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"I don't want to be safe", "I don't want to be nice" - how to respond

(27 Posts)
TrinnyandSatsuma Sat 21-Dec-13 21:28:06

As some of you might remember, our boy was placed with us two months ago. His behaviour, moods etc continues to evolve as he settles in and I think we are coping OK with most of the challenges and also enjoying some moments too!

However, I am struggling to know how to respond to the things below:-

For example his hands are a bit dry, cold weather etc. I put hand cream on mine (role modelling something, hoping to get him curious etc, as he said before, he doesn't like hand cream). He asked, "Why are you putting that on Trinny?" I said, "My hands a re a bit dry and a little sore" his reply was "My hands are sore....I like dry and sore hands"

We talk a lot about keeping him safe, caring for him, loving him etc. he often responds with things like "but I don't want to be safe" "I don't want you to love me"

When we talk about fun things we might do over the holidays, "I don't want to have any fun"

And tonight, when we talked about his spitting, which we are trying hard to explain is not a very nice thing to do (except when tooth brushing!), I said "I know that you are such a nice little boy and spitting is not really in your chatacter.....", his response was "but I don't want to be a nice boy"

It's heart breaking. Like he just feels so unworthy of the good things we want for him.

Can anyone help me see what the emotions might be behind this behaviour? How should we respond?

We have tried reassurance, saying we believe in him, saying we will love him whatever he says or does. "But I don't love you" he says.

BertieBowtiesAreCool Sat 21-Dec-13 21:42:33

Oh bless him. He sounds like he is hurting a lot. sad

I think the most important thing is to accept his feelings and let him know that's OK.

Perhaps he doesn't believe or trust you yet - he may have been told before that he was safe, or loved, and then something happened that made him feel like that wasn't true, or something happened to show him that wasn't true. Two months is a very short time in the scheme of things. I also think it's okay and quite normal that he doesn't love you yet and I think it would be a good idea to reassure him that it takes a long time to love somebody and that it's okay if he doesn't love you, but that you love him very much already.

Likewise, maybe he has been told that he is a bad boy, or a rude boy or perhaps a good boy or a nice boy or every kind of boy and he doesn't want to have a label that somebody else has given him. I think that it might be best to avoid any kind of labels (even though I can see they are nice, positive ones) and instead tell him why the behaviour is inappropriate or remind him of a context where it is appropriate (we spit in the sink, not at people. If you want to spit you can always go and spit in the sink any time.) I suppose that by saying "You are a nice boy and spitting isn't..." then it's saying as well that he's only nice when he doesn't spit so it comes across as a bit conditional and undermines your message of "we love you whatever you say or do". Plus if he does want to reject the label of "nice boy" then you've just given him the perfect tool with which to do so. I'm not sure how old he is as well but I know that my 5yo has rejected the label "little" since he was about 3 or 4. Even though he seems little to me he likes to think that he is actually quite big. So "Nice little boy" could seem quite patronising to him especially if he's older than about 4.

And time. Just give him time. Perhaps keep Christmas low key if he doesn't want to do a lot of things.

TrinnyandSatsuma Sat 21-Dec-13 21:51:34

Thanks Bertie, very wise words and helpful.

Italiangreyhound Sat 21-Dec-13 22:05:19

Hi Trinny maybe he feels having fun or loving you is him being disloyal to his birth family.

I don't know.

If possible try and have fun without saying we are having fun etc and maybe he will just end up doing it almost in spite of himself.

I agree with all Bertie's wise words. i also think a couple of months is a short time.
If you really want to make the handcream something he wants to do why not put some on and then make a hand print on some paper and stick it on the fridge and maybe he will want to copy you. Don't say it's good for you or nice or fun etc, just see how it feels (squelchy etc) and he may wish to copy you. You could do it on a Monday and say, this is my Monday hand print. I wonder if my Tuesday hand print will be any different? Whether it is, or even isn't - he may wish to join is!

DozenRoses Sat 21-Dec-13 22:10:40

I wish I could give you some advice but I just don't know what to say but I will say what you do is amazing.

