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sibling rivalry

22 replies

mandyh124 · 26/07/2015 12:36

I've just had a 2.5 yrs old boy and his 1 yr old brother placed with us for adoption. Prior they were living with separate FCs.... The older one is constantly trying to sit or roll onto on his brother, or push him over and occasionally trys to grab his face and pull his hair. Is this normal? Secondly when we put him in time out or to bed, he headbutts, hits and stratches us.... Is this normal too? They've been with us for 4 wks now....

OP posts:
Tangerineandturquoise · 26/07/2015 13:14

If it doesn't "seem" right it probably isn't
2.5-4 weeks in_ adopted child are all reasons not to use time out, you may find time in more helpful, where you keep him with you when he does these things.
Could you use a sling with each of them, but especially the 1 year old when you need to leave them unsupervised, so sling the younger one?
2.5 is still very little and the move is very scary and this will be having an impact on behaviour.
Have you seen his old FCs yet?

Were the two placed together on the same day or did they stagger the placement
And yes whilst toddlers do nip and scratch- sometimes it is the trigger you need to look for not the behaviour
The 2.5 year old sounds quite distressed if I am honest-and I know it sounds counter intuitive to say he needs more time attention patience, firm boundaries yes,but punishment no- remove him and firmly say no we don't do that
It takes a while our 2.5 year old was bashing her brother (7) with sticks and bats on placement and scratching and biting- we did have to keep consistently removing her with a firm no and a fuss over the injured party (because his self esteem was all over the place at placement) it took a while but it started to die down and now I would say she is much more in the way of normal younger sibling attack.

CloserToFiftyThanTwenty · 26/07/2015 13:21

This sounds like more than normal sibling rivalry to me - not least because presumably they haven't yet developed a sibling relationship.

Have you come across time in, rather than time out?

And do you know if bed time holds particular concern for him? (Obv don't say on here, but he may well be terrified and simply lack the skills to express that to you any other way)

JamHoneyMarmite · 26/07/2015 13:44

YY, like the others said, it sounds like time out and bedtime are both triggering a deep fear of abandonment. He is expressing fear the only way he's learned to, and so early in placement everything is probably scaring him. Lots of gentleness, take things slowly. Definitely time in not out, on your lap with safe holding if needed, or sat beside you but touching. Gentle voices, help him learn to regulate through you while you enforce the boundary.

Bedtime, he might need you to slow down. Perhaps stay with him until he falls asleep, perhaps try different room environment (night light, white noise, mobile...). I'm sure you are doing all this, but don't forget to factor in that the move may well have triggered a huge emotional regression, so inside he is operating at much much younger than 2.5. See if he wants some baby type things to help comfort him, maybe?

It's very early days and exceptionally tough work - hang in there, it will get a whole lot better Flowers

Buttercup27 · 26/07/2015 13:49

Firstly I know nothing about adoption but thought I would post as I have a similar age gap between my children and I could have written your post.
If I have either of the dc lap the other (regardless of what he is doing, even if he is having cuddles with dh) will stomp over and hit, push, pull and drag sibling off of my lap. They also fight (physically) over toys and attention.
What you have described sound very normal so please don't worry much easier said than done

Tangerineandturquoise · 26/07/2015 14:04

DS was awful about going to sleep so much so his FCs never "bothered" their word not mine to try and get him to go to bed they left him until he fell asleep on the sofa around 11 PM then moved him-which I don't think helped
His BM would often leave him alone whilst she went out- usually when he was asleep. So for him going to sleep was a big deal
He fought us tooth and nails over going to sleep but I always stayed with him until he went off. He would bang his head and scratch and bite, scream and cry- I've just remembered how horrible was- and I didn't have a one year old to handle as well.
Is the 2 year old still napping, I do think one of the greatest aids at this point is to let them nap, sleep is necessary for so much- it is a battle but it did pay off for us.
With two naps (From none) he started going to sleep earlier
Do you still have the FC covers? You may find it useful to use those for a while longer even if they aren't your cup of tea

mandyh124 · 26/07/2015 18:16

Hi everybody. Thanks for your comments. Very helpful. I know from his FC that he used to headbutt and scratch her at naptime and bedtime too... Just upsets us when he hits us. I do use 'time in', when he's upset or having a tantrum but we do use time out in the Playpen when he is hurting his brother.... His FC introduced him to cots... His BM didn't have one... Just got to keep going!

