Tantrums, Sick Days, and Being a Patient Mommy

Wow. The last few days have been a throwback to the beginning of our foster parenting days. Gabriel has been sick and I’ve been struggling to be patient with him. Why would I struggle to be patient with a sick child? Those of you who have never dealt with the disconnect that formerly neglected children have when it comes to how they are feeling may find my statement about trying to be patient a little cold.

Challenges of being a foster mom to a special child

When kids have been neglected early in life there are connections in the brain having to do with regulation that don’t develop as they should. Since I’ve only read about this from people like Dr. Bruce Perry, Bryan Post, and Karen Purvis I don’t claim to be an expert but I know enough about it to recognize that my son has a severe deficiency when it comes to knowing how he feels. Does he have a stomach ache? Is his head hurting? These are all questions I have to ask nearly every time he starts to act like a royal pain. If there hasn’t been an obvious trigger, usually one of these questions will find its mark and I can figure out how to help him but sometimes not.

All day Gabriel has been pushing everyone’s buttons. Hitting his siblings, mocking us when we talk, jumping back and forth between defiant teenager and baby talk all day long. In the back of my mind I knew he was probably not feeling better today like he claimed. He has had flu symptoms since last Wednesday and it has been a rough week. Even with that knowledge though, it is hard to be patient. Gabriel has come so far that I’m not used to dealing with this stuff anymore. So, knowing the other kids were going on a bike ride with dad and that Gabe was very cranky, he was in no position to join them. He had to take a nap. [Insert horror movie music here.]

Dealing with a child’s tantrums and attachment disorders

As I write this Gabriel is sleeping in his bed but it didn’t happen easily. [Insert cheering crowds here.] I knew he needed to sleep but also knew he would throw a tantrum about taking a nap. He only throws tantrums now when he is very sick or very tired. Occasionally he will if he is playing with another child who has severe anxiety–their brains tend to get each other revved up. So how do you get a 100 pound 9 year old to lie down and go to sleep if they have regressed to a two year old throwing a tantrum? Good question. Here’s what I did. (Drum roll please…)

I told him he would be taking a nap, gave him plenty of warning and then stayed close. He writhed on the floor, whined that he wasn’t going to take a nap, and I said nothing. When it was time, I gently took him by the shoulders and guided him to his room. He got in bed, kicking and screaming and I sat with him awhile. He told me to leave and I left his door open and kept checking on him. (Hint: Leaving a formerly neglected child alone in his room in a moment of stress with no adult interaction can be akin to re-living neglect. I respected his wishes by leaving but also made it obvious I wasn’t leaving him alone.) I knew he hadn’t eaten lunch yet and may be hungry but I needed him to get his feelings out before I could make any progress. When he was calmer I asked him if he wanted something to eat before his nap and he said yes.

We had lunch together at the table and played cards (he loves games). By the time we were done the tears were gone and he was yawning. He still protested but went right to his bed. I told him how long he would be resting (otherwise he truly believes you’ll leave him in his room for days–a result of his neglect) and that I would set the timer and come and get him when it went off but that he needed to stay in bed and try to sleep. Within 15 minutes he was asleep.

I know there are those of you who think I should have punished him for his tantrum and if you think that, I have to say I would have been with you before I adopted. If you want to really understand how the brain is affected by trauma and the techniques we use that really work to help kids like this heal, I recommend two phenomenal resources. They are both by Bryan Post and if you are new to these concepts you’ll need to read the first recommendation first.

From Fear to Love is the first one and The Great Behavior Breakdown is the other. From Fear to Love is Bryan’s newest book and is a quick read that gives parents a good overview of leading adopted kids to healing. The Great Behavior Breakdown is the book we still refer to when we are stumped about how to deal with a particular behavior and we would have been lost without it during the first 18 months our kids lived with us. If you would like to hear more about our story you can read our newest e-book, On Our Way to Normal.

Sometimes it is necessary to hear how a fellow parent has dealt with a particular issue when you are in the trenches yourself. I hope this post will help those of you who are looking for answers for your kids affected with attachment disorders.

Post provided by: Sandra Nardoni – Adoption Counts
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