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Umm, is this normal?

(56 Posts)
Piffyonarock Tue 17-Jun-14 22:28:20

Hello, long time no post, hope you are all very well smile

I wonder if I could have the benefit of your experience? My DS (5) has a history of agressive behaviour, as well as raging, inability to self-regulate, running away and generally being quite a handful. The school is involved and an Ed Psych, but this all seems painfully slow moving, the Ed Psych has suggested attachment disorder.

One of the things that I am finding hard to cope with is the physical agression towards me and DD (4), and some of the things that he says e.g. today he has threatened to stab me in the stomach, rip my throat out and to drop a brick on my heart to make it stop. I ignore sometimes or pick him up on it without getting angry, but I do find it hurtful sad. Other times he is Mummy's boy and loves cuddles etc.

As well as being worried about DS, I suffer from anxiety and I think I'm finding some of this triggering memories of being bullied and otherwise traumatised in the past which isn't helping - my GP wants me to stop taking my citalopram, but I really don't want to.

Would anyone else think that this was cause for concern and pursue GP/CAMMHS/Post Adoption Support, or would you think normal age and stage, he'll grow out of it? DD is copying, so it is all getting a bit wearing.

Thank you for reading that essay!

Devora Tue 17-Jun-14 23:01:48

I would love for someone to come on here and say it is normal - because he sounds very similar to my dd. I don't think it is normal, though - sorry. Or not if it is happening frequently.

I think you should pursue CAMHS/post adoption support, and I think you should think about support you need for yourself. It doesn't sound like a good time to come off the citalopram.

So sorry you are going through this, Piffy. As I say, I can relate to it sad

rootypig Tue 17-Jun-14 23:05:47

I think you sound as though you're coping remarkably well but (utterly understandably) doubt your ability to continue coping. In that sense your post reads to me as not is or is this not normal (only a professional who knows DS fairly well could tell you that, I think), and more, are you justified in asking for more support. Well, a resounding yes. For you, and for DS, and for DD. Good luck flowers

Piffyonarock Tue 17-Jun-14 23:17:31

Thank you both for talking to me, sorry you're going through this too Devora. Its funny, reading back my post it seems obvious that something is amiss, but I think I've got so used to it being everyday life I just assume everyone else has the same troubles. It is very frequent.

I often feel a bit dismissed by the professionals e.g. school called us in about his behaviour initially, but keep going very quiet and saying things such as "he only stands out here because we don't have many children with behavioural issues, in another school he probably wouldn't stand out". So then I think, well maybe the problem is me not accepting him as he is, rather than an adoption related issue. So yes, rootypig, you're right, I think I'm often uncertain whether I'm justified in seeking help.

Thank you very much both of you, I'll get on the case :-)

rootypig Tue 17-Jun-14 23:51:19

I think you're probably a victim of your own success, OP. People find it difficult to see past the competent exterior we present, even if we are literally saying the words, I cannot cope, they're saying, yes, yes, you can, look, you're doing it! does that ring true?

You have beautifully and coherently described the situation here, you're emotionally intelligent and empathetic, you have picked up on the early warning of your own triggers. For a lot of professionals, all of that competence amounts to you being ok. Don't let them fob you off. The systems are geared toward triage and crisis, which makes it difficult to get through. It also sounds as though the school is inexperienced / lacks confidence. Persevere, until you meet someone you feel can help you. flowers

MerryInthechelseahotel Tue 17-Jun-14 23:52:15

He stands out maybe because he has had early trauma and the others haven't! Too late now but will come back tomorrow. Meanwhile remember you are justified!

ancientbuchanan Wed 18-Jun-14 00:01:44

Op, I don't have adopted children but what you are describing is similar to the behaviour of an adopted son of friends. He is a " runner" and aggressive . He has two natural siblings, also adopted by the same couple. He has learning disabilities and other issues due to extreme neglect, iirc . But I have seen him run towards his parents and his adoptive grandparents with joy and affection, be cuddled, etc and display love. It just felt as if it got too much for him, sometimes.

It's got better over the years, but was very stressful and exhausting. And professional help was essential.

bendywillow Wed 18-Jun-14 00:04:52

No, this is not normal and in my experience, what you are seeing on the surface is probably just that - I would be very concerned for the safety of your DD when your back is turned, and the ability to provide the support your DD needs when your time and energy is so obviously being sapped by your DS. Also in my experience, it is most helpful for you to have multi-agency meetings when dealing with an inexperienced school. It helps to have experts available to advise on how both home and school messages and strategies can match so that consistency is achieved - however, I would strongly advise that as part of these meetings, it is agreed how/when the school may/may not interact independently of you. In my experience, a school who is inexperienced may take their concerns directly to professionals who are supporting your family, and this can cause tension between parties, so get the rules for how your child can be discussed agreed up front.