OP posts:
Tangerineandturquoise · 26/07/2015 18:46

I would take the sibling bashing as a sign of stress or distress rather than malice. That doesn't mean you can't say no.
Is he ready for a bed yet? Could that help with nightimes

But you are right keep going keep going

Kewcumber · 26/07/2015 20:53

sibling rivalry is a complete red herring in my opinion.

These are two random children of 1 and 2.5 who have been thrown into the same house to live together, so the behaviour is really not sibling rivalry as such... just (very understandable) rivalry.

Your 2.5 year old in particular is at a frustrating age developmentally anyway - even if his language is developmentally normal (and DS's was very far from developmentally normal at that age) he won't be able to express how he feels verbally properly.

So he is showing you how he feels (and it seems has been showing the FC's as well!) - he is terrified and unsettled. He has just been taken from the second set of parents that he's known and plonked in a strange environment where the food is different and it smells different and the routine is different. He may have lost "siblings" at FC's who may well have been older than him so he may well have gone from being the baby to being an older brother to some strange dude that you strange people keep insisting are his brother and who gets way more attention (whether he does or not is irrelevant - a one year old almost inevitably gets more attention, nappy changing etc. It probably sucks to him just now and he's desperate to relax and be babied by someone who really knows him. I agree with someone earlier who said you may need to baby him a lot more at 2.5 he really is still a baby.

Just upsets us when he hits us - I get that I really do - most of us have been in your position (with only one in my case so hats off to you!) but please don;t ascribe adult emotions to a two year old. His emotions are very basic and he has no competent way to communicate them - afraid, angry, happy, sad - that's pretty much it and they don't have the cognitive ability to process them in the say way or with the same subtlety that adults do. That is your job as a parent to expand and develop their brains/emotions/cognitive abilities and in my personal opinion, you do that by modelling not by punishing. (In fact there is increasing evidence that reward and punishment does not work particularly well on children who have already learnt that bad things happen regardless of how "good" you are).

I can't stress how much in your position I would (and did) drop time out completely. You don't want to teach him that if he expresses his anger that he is excluded. You want him to be able to express to you how he feels - you just don't want him to hurt anyone (including himself) in the process. You want him to gradually learn to feel safe with you both physically safe, safe form having to move again and safe emotionally that you recognise how he feels and are big enough to put your feelings aside to put his first. So however upset you feel, imagine that he is feeling about 100x worse and as the adult try to suck it up and teach him how to show it without hurting and he will need lots of repetition before he gets it.

So keeping the younger child safe but (in my opinion not giving him any extra attention just keep him on the other side of you for example) say firmly but calmly...

"I can see you feel cross at the moment, but we don't bite/kick/spit/hurt in our family" then distract distract distract. DS spent a lot of time in plapens being separated from other people, even now 8 years on time out is virtually guaranteed to escalate a situation rather than help. His (recent) psychologist explained (in front of me) to his teacher "When he is in time out all he thinks repetitively is I'M BAD AND THE TEACHER HATES ME, I''M BAD AND THE TEACHER HATES ME"

It's very hard to improve their self esteem once they've internalised this - so I would really resist if you can ever using time out. The only exception in my view would be if for some reason you can;t physically keep your younger child safe.

Sorry thats a bit long but it comes from the heart of a parent currently struggling with a 9 year old with rock bottom self esteem and significant executive processing problems. I have no idea if it would have made any difference if someone had said this to me 8 years ago - as I never did use time out (tried twice and it obviously distressed him to a degree which was out of proportion to the "crime") though I have had to resort to "holding" time in when he was going through very violent meltdowns around 3yrs which would have injured himself if I'd left him to it. But I think the idea that feeling hurt by the responses of any child is to ascribe an emotional ability that they just don't have. Toddlers are total narcissists - all of them, damaged or otherwise, they aren't trying to upset you or be defiant or naughty, it's all about them and how they feel and they're letting you know how they feel in no uncertain terms! It doesn't occur to them (nor should it) that you have any reciprocating emotions.

I agree if he is hitting and scratching at naptime/beditme then he's scared. Children of that age struggle with separation and bedtime is separation to them they have no concept when they are left alone that they will wake up and the day will start all over again. I too would sit with him and holds him hand if he'll let you until he falls asleep.

Kewcumber · 26/07/2015 20:54

Oh man alive - that's ridiculously long! Blush

Kewcumber · 26/07/2015 20:59

And it wasn't very long ago that he went to bed and all the people that he loved disappeared and (depending on what age he was removed) that's probably happened at least once before - I don't think I'd be very keen on going to bed after that!

