New Year’s Resolutions-Love ’em or Leave ’em

Well a whole year has passed since my last post. And depending on how you look at it a whole decade too. I am in the camp that feels that 2020 is the end of the prior decade so the next decade will not begin until next year but to each their own. But the best explanation ever of this occurred here:

Whatever year it is, with the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions. Inevitably made and inevitably broken. The tradition goes back over 4000 years to the Babylonians who celebrated (then in mid-March) the planting of crops as the beginning of the year. They resolved to be good so the Gods would grant them a good harvest. When Caesar moved the beginning of the year to January, the practice continued because Janus for whom January was named looked both back into the past and ahead into the future. So, worshiping that deity meant promising good conduct for the coming year.

If you’re wondering what all that has to do with reactive attachment disorder, well not a lot. Except that it was as unrealistic to expect fulfillment of resolutions then as it is now. If you’ve been with your RAD kiddo for any length of time you know that saying or writing down a list of promises one day of the year, even a major holiday, won’t make the world change suddenly. They are not going to wake up in 2020 and have a magical “Aha” moment where everything that they didn’t understand in 2019 now makes sense. The synapses in their brains aren’t going to grow back overnight.

But you can start 2020 with a clean slate. It’s so easy to hold on to grudges and anger and resentment. I know, I’ve perfected it over all these years. My birthday happens to be New Year’s Day and August called. We were about five minutes into the call before I asked him if he called for any other reason than to say, “Happy New Year”. He rattled off a couple more ideas and since he was on speaker phone his brother coughed out “birthday” to try and save him. He heard it and caught on that it was somebody’s birthday but couldn’t catch on that it was mine! There have been years I would have gotten angry that he forgot but I gave him some grief and laughed it off. His memory hasn’t ever been great but he tries.

Starting the new year with a clean slate means letting go of any current battles you and your RAD kiddo are waging. Maybe lifting any current punishments even. If possible, have an honest talk about those issues and acknowledging that you are willing to start this year with a clean slate and offering that olive branch. You may get a great response from your RAD kiddo. You may not. But it’s about unburdening your heart, not theirs.

If you’re just not a resolutions person (like me) try some of these interesting alternatives. Many could be adapted into whole family projects! And if you’re looking for some more “practical” or “real life” ideas, these are great! But be warned, they will hit you where you live…

One of my favorite ideas that I’ve heard to replace resolutions is a gratitude jar. Have a jar and slips of paper available in the house and whenever you are grateful for something you write it down and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, you open the jar and reflect as a family on the things you all wrote and have to be grateful for. It doesn’t have to be in place of resolutions necessarily but it certainly puts the past year in perspective and gives you something to consider for how to move into the next one!

Thank you all for joining me on my journey with August this past year. I hope I have helped a little maybe. It is hard to put into words how much writing here helps me. Happy New Year to you all!

Until Next Time,

Shannon

The Family Christmas Letter

‘Tis the season, right? In comes the floods of cards and letters from your friends and families with their pictures and the letters. The family Christmas letter. In the last decade or two it has replaced the card. It’s now the way to sum up all that has happened during the previous year. Because just wishing you the best for the coming year wasn’t getting it done. And food and little league and school pictures on social media weren’t enough either. The family Christmas letter is that place that puts a neat red and green bow on the whole year.

But, oh, the pressure! One of my favorite sayings for RAD families is , “Don’t compare your real life to someone else’s highlight reel.” And never is that more true than receiving the family Christmas letter. Have you done it? You open it up and your heart sinks. Here’s how it goes:

Bob and Trish both had amazing years. Bob got a promotion (AGAIN!) And Trish was named volunteer of the year in the county school system. She chaired the Fall fest, the Spring fest, the prom, graduation, the boosters. And she raised the most money of any parent in all the fundraisers! Little Sophie is already on pointe in ballet at three years old. And Bobby Jr. is being scouted by the Cardinals from his all-star performance little league this year. He’s getting straight A’s in fifth grade and has made his commitment to Christ at Our Lade of Heavenly Perfection Church. We are so proud…

Whew!

