you will figure it out.

Blogger nates5bs said...
My son that is 8-yrs-old will still occasionally poop his pants when he is stressed about something. It just seems to be his way of letting me know that something is bothering him.

When he goes thru these episodes, we talk thru what could be bothering him and work out a reward system for getting him back to "normal." For him, it works that he gets a piece of candy at the end of each day that he does not poop.

Just a thought...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
coming from someone who has raised several children, one of which was please know that I have been there....

Ok, here is my thoughts....My son, 5 1/2, has been in pre-school since he was 2...just this last few months, he has also started to act out, and pee or poop in his pants. They did move him to a new room and to a new teacher. He did not adjust well to this. I had to put him back in the glass that he was in before....ok, that might explain the school problem....

But it does not address the home behavior....She needs boundaries, she needs to be assured that you love her and that she is staying with you NO MATTER WHAT! I am not saying to spank or not to spank, I know there are some pro's and con's to both when it is an adopted child, but you have got to get her under control NOW! There has to be consequences to her behavior...she has to know, without a doubt that you are unhappy with her, that you love her, but you are unhappy with her. Maybe you should have made her clean up the mess.

Blogger Rhonda said...
I can tell you that Clyde has done the hitting/kicking kids thing EVERY time he has switched schools or teachers. His behavior becomes outrageous in school until he gets the guidelines down. We have had to go down to his school to stop a tantrum so many times....oh how I dread fall when he starts Pre-K, because its a new teacher again. We've already warned her.

He also went through a weird phase where he peed his pants whenever he was mad at us (making him pick up toys, anytime he went to timeout, etc). When he did that, he got to go to bed earlier than his sister (usually they go to bed at the same time). We explained that little kids pee their pants, and they have earlier bedtimes. But, BIG kids who don't do that get to stay up later. That cured that little problem...

Each kid is different, and I'm sure Piney responds to different things than my kids. But, I agree Elle on the strict environment. We are very strict with our two. Honestly, if we weren't, it would be total chaos around here all of the time.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Jen, I just thought of something. Most of the things you describe about her are things you happen upon her doing after the fact. If you google the 'staking godly tomatoes' site and read what she has to say about keeping children close to you, in your sight, so they don't have opportunity to misbehave. and if they do you are right there to intervene. If she is feeling sensitive, all the more reason to prevent her from misbehaving and the damage that does to their esteem (ie: I'm bad, everyone is mad at me). I have found this so helpful. I don't a 3 year old is old enough to decide for herself that she wants to go to school if the parent decides otherwise.

Just an idea.

Blogger Kikilia said...
I want to respond to this post- but don't have the time to do it properly...

Just a quick note though- food issues are so common in children adopted at an older age- my Pipsqueak now 7 1/2 still must have a snack before bed even though she's been home 6 years. I don't think she'd ever had a full stomach in the orphange and still needs to make sure food is available- though she knows it is- it's at a subconcious level.

As I said- I want to respond more in depth- but can't do it justice now.... I plan to soon.

Hang in there and follow your gut when it comes to Piney.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
My daughter is the same age as Piney. I also have an older son. My honest opinion is that it's a girl thing! Seriously! My son didn't do the kind of things your describing. My daughter however, could be Piney, they do things so similarly. My kids are not adopted, so this is why I say, "Its a girl thing!"
When my little darling takes food from the fridge, I tell her no and make her put it back. Sure there is tantrums sometimes, but that just means I have to put the food back and set her in a chair for three minutes. No smack bottoms...lashings...whoopins, just a short thinking period. My daughter says shes hungry, eats two bites, and then (like the banana) throws the rest out....ugh! She gets her three main meals and three snacks a day, so I'm not starving her I'm just trying to teach her not to eat because she is bored. You might also want to try closing her bedroom door or using a baby gate, not that she can't open or get through them, just to show her boundries, then when she can respect that boundry, take it away. Like one of the other commenters, I believe children crave structure. I love your bedtime ritual with Piney. I'm also proud of you for taking it away when she misbehaved. I think your doing wonderful. Keep up the good work!

Blogger Starfish said...
I have no advice - I have the same problems! Seamonkey is almost two and it's like someone flipped a switch in him - he's miserably winey and misbehaving most of the time now! Toddlers, UGH!

Blogger kate said...
COMPLETELY OT: (but I have to say it anyway) I really love that picture of Piney. ;>

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