Goodbyemylove · 26/07/2015 21:35

What do the social workers say? Are you getting any advice, support or guidance?

Can I ask why they placed the two children together?

I know it's very early days but I would be monitoring this very closely, reporting the difficulties and trying to get someone with some real expertise on this to support you
(Probably not a social worker.) I would also try to get some training for yourself and a family assessment with play therapy after an appropriate settling in period.

I adopted two siblings separately, different ages from yours, and I am sorry to say it was the worst decision for everybody. Their life chances would have been better if they had been brought up separately as only children.

Please feel free to PM me if you want to know more.

slkk · 26/07/2015 21:56

I don't really have a lot of advice about your siblings but a year ago I was regularly spat at, hit, screamed at and kicked. He cried for me then screamed and spat at me when I got near. So I walked away and the crying and begging started again. Kew puts it very well - your dc is not experiencing adult emotions. He is experiencing a torrent of emotions and feelings that he can't process and they are just coming out at whoever is closest. I was advised to help him voice his emotions ' oh are you feeling scared? That's ok, I'm here and I won't leave you' etc etc. Easier said than done in the heat of it. If it helps to know, I haven't been attacked or spat at now for at least six months, but I do get lots of hugs and smiles. It does get better.

Goodbyemylove · 26/07/2015 22:00

I don't think anyone can say, 'it does get better.' In my case it certainly hasn't.

JamHoneyMarmite · 26/07/2015 22:36

I only had one LO placed but they were expert in head banging, scratching, biting, spitting etc too. It took everything I had but I tried to always stay close, to make sure I said "no" to what Amber Elliot calls "the invitation from the child for you to reject them/re-create their familiar experiences". I held them during the head banging etc, both laid on the bed with lots of pillows when necessary, or holding safely on my lap. I narrated all the time, "wondering" what the feelings might be, or just mumbling on about how I would keep them safe, I would not walk away etc. it was literally bruising for me, and hard work preventing them from hurting themselves.

It eased, and LO can now express feelings in healthier ways, and can come to me when they feel they're about to lose it. It took a very long time, and was pretty frightening.

It sounds indescribably hard to balance this when there are two children who need you, when one needs your help to be emotionally safe, and one needs you to keep them physically safe. The added complexity at all levels is huge.

Goodbye I'm sorry to hear your experience has been so hard. I totally agree about the play therapy / theraplay, and based on my very limited experience, agree that sometimes placed children need 1:1 parenting.
Flowers to you and to Mandy - hope everyone gets a peaceful night.

WeLoveLego · 26/07/2015 23:09

I agree with most of the previous posters but would also suggest that your 2.5 year old needs opportunity to explore and get to know his new one year old brother. Provide plenty if opportunity for appropriately touching each other; stroking, brushing hair, hug to each other at bedtime ( if 2.5 year old okay with this).
I think his reaction to little bro/ new person is very normal ( at this point in time). I have three children under six ( two BC and one AC). When AC joined our family Bc2 was 2 years and 9 months, AC was one . BC2 went on hunger strike! Getting to know this stranger, to share his toys, having his space invaded was big news. In your case Dc1 has had his space completely changed/ removed ( very recently), everything familiar turned upside down etc ( see Kew 's post- I agree with her). What I would add is, this new little person will seem like both a threat/ curiosity and interesting toy all at once to your DC1. Pulling of hair could be met by, 'you can stroke his hair gently, but don't pull, see like this'( model stroking). Rolling on top of him ( in my experience) is about trying to initiate a game/ seeing what happens- (loud cry of protest usually)/ copying or mimicking baby. You could meet this one, for now, with 'do you think little 'x' can roll too?, can you both roll the same way?'
Your 2.5 year old isn't sure how to react/ behave at the moment, so he's possibly looking for cues from the baby. He's also probably feeling uncomfortable sharing his personal space. My dc2 was appalled at first when the baby crawled over him, and, shock horror, when she snatched a toy. He screamed in fright. He too gave the odd push, would snatch back frequently, or initiate snatching to see what would happen.
Slowly the children relaxed into each other's company, very slowly.
My advice is,when your children are together try to praise them for positive physical contact, like waiting a turn with a toy, a nice cuddle, and when the older child gets close to the younger try to relax and let him explore his brother before you stop him; otherwise little bro will become a curiosity piece , all the more interesting ( don't let him hit, but don't assume he will always hit, if you see what I mean). Also try to ( in a few more days maybe), show dc1 that you trust him with Dc2; leave the room and let them be together alone( watch where they can't see you). This shows dc1 that little brother is just there, normal, everyday, and not something super precious and to be protected ( by you). At the moment it might seem to him that you're guarding this exciting treasure, the baby!
Trigger points in the day of jealously for us were after Dc3 woke from a nap. Prior to this, dc2 had had me to himself for an hour, and transitioning to that 'sharing' time again was not welcomed ( and still isn't!) To cope with this, I remind dc2 that nap time is about to end and have an activity prepared ready that involves Dcs doing an activity together, eg playdough, painting etc. something where the focus is still on older child but younger is involved .
Also, bath time! I have found with all three children that bath time together provides a fabulous opportunity for helping new siblings get to know each other. Sit them opposite each other in the tub( in the bath they sit in a tight space so are forced into each other's eye line- promotes great eye contact). Lots of bubbles, allow touching of each other to brush bubbles off each other etc. The baby will probably delight in this water play , pouring water on each other etc, and the older can be in charge of gently pouring.
Finally, just to add to what posters have said about the going to bed issue; yes it sounds like resistance to bed, but also sounds ritualistic. Ac used to rub herself and bang head on cot bars as part of her ritual to get herself to sleep. She would also headbutt and kick me, and still does, as a way if saying 'put me down in my cot, I'm tired, please let me sleep' . If I try to hug her for too long she'll kick me- it's an intimacy issue too. The intimacy for her at bedtime has to be, and still is, on her terms. ( she's about the same age as your dc1 now). We continue to work on this, but I'm happy for this to be on her terms as slowly the hugs are getting longer.
I hope these practical ideas help. Sounds like you're doing a great job, keeping plodding on, and a huge well done on finding a minute in your day for Mumsnet posting with that age gap, as that's a huge achievement!