Now of course this is a huge exaggeration but doesn’t it feel that way sometimes? Doesn’t it feel like everyone else is living a life that just sails along so smoothly with children that never have any troubles? The biggest thing to remember is that it’s really not happening that way. These families are not living these perfect lives all day, every day. And while you may want to run away and get adopted by them, the grass is not always greener on the other side.

If you were a fly on the wall in one of those “perfect” family homes, I am sure you would hear some disagreements. I’m sure you would hear the children get in trouble. And of course I am sure you would hear stress and anxiety in the voices of the parents. Because no parent can go through life without worrying. It comes with the job. Yes, a lot of it has to do with our children. But a lot of it also has to do with how we choose to respond to that stress and anxiety as well.

So what can we do? It’s December 13th and we may not have one decoration up or one gift bought. Maybe you haven’t sent any cards and the thought of doing a whole letter give you a headache. You know what? That’s OK. Keeping up with the Joneses isn’t your job. Having the perfect house with the perfect tree or perfect Menorah and table might make you feel a little better but it’s not the most important thing that’s necessary for your holiday.

Do you need to send a letter that ducks the reality of your RAD family life and paints a rosy picture of your lives? Of course not. Don’t send one at all if you don’t want to. I haven’t sent one in a while. Of course I have this blog so anyone who wants to know what’s going on can just peek in here! You don’t have to compete with anyone and you don’t owe the world some white-washed summary of your life. You are raising traumatized kiddos and fighting everyday for the healing of their little minds. That’s your successful year. Don’t worry about whether or not anyone else thinks it means you’re not doing anything. The people in your life who matter know. Your children.

Until next time,

Shannon

Talking to Family about Gifts

This holiday season it is impossible to get away from the barrage of ads and offers of everything that a child would ever want. And every TV, radio, newspaper, onscreen ad, store and mall is filled with ads and products designed to encourage buying. And lots of it. So how do you talk to your children about keeping the buying to a minimum? And even harder, how about talking to family about gifts?

When August came home and then Spencer was due right after Christmas, we were like a UPS depot at the house. Just about the time the presents stop coming from August’s arrival, then came Christmas. We were a name drawing family. But my grandmother thought that everyone should buy for August AND for Spencer who hadn’t even been born yet! I put the stop to that. I didn’t want to start the boys down the path of expecting a blow out Christmas every year. So, I explained that the boys would go into the name draw just like everyone else. August hadn’t even met most of his relatives yet. And I was going to be too pregnant to go back East for Christmas so it was going to still be a while before he did.

It helped a little bit. But then there was Spencer’s birth followed by Valentine’s Day and Easter and I swear it was Memorial Day before the boxes stopped coming. So early on it was hard talking to family about gifts.

So what do you do when your family needs to understand the unique situation with your RAD kiddo where gifts are concerned? As August got older, he’s figured out the connection between asking for gifts, getting gifts and emotions. And with manipulation being one of the RAD tools of the trade, it is very easy for them to use that expertise at the holiday season. The idea that love can be “bought” is very easy for them to grab onto.

Hopefully you’ve had some conversations with your family already about the different attributes of RAD so tailoring the conversation to the holidays shouldn’t be so complicated. Explaining that RAD behaviors don’t get suspended during the holidays shouldn’t be hard. In fact, it might be good to prepare your family that they might be heightened.

But back to presents. Talking to family about gifts will mean setting some ground rules about cost. And the type of gifts you want your RAD kiddos to receive. For example, we were concerned about August’s fascination with guns. So we asked that he get no video games with guns or toys that were guns. Sometimes that meant over-ruling his list! Of course we didn’t always let him know that. And his list was always huge so most of the time it was easy because there was no way he was going to get everything on it.

As he got older he started wanting money. We wanted to make sure it was for a specific purpose and that he was being practical. One year he wanted a Nintendo DS. My grandmother thought it would be cute to give him $50 but all in $1 bills and in multiple packages. The woman behind us at GameStop wasn’t nearly as pleased when he counted out all those ones to buy it!

The point is that there is definitely an opportunity with the holidays for the structure and rules you have put in place for your RAD kiddo to go off the rails. Well-meaning family need to know that it’s important to honor your wishes even in the season of over-indulgence. And if you get the, “But it’s just…” don’t back down. Make sure you explain plainly and clearly how much it can set back all the progress you have made.