When you are inside the storm, day-to-day, it feels normal, but believe me, when you eventually are able to step outside of it, you can see how extraordinary the situation actually was, and just how deeply it affected your own health and wellbeing, and that of your wider family. Look after yourself first and foremost, because you won't be at all effective if you are running on empty.

I really can appreciate that it is very easy to lose empathy for a child that is as challenging as your DS, and you do need to speak with post adoption support about finding respite for you, as regularly as possible, so you can give your DD the 1:1 attention she needs, and so you can have some time for yourself, too. If the empathy is lost, the relationship between you and your DS may become even more challenging. It is so hard to maintain empathy when a child physically and emotionally hurts you regularly.

I am so sorry that you are going through this and am sending you my kindest wishes and hoping that you find a way forward. I do not wish to share much more in this forum, but you are welcome to PM me.

Lilka Wed 18-Jun-14 00:07:00

<hugs> I'm sorry you're dealing with this Piffy.

Whatever the root causes of your sons difficulties are (and goodness knows it can be hard to try and pick our kids issues apart, I've tried! and realised that it's just not possible sometimes), but if you're sometimes realising other parents just don't live with this, as you described in your second post, then whatever caused this, there are issues. If it was normal, a sizeable proportion of the other parents you meet would be living like this, and they aren't.

And you are more than justified seeking help with this.

I would agree that this doesn't sound like the best time to come off the citalopram.

Of course we accept our children as they are - but don't confuse that with trying to accept unacceptable behaviour and force yourself to put up with it. I accept, for instance, that my DD's have (or had, in DD1's case) many issues and along them that they struggle to control their anger. I refused to accept being their punchbag when they got angry, and I won't accept and embrace a role as an object to be hurled death threats and c words and whatever else have you at. "Not accepting" it means that I have sought and fought for professional help with it, rather than put up and shut up and tried to live with it because it's just a part of them.

Italiangreyhound Wed 18-Jun-14 00:18:48

I agree with everyone! I think rootypig has some wise words. I think if you are struggling to cope, it is too much. And I don't think it is normal. My dd (not adopted) can be a bit aggressive with me and I think if this were a male partner I would not put up with it, but from dd I feel I should!

I have got in touch with school's link worker and they are coming to see her and you have reminded me to put this on my agenda of things to tell the schools link worker!

Also, as you point out wheels turn very slowly so you really do need to flag up problems as they arise and not wait until you cannot cope because you won't be able to get a quick reply necessarily.

If I were in your shoes I would seek out a bit of counselling (from GP surgery, for free or wherever) to see if you can lay to rest the memories of bullying etc from the past and cut off the link with those memories and the behaviour you currently experience. It is enough to deal with this now and not to have to deal with past hurts as well.

Please be kind to yourself and build up your resilience by giving yourself treats and me-time, whenever you can. Is there a Mr Piffyonarock? If so much sure he is fully helping to share the load.

Lastly and it is a small thing but as much as you can for your ds build up the good times and encourage and reward the nice talk. Saying a lot of times (not saying you do but I do!) how much you do not like a certain behaviour only reinforces it in people's minds. I am a bit of a believer in the fact that we can encourage things by talking a lot about them. EG DS was waving his lolly around and instead of saying 'hold that lolly carefully' I said ' be careful don't lose your lolly'. In the next minute the lolly was on the ground and ds was in floods of tears! A friend told me about this about 20 years ago, positive speach, e.g. hold tightly to the rail and walk carefully instead of be careful you do not fall. So for your sons talking and hitting you would want to comment on loving touch he gives (hugs etc, snuggling, low-level and gentle etc, nice talk etc) and try not to major on telling off when he says things or does things which are hurtful BUT you must protect yourself from physical and emotional hurt and you do need help to get to the bottom of why he is saying these things.

I am birth mum to an overbearing 9 year old and new mum to adopted ds aged 3, so you can feel free to ignore me as I really am a newbie on the adoption scene.

All best wishes and do be tough at getting help, do not be fobbed off.