Golddigger Sat 21-Dec-13 22:15:05

Agree with Bertie. No labels.
Also agree that he cant be expected to love yet, and may be not for a long time.

My guess is either that he doesnt feel worthy for nice things to happen to him.

But my best guess is that he is trying to punish himself for something or about something. He may feel he is at fault for whatever happened at his birth family, so doesnt deserve anything good or nice.

It may be a good idea not to overdo things, christmas wise. I realise that that sounds a bit perverse.

I am not an expert though, btw.

TrinnyandSatsuma Sat 21-Dec-13 22:20:24

Thanks to all who have posted. Agree, we don't expect him to love us yet, or for a long long time. We know it takes time to feel love and we don't out any pressure on him, just reassure him that we love him very much.

Christmas is fairly low key. He doesn't seem massively excited about it and presents are being kept to a minimum. It's more about spending some nice family time together.


Coconutty Sat 21-Dec-13 22:22:31

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

HRHLadyG Sat 21-Dec-13 22:23:05

His beliefs about himself are clearly ingrained and will take time to help him to see himself through a different lens. I imagine he feels angry, frightened and has learnt not to trust. Sometimes its easier to deny our feelings than to ever risk being hurt again.
I totally agree that its essential to separate him from his behaviour when addressing behaviours you wish to challenge.

I think a book called 'Love Bombing' may be helpful.

Keep're doing a wonderful thing x

Meita Sat 21-Dec-13 23:00:50

Just a thought, might be totally off mark. Taking him by his word, so, 'I don't want to be a good boy' meaning exactly that… Basically he is refusing to accept your good care. It occurred to me to wonder, why not? and, what DO you want?

And I thought, perhaps he doesn't want to be a good boy (etc.) because it feels to him that this, being a good boy (or being safe, or having hand cream on his sore hands, or anything really that you are offering him) is coming at a price, a cost that he'd rather not have to pay.

So, either what he really wants, is for example, to be back with his foster carers, and he feels that if he accepts all the good care you are giving him, then he is saying no to his foster carers. He'd rather THEY did all that caring stuff, that's what he wants, and if he gets it from you, he can't get it from them, or is being disloyal to them. In a way, I can nearly hear his previous FC saying to him 'you be a good boy for your new parents'; so that is what he is refusing.

Or, he is worried that accepting all the good care you are giving him, will come at a future cost. Perhaps he is worried that at some point he will have to pay you back (in other words, he feels he doesn't deserve your good care just for being himself, but instead will have to earn it retrospectively). Or it may be simply the personal emotional cost he projects for the future, when, inevitably (from his experience), you will let him down just as all other adults have let him down, or will leave him/send him away. So in order to protect himself from that future heartbreak, he refuses now to accept your care, your love, your respect.

It sounds to me as if the underlying emotions my well be a combination of lack of self value, fear of being hurt again, distrust of the reality/longevity of your love and care for him. And/or, loyalty to his previous carers and denial about the realities of him having moved on to you.

I don't really know, but maybe you could try bringing up the topic of his previous carers, and listening carefully for how he feels about them and the move. Then, depending on what you 'hear', try to reassure him that his previous carers still care for him very much (they didn't just send him away lightly) and it is ok to miss them (it isn't disloyal to you), but that equally, his previous carers want to see him happy and cared for (so it is not disloyal to them, to accept care from you). Or, if you 'hear' that this bit is less of an issue but the more general distrust of adults and lack of self worth is more prominent, that is something you can only address with time, and with consistency in all things regarding these things, e.g. unconditionality of your love, the way you discipline, etc.

edamsavestheday Sat 21-Dec-13 23:09:08

I have no helpful ideas for you but I was very moved by your OP. And the very wise responses. Hope very much he learns to trust you and can let his guard down over time.

Upcycled Sat 21-Dec-13 23:17:18

Beautiful thread indeed and well done to everyone who helped.

Kewcumber Sun 22-Dec-13 10:31:34

It sounds to me like you don't really need anyone to tell you what emotion is behind this, I think you pretty much have it tapes - lack of self esteem and not feeling worthy of being loved, big changes, Christmas, loss of previous carers and not being attached to you yet.