So I tried to find some websites to help with ideas but really couldn’t find anything that made any sense for RAD kiddos. Which wasn’t at all surprising. We will be talking more about holiday traditions and how to navigate them in the weeks to come. So hang on and steel yourself for the season of peace and joy!

Until next time,

Shannon

Thankful for the Good Times

We’ve talked about being thankful for the bad times. This may not be easy but it is important because if we didn’t have bad times, we would be able to know the good times when they come. And of course, we must be thankful for the good times!

But I want to talk about being thankful for the good times in a different way. When we are in the midst of life with our RAD kiddos, the good times may be a day when the school doesn’t call. Or a day when there aren’t any fights (at least not big ones). If it was a day when everything goes pretty much the way it should, that’s a good day, right? I know we condition ourselves to think that way because our benchmark has gotten so small when the behaviors of these kiddos can be so extreme.

But I encourage you to be thankful for the good times by remembering the actual good times. Even in the worst of the periods with August, there were moments when we had truly joyous times. Spring break one year, I took the boys to Kentucky. We stayed in some small WPA built cabins outside the entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park. We spent the week explore the various caves, went zip-lining, went to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game. It was a perfect week.

Another time was surprisingly when I went to visit August when he was in residential treatment. I spent the weekend there and I was allowed to take him out every day. We played mini-golf, we spent time with August’s therapy dog and we took a helicopter ride! The look on August’s face when we were in the helicopter is one I will always remember. He looked for a brief time like the sweet, happy little boy he had been before the cloud of reactive attachment disorder descended over him. It was such a wonderful time for us.

I’m not saying the good times have to be just fabulous family vacations. I look at photos sometimes and remember good times that happened right at home. The year I homeschooled August we worked on muscles, ligaments and tendons. One of the ways the material suggested we study this was with a chicken leg. So we got one out in the kitchen and checked it out. We were both so grossed out we gave up! And we didn’t have chicken for dinner that night!

Definitely be thankful for the good times when there aren’t any calls from school. Or when there aren’t any big fights. Because all of those are good times. But sit down with your RAD kiddo and remember those good times. Share them together. Use them to foster a shared experience of good interactions. Remind yourself and your RAD kiddo that not everything that happens between the two of you is negative.

I have said on many occasions that I will always love August. There have been times when I haven’t liked him. And that’s a tough thing to say. But I love to remember these times. I love to remember when we were as close as we could be as mother and child.

Until next time,

Shannon

Thankful for the Bad Times

We are into November which is the month here in the U.S. where we start to consider all that for which we are thankful. Many of my friends on Facebook do a daily post giving thanks for something in their life. It’s always something good. But for those of us with RAD kiddos sometimes thinking of 30 days of good things can be hard. So I thought it might be good to figure out how to be thankful for the bad times.

Thankful for the Bad Times? Yes it sounds crazy. But the bad times can be a chance to learn, a chance to grow and sometimes a chance to bond. They don’t always have to send you down that dark hole you think you’ll never come out of. Yes, sometimes they can be beyond awful. But families that work together can make the bad times a chance to connect and talk through the problems they have.

Here is my list of bad times for which I am thankful:

  • When August bombed so badly in sixth grade that we had to pull him out so that I got to homeschool him. That was terribly hard to do but I got more time with him. I was also not pulled between two schools so I was able to be more available for his brother as well.
  • When August went to residential treatment. While I missed him horribly and felt like a complete failure as a parent, it was a break our family needed. I was able to spend some quality time with his brother. August was able to get some intensive therapy. And we got Mia the dog which has been a wonderful addition to our family!
  • Almost all the times August got arrested. I have mentioned before that I have spent so many nights since he became an older teenager wondering where he was. And waiting for the sheriff to come up the driveway with devastating news. When he’s been in jail I’ve known he was safe, warm and getting food. It seems weird for a mother to wish her son in jail, but when the alternative is some of the places August has chosen, it’s the better of the two.
  • The times when I’ve stood my ground with August, hung up the phone or not let him in the house. See item two about feeling like a complete failure as a parent. But preserving myself and our family sometimes has meant setting boundaries that have been hard. After the fact August has understood why (I think). Though the rage and the hurt in his voice still ring in my ears. But the alternative was not being around now that he needs me more.