Italiangreyhound Wed 18-Jun-14 00:26:52

Sorry only mentioned one person but I really do think everyone has some really wise words and much more experience but I just wanted to share because with my kids I am so often saying what I do not like and when I can find bits to like and things they do well it carries things along a bit better - so to speak. It is in no way instead of getting help, it is as well as it. Asking the child for their input, how can we tackle stuff together etc, while you are waiting for the cavalry to arrived! A lot of my confrontations with dd might have ended better if I had given her more space when she is angry BUT again, you must keep you and dd safe, as well as ds, and sometimes will need to be clear about what is not acceptable.

OurMiracle1106 Wed 18-Jun-14 02:35:22

As a birth mum I would be concerned that something underlying was causing the aggression and would be asking for help as he might (only might) be either having memories come back or be dealing with emotions and need the help of a counsellor to do so.

DwellsUndertheSink Wed 18-Jun-14 06:46:44

OP Im a foster carer and one of my charges is like you describe - very aggressive. He has had trauma therapy (although he is younger than yours) and will continue to need therapy over the years. he had EMDR therapy to make him feel safe with me and this actually helped enormously in reducing, but not stopping, the aggression - basically, the therapist needed to break the emotional link between me and his birth mother, so he could tell the difference. This is not a one time deal though, as because of his age, he still goes back to a more primal instinctual survival mode.

I can tell you that my LO has a disorganised attachment disorder, due to his awful past, and this manifests in needs for lots of affection, but also lots of aggression. The person you love the most is also the person who might hurt you and reject you.

I am one year in with my LO, and I now get regular respite because being a punchbag is exhausting. Yesterday was a particularly difficult day.

if I can help with any strategies for dealing with bad behaviour, please PM me. Most "normal" sanctions will not work with these children, and will escalate the aggression in many cases.

Also, I would contact post adoption support and ask if YOU can speak to a counsellor - just to explore your own feelings. And I would insist on a therapist through CAMHS for your son.

Italiangreyhound Wed 18-Jun-14 10:19:32

DwellsUndertheSink I wonder if you are able to say more about "Most "normal" sanctions will not work with these children, and will escalate the aggression in many cases." I will pm you but I just wanted to ask on her as I expect others would be interested and you might be able to share 'tactics' without revealing any personal information about you or your little one. OP sorry to ask but I think any information like this could be gold for a lot of people.

Swanhildapirouetting Wed 18-Jun-14 15:27:10

Dd (now 12) was quite violent and destructive from aged 3 -8, and directed a lot of physical aggression at her siblings and me. It was absolutely horrible, and yet it never reached the level you describe of verbal aggression and threats. So no, it is not normal. Her brothers never behaved like this. They are all birth children btw.

I sought therapy from a psychotherapist for her at the age of 8. I have to say it was absolutely invaluable. She still has triggers for aggressive behaviour but the feeling that she was understood and accepted made such an enormous difference to her. In her case I think a lot of her issues were sensory overload, as well as a very minor attachment disorder due to being a twin, and feeling her brother got all the attention. We now look at a lot her issues as anxiety rather than aggression, which helps. We learnt a lot about sensory triggers and how to deal with them from her brother who has ASD.

Consequences really did not touch the aggression, nor timeout nor punishments or rewards. What she needed was on some deeper level to feel connected and understood because she was lashing out due to fears and anxieties and frustrations. She needed to feel very safe (with certain boundaries set) have masses of physical affection, sensory issues met, before we could tackle the reason she was lashing out.

I know this was not an adopted child but triggers are a very useful way of finding out the pattern for aggression - is it linked with being told off, shame, fears of specific things, being trapped, being forced to make eye contact, sitting still in school, feeling a failure in academic work. You could keep a diary of some of the ways he is reacting and what he is reacting to. Running off is a classic fight or flight pattern isn't it by which children adapt to stress. You could explain his running off as a way of not lashing out in certain stressful situations. The Explosive Child is a very good book for explaining why children lash out, let alone adopted children who have had so much trauma.

Sorry to lurk, I just feel that having had an aggressive child, and a non-violent but anxious ASD child (who we have had to make a lot of strategic adaptions to) and seen other parents deal with very verbally aggressive children (it got worse as well as they got older, so it will NOT go away without tackling root causes) I did not want you to be FOBBED off by professionals.

Swanhildapirouetting Wed 18-Jun-14 15:37:03

Italian an obvious example (which the Nursery Nurse who deals with nurture at my children' old primary school and helped SOO much with my ASD child)is saying to a child who is badly behaved Look at me when I'm talking to you. This can trigger off a massive reaction. Similarily backing them into a corner. Or any sort of shaming, or singling out for negative comments. Or giving consequences for behaviour which is the child is incapable of correcting like fidgeting or not concentrating or poor motor skills, due to developmental lags.