Kewcumber · 26/07/2015 23:20

Goodbye I'm really sad to hear of your problems - I have seen fairly close up a sibling adoption disrupt (one just preschool age and one primary aged sibling) and it's horrible and its certainly true to say that no-one can guarantee that this will get better, however statistically with pre-school adoptions such as this the overwhelming likelihood is that it will indeed get better.

No-one is suggesting that this behaviour should be ignored or swept under the carpet or if it continues that OP shouldn't get more professional support. And if you have any warning signs that you look back on and wish you'd been more alert to them I agree with you that letting OP have them privately is a wise move.

Kewcumber · 26/07/2015 23:21

OP -also whilst I'm thinking of it - make sure you don't get pushed into moving ahead with the adoption order before you're ready. It's way easier to access support pre-adoption than post.

Goodbyemylove · 27/07/2015 09:28

I agree with kewcumber to delay the adoption order until you are sure that these two children are settling and that they should be placed together.

fasparent · 27/07/2015 10:13

Have seen many children placed in similar situations, lots will depend on pervious placement and family Family History , Think you have too be patient and let time work, will have too set your own boundary's slowly.
Use baby, get young man too help, make choices, plan the day, promote his self esteem, lots of praise some reward's. Do extra play spend time when baby is having a nap and off too bed, other times do things together play , park's, picnics, letting him prepare for the day , help with making picnic lunch, choosing the park and place's too go. Often by suggestion we often stop off after shopping on the way home for half an hour or so, breaks things up.

gabsdot45 · 27/07/2015 11:41

I think I'd be inclined to Co sleep for a while. Move his bed into your room or you sleep in with him.
With children who have had disrupted and disfunctional early years if can help to go back and repeat some of the steps they've missed, like falling asleep in a parents arms like a a tiny baby would. He may never have had that experience as a baby.
I would try and give as much separate attention to each child. The sibling relationship will come in time, it's more important now to facilitate attachment between each child and you. When the small baby is sleeping make sure to give his brother lots of one on one time. I'd recommend a sling for both children. I used a sling for our DD who was adopted at 2.5. She was heavy but it was a good way to keep her close to me. You can carry the smaller baby around with you in the sling and that way you'll keep him away from his brother too.

Tangerineandturquoise · 27/07/2015 14:09

co-sleeping has many benefits
And I agree whole heartedly about slinging
But our sleep fighter was with us for almost a year before he would let us sit on a bed with him, and it was a while longer before he would sleep in our bed-and I am glad we perservered but it wasn't a case of him being in our bed from the start, because it really did seem to help
We are experiencing something similar with our daughter, she is very reluctant to be in or stay in our bed. So it is a slowly slowly journey.

Kewcumber · 27/07/2015 15:04

I co-slept with DS but I doubt he would have done it aged 2.5 with a relative stranger after 4 weeks.

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