So maybe this year you can find a way to be thankful for the bad times too. I intentionally don’t put any religion into this blog, but this is a story that I came upon many years ago that fits so well with this theme that I am including it here.

Until next time,

Shannon

Did You Survive Halloween?

Halloween is always one of those holidays that can be some of the most fun or one that you absolutely dread. Scary stuff, loads of sugar, staying up way past bedtime…what could possibly go wrong? This year, with Halloween coming on a weeknight it adds to everything with then getting up and having to go to school the next day. So did you survive Halloween?

When August was little, Halloween was better than Christmas. Not something he’d ever experienced in Russia, the prospect of going door-to-door and having people just hand over candy? Too good to be true. He’d almost bathe in the pile of candy he’d have after the haul. I’d have to steal away a bunch of his candy and hide the rest so he didn’t fall into a sugar coma (unfortunately that also meant eating too much myself!)

I made August’s first costume. I had plunged into the mommy thing and I thought that came with some magical sewing skills I didn’t actually possess. So of course, I chose what I thought was a simple enough tiger costume with a velcro back closure, elastic arms and legs, a stuffed tail and a hood with ears. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? I was literally sewing him into it Halloween night. It wasn’t perfect, but he looked adorable and it was perfect for me to do it! And then his brother wore it, it had a good life in the dress-up box and then as costumes for a friend’s two children. So I guess I did OK!

When both boys were old enough to trick-or-treat then it got even more interesting. Because it added arguments over where to go, how long to stay out and negotiations over candy to the mix. Because one parent had to take the boys and one parent had to stay and hand out candy so some compromises had to happen. August has always had boundless energy and stamina so staying out as long as possible and running from house to house to grab as much as he could would always be his plan. Having a younger brother who wasn’t as quick and didn’t have as much staying power was just a drag.

Certainly the most frightening thing was when August was old enough to go out by himself. Trusting that August would be polite. That he would be respectful at those houses that just leave out the bucket with the sign that says, “Please take one”. That he will stay with the friends he leaves with and stay in our neighborhood. All those normal parent worries that are magnified times a million when you have a RAD kiddo.

So how do you handle Halloween? Have you ever just had to cancel it completely? Did you ever end up far away from home with a raging child and a long walk ahead of you? A meltdown in the costume aisle? RAD takes the joy out of so many occasions. Our visions of the perfect family holidays get dashed by one tantrum, one manipulation, one controlling behavior.

Halloween works the same as all holidays. Set reasonable expectations. Don’t fantasize a picture perfect day. Have a back-up plan. Make sure the family knows all the rules before setting out so there’s no attempts (well, less of an attempt) at negotiating when you’re away from home. And already have a plan for that candy!

I hope you had a great holiday! Now it’s full steam ahead into Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas!

Until next time,

Shannon

Getting Your RAD to do Chores

As Dr. Phil says, “How’s that working for you?” For children with reactive attachment disorder, chores can be the hill they choose to die on. It is a hard concept for them to come to grips with for several reasons. They don’t feel like they are part of the family so they don’t feel like they need to contribute. Rewards don’t work because they only respond to immediate gratification. Their need for control means that they rarely like being told what to do. So what is the key to getting your RAD to do chores?

When August was young I probably used every reward chart invented to try and get some cooperation and help. Magnets with pictures, charts with bright colors, ones he could draw on himself to be proud of. Nothing worked. Waiting a week for a reward was an eternity for him. And he decided that the work wasn’t worth the reward or the wait. Now I did get the boys to clear their dishes from the table and put them in the dishwasher (no idea how!) And when they were older I did get them to figure out that if they wanted their clothes washed they needed to get them to the laundry room. But those were my two chore miracles!

When he got older I tried to have some conversations with him about the responsibility of being a member of the household and the family and what goes along with that. That was pretty much a non-starter. He got an allowance that came with some chores. But it seemed like there was always a battle to get them done. And he was the king of the path of least resistance.