DwellsUndertheSink Wed 18-Jun-14 16:00:08

Italiangreyhound, no worries...

o No time out. Traditional time out advises you to put kid in a place, then walk away/ignore for a set period of time. This, for neglected child, is just taking them back to their past. Its adding a fear of abandonment to the mix.

So, we take him away from the action (not leading him...we pick him up and carry him) to the enclosed front porch of the house. I shut us in so no escape. I have removed all potential missiles from the area. In there, there is a large fluffy beanbag. he can sit on it, roll on it - which is a nice tactile activity. or, if the aggression continues, he can use it as a punch bag. I sit in the room with him, on a seperate bench, and with body language (avoid eye contact, roll shoulders and body away from him by 30-45 degrees) let him know i am unimpressed. I have had him shout "I dont want to hit the beanbag, I want to hit you!" but I persevere, using the beanbag as a shield. let the aggression run its course. His therapist told us to keep him there until you can see its all burnt out. All the time asking "are you ready for a cuddle yet?" When the tantrum has subsided, he will climb up for a cuddle. Then we leave.

o No restraint. One of the very worst things we did was too follow a parenting book for "normal" children, and physically restrained the child when he went into a meltdown. AFter 3 attempts, I gave up in tears because it was just damaging to all of us. I later found out from a family member that he was strapped into his buggy for most of the day, not able to get out and play.

o In the early days, (and sometimes even now if I have recognised a trigger) I will say "oh you look a bit cross today - would you like a little cuddle?" This was difficult because, after being bitten or punched or kicked, its human nature to get angry. My DH in particular felt this was rewarding bad behaviour, but sometimes, you need to recognise that behind that aggression is a terrified child who needs some reassurance. However, unlike "normal" kids, where you would grab them and hug them and ask them whats up, with LO we left the offer of cuddles up to him, always. We offer the cuddles, but its up to him when and how long he will have cuddles.

o We have a litany of "safe" words which we repeat when he is in a bad way. "Lovely hugs and cuddles and squeezes and kisses and raspberries" (all said with corresponding actions) - never ever using the word "happy" as this is a trigger for him, for some unknown reason. We started saying "dwells likes to give you cuddles" "Dwells likes to give you cuddles and kisses" "dwells like to give you cuddles and kisses and squeezes" etc etc. By giving him these safe words, we remind him that we are not "them".

o We found which words we could use to express emotions, and give him those words - "oh I see you are very cross" "That makes me Sad" "he is being mean" "He is grumpy today" - none of these had connotations like "angry" and "happy".

o Distraction is a biggie - ignoring wilful behaviour, by suggesting "when you have finished being silly, (bad behaviour) maybe we can go to the park/play with your cars/dig in the garden. "

o Jumping time. Get him physically active on the trampoline/bike/scooter for a couple of minutes. The act of doing something physical can often offset the bad behaviour. So we will say "well that was not nice, how about you go jump on the trampoline and have a little think about that." I know someone who uses "Random Dancing" from iCarly. The daftness of it gets everyone turned around pretty fast. Possibly more suitable for older kids.

o Giving lots of positive feedback about lovely play is good - you do not participate in the game, or ask any questions, you just state what is happening in the game, sometime parroting what he has said. So...."The car is going up the ramp of the garage....the red car is driving fast....its making a loud brrrmmm crashed into the fire truck...the firemen are a bit cross". Or even "you are climbing the are up high in the are going on the slide...very fast" - I think they call this "attending". I found this hard because I want to ask questions!

o I do like this book - not for LO but for older kids, because it allows you to bring dicipline without losing your cool. Allegedly. grin
it talks about us getting in to a dance of dicipline with the kids when you just end up making threats that you dont or cant follow through. ALso about picking the right sanction for the child.

MerryInthechelseahotel Wed 18-Jun-14 16:11:57

I've found the last few posts really helpful. Very useful and practical.

Consequences really did not touch the aggression, nor timeout nor punishments or rewards. What she needed was on some deeper level to feel connected and understood because she was lashing out due to fears and anxieties and frustrations. She needed to feel very safe (with certain boundaries set) have masses of physical affection, sensory issues met, before we could tackle the reason she was lashing out.

I am going to write this down and keep it somewhere! So helpful swan

Piffyonarock Wed 18-Jun-14 17:16:19

Thank you all so very much for all your kindness.

