Monday, January 14, 2013

Challenging Days

We're going through a rough behavior period right now and I don't know how -- or if -- to blog about it, so I just haven't been writing.

S has been here for over 5 months now. I'd say we are definitely out of that "honeymoon period" they talked about in training.

I'm trying to keep things simple and focus on one major behavior issue at a time, so that we don't set ourselves up to be constantly criticizing her.

So, I picked the biggest one, set some boundaries and am holding my ground.

She hates it. She reacts with shock and frustration every time I follow through on a promised consequence. (And she's reminded of the consequence and given a chance to change the behavior every time. She never does.)

I make her cry at least once a day. It's becoming a gruesome joke -- how long we will make it today? To bedtime? To lunch? Not even through breakfast?

Today, I was that parent in the grocery store with the 3 year old in the cart screaming her head off and kicking her feet. You know, the one that seems to be ignoring their brat of a child? That was me. I wasn't ignoring her. I had told her that we would talk about what had happened and how to get what she wanted when she was ready to stop crying. I repeated that to her several times before she finally "heard" it and insisted (still sobbing) that she was done crying.

I don't know. I don't know if I'm doing this wrong. I don't know if there's a better way to help her understand that her choices have consequences and that I always mean what I say.

I have a training class coming up on behavior tools, which I really hope gives me some new ideas because I am at a loss.

It's hard to explain this even to caseworkers because it sounds like "normal 3 year old testing limits" behavior. Until you see it. And you see how out of proportion her rage is and how genuinely confused she seems to be by the fact that I follow through on consequences and how utterly incapable she is of repeating back the reason for that consequence. Even when I just gave them to her. The conversation will go something like this:
     Me: "I put you in time out because you hit me. Do you understand?"
     Her: "Yes."
     Me: "OK. Tell me why you had to go to time out."
     Her: "Because I asked for ice cream."
     Me: "What happened when you asked for ice cream?"
     Her: "I wanted some."
     Me: "I know you wanted some ice cream. You asked for some and I said no. Do you remember what you did when I said no?"
     Her: "We don't hit."
     Me: "Yes, we don't hit. But you hit me when I said no ice cream. Do you remember that?"
     Her: "yes."
     Me: "And you had to go to time out for hitting."
     Her: "yes."
     Me: "So, tell me why you were in time out?"
     Her: "Because I can't have ice cream." **Not a real conversation. Hitting is not the behavior issue and not getting ice cream has never triggered it. But it gives you the flavor of how we're talking in circles and it feels as though she really can't articulate why she's in trouble....which makes me wonder if any sort of discipline could possibly be effective! 

Before I know it, it seems we have spent more time trying to get her to verbalize her understanding of the misbehavior than it is reasonable to expect a 3 year old to talk about it.

I can't tell if she really doesn't get it, if she's trying to manipulate me into dropping it (by "playing dumb"), if this sort of response has gotten her out of trouble before....I just don't know. Maybe I picked the wrong behavior to focus on...but I don't feel like we can resolve any other behavior issues until we get this one more in line with normal 3 year old development.

She's had a psych eval, which said she was mostly fine, just "borderline in a few areas." I'm pushing for further testing and support for those borderline areas, but the wheels are turning really, really slowly.

I feel stuck. And I don't even know how to end this post, because it isn't resolved. We're working on it. We've told BioMom we're working on it and what we're doing and asked her to "be consistent" with us during visit time, but realistically we doubt that's happening. (Who wants to make their child cry when you only get to see them a few hours a week? Especially with someone watching every move you make. If S reacts to her mother enforcing these boundaries the same way she reacts to me, I'm sure Mom caves to make her "happy" again. I probably would, too, in her shoes. I have the luxury of enforcing my consequences in relative privacy and having plenty of "not in trouble" time to balance it out.) I'm trying to trust that things will improve if we stay consistent, but I'm feeling discouraged and ineffective right now.


  1. Sounds like a typical child with a trauma background to me.

    Sounds like you are doing everything PERFECT too!

    Just keep following through. And following through. And following through. It's OK if she cries. I'm sure it's a behavior that has garnered success in the past. She will continue to use the technique until she figures out it doesn't work. (And that might take a long, long time.)

    It's situations like these that make me go crazy with others that don't "get it". (i.e.: CPS) So many people want to tell you your kid is perfectly normal and to get over it. But you're the one in the thick of things and you KNOW it's different! It is NOT the same!!!

    I need constant reminders from my support "team" when I start second guessing myself. My sister is especially great at reminding me how different my parenting looks and especially how different it feels to me. I need to hear it from others as sometimes I get to where I'm second guessing myself. So here I am as your cheering section -- you're doing great! It feels weird. But you're doing exactly what S needs!!

    She will (eventually) be able to figure out that your rules and Mom's rules aren't the same. And yes, she will probably continue to push those boundaries you're working so very hard on because of those inconsistencies. But I'm quite sure your expectations are normal!

    I think it's FANTASTIC that you know and are following through with only one change at a time!

    I'm taking over your comments section here. Sorry! :) Just know that I'm trying to send you as much encouragement as I possibly can via the internet.

    Hang in there. And feel free to use my "go to" line whenever I'm writing a post that doesn't seem to have an ending....
    foster care sucks!

  2. I'm with Cherub Mama here, sounds like you are doing all the right things. I would make my three year old cry at least once a day when I won't let him have his way. He's been with me for three months and we went through one really tough period where I was pulling my hair out thinking I was never going to make any progress (he was running away every time he got even the slightest correction) but we got there. Don't worry too much about her being able to articulate things, it will come with time, especially for these kids who have never had consequences applied in all their life. You could start by just asking her to just repeat what you say, ie ask her to say "I'm in time out because I hit", the understanding will come later. One other thing that might be helpful is to role play with toys. We did it a lot with Champ's Woody doll. Woody would be naughty and would have to sit in time out. It's a great way for them to understand consequences while they are happy and regulated that doesn't involve you lecturing them (which they tune out to anyway).

  3. Thanks, ladies. I appreciate the support -- I needed that!

  4. You are not alone! All of us who foster have similar discipline experiences and what seems to make it different from biological children is the reason behind behaviors that are labeled "typical". Any kid in a foster care situation has learned through his life experiences (insert your foster daughter's story here) that adults are not trustworthy and able to take care of them - so foster kids learn to survive and adapt by taking control and manipulating the situation. That sometimes is the "street smarts." My foster (now adopted) daughter came to us a 3 yrs but she had the street smarts of a 13yrs. I would put her in time-out, start walking away, and she would cluck her tongue in rebellion. She did this for about 4 months solid. Even today , 3 years later, she will cluck her tongue every once in a while just to make sure that the rules are still the same and we will make sure she does what is right. Her most recent thing is that she won't apologize for her wrong actions. But eventually, after not being able to play, watch TV, etc, she will apologize, but she can hold out for a very long time. It is all about who is control. I don't know your daughter, but give some thought to whether or not she is "staying in control" by not saying the correct answer to why she is in trouble. My daughter used to do that - we would go round and round in circles about it, and it was how she was manipulating me. I now say, you have one time to tell me what you did ... and if she doesn't ... there is a consequence.

    Good luck!