It is helpful to talk it through on here - some of the responses are also on the mark.

I think expecting him to be able to articulate to you why he feels that he doesn't want to be a good boy is probably (from memory of how old he is) is probably a stretch.

But I do believe its very important to not make a big deal about him being a "good boy" and when he refers to it you need to tell him that you don't want a "good" boy, you want him. And it doesn't matter if he loves you or if his behaviour isn't perfect that you love him anyway.

It is well worth starting to develop his ability to have an "emotional vocabulary" for want of a better phrase. Its really handy to have adopted children be able to discuss how they feel and you have to teach them. One way is to watch TV with them and ask them how they think certain characters are feeling and use several different feeling type words (don't just concentrate on the sad/negative feelings).

Got to run now but will see if I can find a link to emotional literacy in children.

Kewcumber Sun 22-Dec-13 10:32:48

Oh and obviously lots of positive praise or things he does do well to bolster the self esteem issue (not fake praise just lots when he genuinely does something that you think is praiseworthy) - though am pretty sure you do that anyway.

Swanhildapirouetting Sun 22-Dec-13 21:11:51

I think when you suffer from low self esteem or depression any praise which is general or cheerfulness which is general (phrases like "we are going to have a fun time, or a lovely day or enjoy ourselves" or you are nice person or a kind person or a good person/boy) feel like deadening, untrue statements. You think the person who makes these statements is "just saying" them, or it's a trick. It can make you feel worse sometimes sad like they don't know what you are really like, and of course you are none of those things they pretend you are. I say this, because I've responded just like your son to compliments, which were kindly and lovingly meant, but made me feel "worse" and want to lash out. As if the person who made the comments didn't know the real me and what I was going through (this is in periods of low self esteem)

Sometimes details can make the difference. I like the way you put your plate in the sink or put that toy safely back on the bed. I like the way those chips disappeared like magic. Those "facts" are indisputable, and the adult cannot be pretending. Those statements build you up and reassure you that there is hope, and you are a person worthy of being loved and esteemed.

I think unconditional love is a misunderstood concept. I think we confuse it with the person can be anything and we would still love them, whereas really what we mean is that we love them for all sorts of reasons that might be different to what the perceived norm of lovableness is. I think you can reassure children that they can be lovable for all sorts of little things or even big things that they might not consider they have achieved. Not general stuff, everyday things.

I think if you imagine yourself as an adult and how you feel when you are feeling low and someone tries to cheer you up or rally you; it can give an insight how a child with low esteem might feel and what the best way to respond is. I think when you are a parent you assume you can wave a magic wand and reassure children in a much more authoritative way, and that they will believe us because we are omnipotent adults. But it comes after a long slog (the "believing" bit I mean)

Swanhildapirouetting Sun 22-Dec-13 21:26:07

Btw, I found that humour was a very useful way of dealing with all sorts of difficult behaviour in small children. Quite often things like spitting are a way of releasing tension and anger or anxiety, so if you turn it into a llama joke or bring out the dusters and the Mr Sheen it can defuse these situations - makebelieve you are going to polish your nose or your handbag or the walls. It all becomes so silly that even an angry child can see you aren't cross and it breaks the cycle. This is distinct from teasing. I remember these terrible scenes with my 4 year old screaming about some hated food stuff that had touched his plate,and I becoming literally "petrified" by the stress response - meals becoming awful battlegrounds of behaviour feeling I had to be authoritative and firm..and it being totally defused by a friend suddenly appearing and singing Muscles From Brussels (this was apropos hatred of green veg/broccoli) These are just examples of humour somehow providing some sort of emotional shortcut and resolving difficulties. And the child knows you are on their side.

TrinnyandSatsuma Sun 22-Dec-13 21:38:05

To all of you who posted, a huge heart felt thanks.

I read the replies over a few times and am sure I will keep re reading over next few months.