I'm making an action plan, I've left off too long hoping things will right themselves. Will make an appointment with the GP and keep a diary until then so that I can show her what is happening and how frequently, and I'll get back onto our Post Adoption service. I'm not very sure about how this might develop into a team around the child, we did have a CAF form done but I'm not sure who is meant to be the lead on it. Will find out. I'll probably back picking your brains along the way!

Thinking of aggression as anxiety sounds a good way forward, I think he extremely highly strung and he does seem to react with fight/flight a lot. Will keep reading over your helpful advice to remind myself and try some new strategies.

He is the loveliest, brightest little boy and DD is so bright and funny. I love them both such a lot, I am a very lucky mummy (apart from all the negative bits).

Thanks again, you are all invaluable!

Piffyonarock Wed 18-Jun-14 18:34:08

Italian - congratulations on your adoption! I've not been on here for a while and I missed that! Hope all is going very well smile

You asked about Mr Piffy, yes there is one and he is very supportive, but he works full time to keep us all and has lots of pressure at work. I feel that all this extra pressure at home is making us a bit vulnerable, it is harder to cope with problems that arise now.

Rootypig - yes, what you say rings very true, and when I think about it this has always been a problem of mine throughout my working life. I have left two jiobs where I was overwhelmed and I was then replaced with two people - I'm not very good at securing help, although I do ask.

Dwellsunderthesink - thank you for all your strategies, I'll try some of those. I've just done webster stratton parenting course again but some of those techniques just don't work for us.

Another thing that is making things a little worse is that other people are losing a bit of patience with us - some family members who were very supportive and understanding are less so now I think, and we feel less able to ask them for help. They think I am too weak with them and that they are naughty spoilt children. They mean well, but I can't say that it has improved my self-esteem much!

I'm making enquiries about after school club, maybe try to get some one-to-one time with each of them.

KristinaM Wed 18-Jun-14 19:19:06

Excellent advice here, especially from bendy willows and dwells

Please contact the post adoption centre in London. Your child needs specialist help and that may not be available through your local CAMHS. Psychotherapy and traditional play therapy are often not helpful for children with attachment disorder .

You are the apocryphal frog in the saucepan on the stove sad

ancientbuchanan Wed 18-Jun-14 20:17:43

It's difficult because other people expect a magic wand and your child to be " cured" after a " reasonable" time. It isn't like that for these children or, in our case, a chronically sick one. I used to limit our exposure to various people, eg 20 mins more frequently rather than an hour less. I also used to day to people ' you wouldn't expect an adult to get over this quickly, nor can you a child'.

I also watched for triggers, many of which were the same, funny enough. There were three dead certain ones, as with every child but effects completely uncontrollable

Hunger. A hungry man is an angry man. He learned that phrase at 5.
Insecurity, someone being mean ( fewer skins, v sensitive), sensory overload meaning he didn't know how to react.

I found the book No Matter What invaluable. We first read it on a calm day. And re read it. And reread it on a not calm day. And it became our mantra, no matter what. It still lurks in his subconscious.

Piffyonarock Thu 19-Jun-14 00:18:43

I've e-mailed school and copied some of what I wrote in my OP in it. It's gone to the SENCO and the ED Psych. I've asked if they can help as I feel the family is in crisis and vulnerable. I'm not sure whether the Ed psych has diagnosed attachment disorder or if it is just a theory at the moment, would CAMHS diagnose that?

Thanks Kristina and Ancient. Funnily enough I think hunger is a part of it, we were talking the other day about hungry sounding like angry and the need to eat enough of the right things regularly. Also I think DS does suffer with sensory overlaod, he has sensitive ears and does seem to react very quickly to anything that doesn't suit him e.g. tonight I said he didn't have to wear pj pants as its warm and Daddy hadn't heard me say and had passed him the pants - instead of asking me or telling DH that I'd said it was OK he just burst into angry tears sad

I feel like my e-mail was over-dramatic, but we are in a bit of a bad way at the moment. I hope it makes them do something.

Piffyonarock Thu 19-Jun-14 07:14:59

Blimey, i must have sounded in a bad way in my e-mail, the Ed Psych replied straight away and is contacting me again today! I mentioned about appearing to be coping better than we are, thank you Rootypig for pointing that out.

Kewcumber Thu 19-Jun-14 11:10:22

Piffy if you pm me with an email address I will send you a presentation for school about the effects of early life trauma and the effects - it also has a "key messages" for teachers which I feel is very helpful for parents.

My DS is aggressive towards me but himself and has a fast fuse when he's anxious and is hypersensitive to noise for example - its the fight or flight instinct.

I have always said that DS's temper is triggered by anxiety not by anger - it seems very obvious to me now.

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