Why do we have to clean our room

Now of course, some of this comes with every child. Rebellious teenagers are common no matter what the situation. But with our RAD kiddos it gets harder when they don’t feel connected to the family or accountable to a parent they haven’t bonded with. Talking back or refusing is nothing when they feel no regret or remorse. If they don’t care to make the family happy or the home better, getting your RAD to do chores may seem like an impossible task.

A lot of living with a RAD kiddo is answering the, “what’s in it for me” question. Because that’s the only thing they want to know. And while making chores transactional isn’t what we want to do, it may be the way to get things done until things get better. I found it makes for an easier conversation and less stress for all concerned.

Here is a list of three apps which help with this process. I have used Chore Monster with the boys and they loved it. Whenever either of them wanted money, I could load up some jobs I needed done in the app and they could go to work!

I would love to hear your ideas and success stories of how you’ve gotten chores done with your RAD kiddos. Let us all know what you have found that works!

Until next time,

Shannon

Fall Family Fun

August at home our first Fall! I’m not sure they had Fall leaves in Murmansk. I think it went from a week of summer right back to winter!

Maybe it’s because Autumn is my favorite season that I love thinking of all the Fall Family Fun there is to have. And it may be why I’m able to think more positively and hopefully about family activities this time of year. For the most part we always had a great time doing Fall family fun adventures. August liked being outdoors so much which helped things a lot. So I thought I’d offer some ideas of fall family fun which might be good ways for your family to enjoy some time together before winter drives you all indoors (depending on where you live!)

Here is a list of 50 wonderful Fall family activities for you to try with all the information you need to pull them off. I could create a list but it would include all these activities and it wouldn’t be nearly this thorough! My personal favorite is going to an actual pumpkin patch to get your pumpkin and doing everything else that goes with that. The hayride and corn maze; the apple cider and caramel apples! The boys always enjoyed doing that also. For August the scary haunted corn mazes were his favorite. He had no fear; I should have picked up on that!

We could almost get August to participate in raking leaves just for the benefit of jumping in the piles. But jumping was so wild with him it was like no raking took place so it was kind of a wash. But looking back, anything that was an engaging family activity makes a fond memory.

That is the take-away from the change of seasons and what can be the fun of Fall. Some of these ideas are small, like reading a book. Some are more involved like going camping. But the key is everything you do together as a family is a memory. And as I’ve said before, when times might not be so memorable, having these to think back on may make a huge difference for you and your RAD kiddo. Bring them up when to your child when you feel the Grand Canyon sitting between the two of you. Share the memory and watch the Canyon disappear.

Make sure you take advantage of your Fall family fun time. The weather is great and it can be done easy and most of the time for not much money. Enjoy the views and make some memories!

August whacking at things with sticks, his favorite thing to do!

Until next time,

Shannon

Setting Up A Family Contract

Just the title of this blog may make you shudder a little, particularly if you have teen RAD kiddos. It’s important to find ways to set boundaries and establish rules and maybe when ongoing conversations are hard, a contract can help. A contract or agreement or plan can take away some of the drama or confusion surrounding expectations. So setting up a family contract where you get buy in from the entire family can make for a less stressful family life.

When August was in elementary school, we would have battles over clothing. Our first family contract came about clothes! I couldn’t deal with it anymore so our agreement became this: what he wears has to be clean, it has to be occasion appropriate, it has to be weather appropriate. After that, I didn’t have a say. Unless it was a major event or holiday. Then I pulled rank.

We certainly had a contract when he got his first phone. He had time limits. There was a GPS on it and he knew that if I ever looked for him on the find my phone app and he had turned it off the phone was gone.

Now let me clarify. These aren’t the same as chore charts or weekly behavior expectations where kiddos get stickers every day they set the table. For one, RAD kiddos are all about control and immediate gratification which makes these tools not so effective. These are broader agreements covering bigger issues. Which should trickle down into the everyday activities. That’s the hope!

“A little bit” may have a different definition in our world!

There are some great samples out there that I found which you can customize to work for your family. Here are a bunch. The idea is to come to an agreement before the fight over the subject can begin! I can’t promise this will solve every issue. But if you approach each topic with respecting your kiddos opinions and giving them some control over the outcome (within reason), then you are more likely to get buy-in and ultimately compliance.