It's priceless to have experienced voices around me when I feel like I'm flayling around in the dark! Like doing a 1000 piece jigsaw without a picture :-)

Shockers Sun 22-Dec-13 21:46:57

DD couldn't cope with praise or care at all.

When she was younger and we had to do something different... holidays, Christmas, birthdays etc ( or even just going to school on days that she wasn't feeling positive), I used to tell her and DS stories about 2 children who were doing the same thing that we were about to do. The stories always started with 'Gregory and Madeline' asking their mum, 'What are we doing today?' Then mum would tell them, then they would go through the whole scenario. That way, my two got to mull it over twice.

When G & M did something well, their mum would comment on it. If DD did something well that was similar, I could say something along the lines of, 'Gosh, you did well, just like Gregory/Madeline...! I do know some clever children. That way she could reflect on the praise without feeling like she was in the spotlight.

G & M were only needed for 3 or 4 years, but they were a great help.

I'm not sure I've explained that very well...

Shockers Sun 22-Dec-13 21:47:55

G & M made mistakes too... they were quite valuable.

Kewcumber Sun 22-Dec-13 21:53:33

and Swan is right - children have to know the praise is true to be effective in helping build their self esteem. I hadn't thought about whole general praise thing but when I think about it, it is indeed how I praise DS (who suffers from a tendancy towards low self esteem) - very specific praise and never for something he really isn't that good at.

I'm generally very specific and also include why what he has done is good. "Thank you for clearing your plate away without asking, it makes things much easier for me to have someone who helps me"

Lilka Sun 22-Dec-13 23:45:28

Fantastic advice here

I would agree that he probably doesn't feel 'nice' or 'good' and he probably has pretty low self esteem. He may feel like he is bad, or he may struggle with the spotlight and he pressure of being praised

For children who find praise difficult and reject praise, not only does keeping the praise specific rather than vague help, but so can indirect praise rather than direct praise. So say your child tidied their bedroom without being asked and you are really pleased, direct praise would be saying 'you are such a good boy', indirect praise would be 'this room is so tidy and it looks fantastic'. Or say your child drew a picture which was really nice, direct praise would be 'you are so good at drawing', indirect would be 'I love this picture, that shade of blue is so pretty' etc etc. It puts less pressure on the child that way, less likely to trigger a 'but I'm not good at x, I'm a bad child' reaction

Hels20 Tue 24-Dec-13 18:53:49

Trinny - I hesitate to give any advice as I am such a novice (our son only came to us 3 weeks ago and this is a first child - adopted or otherwise) but we had an amazing session with CAHMS just before we went to the matching panel and they were amazing and recommended I read Caroline archer's "Parenting the child that hurts". Archer is a
mother who has adopted. Whilst some of what she said doesn't ring true to me, a lot of what she says makes sense - she suggests following indirect praise approach rather than direct praise approach, as Lilka suggests. She also really advocates exercise - to run off the cortisol and retune /rebalance the feelings. She also suggests saying things like "Let's put on our shoes" rather than "You put on your shoes". There is a lot of detail and I am dipping in and out of it but you might want to buy a copy of the book. I got mine off Amazon and it came within 3 days.

Anyway - as I said I am a novice at all this parenting lark!

TrinnyandSatsuma Tue 24-Dec-13 19:21:24

Thanks again for most recent posters. Yes Caroline archers books are great. We have the toddlers one and the tykes and teenagers one.

I've also got playful parenting and the nurturing heart one by Howard glasser. Determined to try and get as many ideas as possible!

TrinnyandSatsuma Tue 24-Dec-13 19:21:44

P.S. Congrats on placement Hels20

Rosesarebeautiful Wed 25-Dec-13 21:44:43

I know there's a lot of good advice here, but reading over your first comments I think he's just trying to keep you at arms length right now. I think you're probably doing fine, and there's lots of good advice here.
My children aren't adopted, but nevertheless parenting children takes a long time and does not always go to plan.
Childhood is a marathon not a sprint.
I would keep things simple and straightforward and keep showing love. Eventually I'm sure he'll learn to trust and live you back.
Good luck!

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