The key then is, how do you approach these conversations? Of course, the expectation is that your RAD kiddo will try and ask for the moon. And will want to control everything while agreeing to nothing. That’s the RAD way, right? I think the important part it to make sure it’s a low-stress conversation that’s focused on the goals, not the process. If it feels like rules being imposed, you’re going to get immediate push back. Call it a contract, call it a plan, call it an agreement; whatever will sound the best for your children’s understanding.

Then when you enter into this agreement, you all have to have “skin in the game”. This can’t just be you telling your kiddos what you want them to do. You have to make promises of what you will do also. Remember, it’s called a “Family contract” and all the members of the family have to have responsibilities to make it work. So you have to think about what you’re going to own up to, what you’re going to promise (no yelling, some levels of freedom, getting that family pet, etc.).

This can be the start of great family conversations and healthy interactions. Once you set the stage, let everyone know that anyone can initiate a family agreement. It puts everyone in the mindset of leveling the playing field and treating each other equally and with respect.

Until next time,

Shannon

Should Your Family Get A Pet?

Kids can wear you down. Their persistence is never-ending. When they want something they are like little Energizer bunnies and the, “Please, please, please…” just never ends. Nowhere is this more evident than the desire for a pet. Cats, dogs, hedgehogs, whatever it is…they can go forever until you cave. But for RAD kiddos, it may not always be the best idea. So, should your family get a pet?

August wanted a dog when he was five or six. His brother was just a baby and we we knew we’d be moving. I said he’d have to wait until the move and his brother was four. Which happened in the same year. So after the move, the negotiating began.

I decided that the first step was to keep some lower life forms alive first. Beginning with hermit crabs. We picked some up at the beach but those didn’t prove to like being relocated. So we bought some and got the whole set up. They require virtually no care. They are fun to watch and you can take them out which keeps them from being more like fish. But they aren’t very resilient. We went through a lot of them. The most memorable was when we thought we’d lost one and I threw it away in the bathroom trash can. Later that night it came crawling across the floor. For days later their dad would ask, “What do we do if Mommy says Daddy is dead? Call the doctor!”

From Hermit Crabs we moved to a Hamster named Oreo. This required regular food and water as well as cage cleaning. Food and water wasn’t so hard to get the boys to do. As expected the cage cleaning was another story. They were not fond of dealing with hamster poop. When Oreo died, August did have a very sweet funeral for him in the backyard, complete with a homemade tombstone and a requirement that all the family be present.

We didn’t get a dog. Soon after Oreo’s passing was when August’s behavior got really difficult and the timing just wasn’t right. Followed by divorce, followed by his going to CALO. I haven’t talked much about this period. CALO is Change Academy, Lake of the Ozarks. It is one of, if not the only, inpatient treatment facility just for RAD kiddos. I looked and looked and every place focused on addiction or all mental illnesses and I knew these wouldn’t work at all. And the cherry on top with CALO? They used dogs in their therapy!

August was able to get AKC-certified while working with Mia from when she was a puppy. Mia is a beautiful golden retriever who was bred on-site. The boys all got to name the puppies. The dogs were with the boys 24/7 except for meals. And the place was so joyful with all those dogs around! When August graduated and came home, he’d done the work for Mia to come also, but just as our dog. She’s retired now.

But it doesn’t always work for RAD kiddos and animals. Later on when he left home and was on the streets he tried to come get her and sell her. Mia wasn’t his first dog at CALO. The first dog was Destiny and her personality was more excitable. She was hard to train and August had little patience for her. He wouldn’t take her out when she needed but he did eventually realize that they were a bad match and make the switch. Mia was much more mellow and it worked great.

The RAD groups that I am on have story after story of children hurting pets or wild animals. It’s a manifestation of the hurt and rage they feel. And a way to hurt the people in their lives without actually hurting them. And something else to exert control over, which is central to the RAD mental state. Nancy Thomas parenting has a great article here on RAD and pets.

If you have a pet in the family, make sure you have thought through whether your RAD kiddo is mentally in the right place to have one and be alone with one. Then you can make sure you teach respect for animals so that they can grow up with that dog!

Until next time,

Shannon