A Story That Rang Too True

Well this isn’t at all what I was going to write about today. I had a light fluffy piece full of inspirational quotes planned out and in doing some research came across this old 20/20 story from four years ago. And it rocked me to my core. Here is a story that rang too true.

I don’t know how I hadn’t seen it before. It’s completeness in how it talks about reactive attachment disorder and all the ways parents and adoption organizations and therapists get it wrong was startling. And it’s thoroughness in how it shows what RAD kiddos go through was so impressive.

So here is the link to the story. It’s 40 minutes long so get settled in with time for watching the whole thing. What will jump out at you immediately is how little information the adoptive parents at the center of the story seem to get or take seriously about RAD. They talk about it initially as the cause of the first disruption. But they don’t talk about educating themselves about RAD. And I have a hard time believing that a therapist said, “Just love them enough.”

Second, there is a lot of focus on the concept of “rehoming”. That is avoiding child abandonment charges by finding a suitable family to adopt the children before surrendering your parental rights. And the end of the story talked about states passing legislation outlawing rehoming. But I’ve done some research and haven’t been able to verify states that have actual laws on the books except Wisconsin. But I also couldn’t find current information. But for information on rehoming and what it means, check out here.

This has really rattled me. I know this happens. The story that got a ton of attention of the woman in Tennessee who put her Russian adopted son on a plane back to Russia happened right about the time August got diagnosed. Because I remember his psychiatrist (the wonderful one that finally gave us the diagnosis!) asking if I’d heard about it and what I thought. I remember saying I can imagine the pain she was feeling and the despair but I can’t imagine making that decision.

I would love to know your thoughts on these issues. Particularly if you’ve adopted from foster care or adopted older children. Do you feel like you got enough training/information on RAD? If you got any, was it still not enough and why?

There’s so much to still understand about how trauma affects the little brains of these children. And how to heal what that trauma does. But we have to keep working at it.

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

Handling Report Card News

Handling report card news was always a tense time in our house. Sometimes the results were going to be obvious based on behavior and activity I had seen during the quarter. Sometimes he was dancing on the edge and it was more of an unknown. But it might lead to a conversation that neither of us wanted to have.

August was not a great student. Let me rephrase that. He did well early on. Elementary school was good because he enjoyed school and was still interested in learning. There were enough other classes plus recess to provide the variety his ADHD needed to keep him stimulated. But starting with middle school, the wheels fell off. The temptations of cell phones and students who also weren’t interested in school began.

By the time he was into his teenage years he couldn’t care less about the value of an education. And that was reflected in his school work and his attendance at school at all. I was racing the clock to see if I could get him graduated before he turned 18. We tried private school designed for behaviorally challenged students. He got kicked out. He moved with me and enrolled in a new public school. Disaster. The plan was to try the alternative high school but he turned 18 and I’d lost the fight.

He’s had a couple chances during his multiples stints in jail to get his GED but he has yet to agree that getting even his high school diploma would be useful. And that’s now that he will be in the world with so many more strikes against him. Maybe as he matures his opinion will change. I continue to hope.

Now it’s not every child with reactive attachment disorder who has trouble in school. But there is a better than average connection between RAD and school problems. Behavior issues at school and at home will certainly get in the way of successful learning. But how can you help your child make that connection to what shows up on the report card?

Here are a few ideas on how to handle report card news with your RAD kiddo to make it less confrontational.

  • Praise the Positives: Find something good wherever you can. If your child is not doing well in core subjects but is great in PE or art, celebrate that! Yes, it would be better if they were getting those good grades in Math and English. But starting with the positive sets a good tone for the rest.
  • Make sure it’s a conversation, not a speech: Remember that your RAD kiddo is a control freak? A two-way conversation about the report card will have a much better outcome than you coming at them with, “What happened here!?!” You will certainly learn more and you may learn things you didn’t know (remember, from your great relationship with the teachers we set up at the beginning of the year?)
  • Emphasize progress and proficiency, not perfection: If you were a straight A student, good for you. But your child may not ever be. However, if they went from a C- to a C, do a dance!
  • Set a meeting with the teacher: If things really seem to have gone off the rails, then you need to hear first-hand what’s going on. And definitely include your child if it is appropriate. Also IEP team and any others that may need to be involved. Make sure your RAD kiddo knows that it’s not because they’ve done anything wrong but because you want to make sure everything is being done to make sure they’re able to be as successful as possible.

I think report cards are a great time to take a breath and reset the education clock. When the days are crazy and it’s hard to keep track of how things are going this will give you both a chance to talk and celebrate and make plans. So make sure there’s the celebration part! To help with that, here are some great ideas!

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

Does Your RAD Child Do Sports?

Having a RAD kiddo involved in extracurricular activities is several blog posts worth of conversation. The pros and cons of whether to and how to have a lot to unpack. But I wanted to focus on this particular question…does your RAD child do sports? Because sports had a special set of potential pitfalls for the RAD kiddo that some other activities do not.

As we have discussed, our RAD kiddos are control freaks. They want things to happen when they want, how they want and the way they want. This makes team sports especially difficult when selfless play is valued or it’s the policy of the league that everyone get a chance to play. And they may not be on board with all the rules the coach requires be followed for practices, particularly if you are also dealing with additional ADHD or ODD disorders.

Then there’s the impulsivity side of RAD. Sports which don’t have constant motion like baseball or football or track can be difficult for a child who may not be able to control his impulses for action or outbursts. Sitting for long periods of time or standing in an outfield may not match a child prone to unchecked impulsive behaviors. Riding on a bus to an away game may be difficult for a child who cannot keep their hands to themselves.

August is naturally athletic. Has been since he was little. He has boundless energy and is extremely coordinated. And fearless. And he wanted to do everything. Baseball, swimming, basketball, ice hockey, you name it. But he didn’t want to learn any of it. He loved ice skating and was very good. He wanted to play hockey but we told him the league required that he take lessons to learn how to play the game and learn the rules. August said he knew how to play. We said it didn’t matter, that was the rule; he wouldn’t budge and never played hockey.

He was good at basketball but he was a ball hog. He was good at baseball but not the best on any team and quit because he kept getting put in the outfield. August thought he was better than the other kids on his team. We had some good success with lacrosse. It very closely matched his favorite non-sport activity which was whacking at things with sticks. And it was constant motion. But his off the field behavior finally got in the way of that as we had to move him to a school with no team. And eventually to a treatment center.

So, what is the answer? Of course, as with everything, you know your RAD kiddo the best. What is doable this year may not be next year and vice versa. But of course it starts with excellent conversation. If your child is young and wants to be on a city soccer team, it may mean a parent steps up to assistant coach. If that’s not an option, then an in-depth conversation with the coach is necessary so they understand your child and their particular issues. Not as a warning, but as a way to continue the treatment you provide. Make sure the language is the same from all the adults who interact with your RAD kiddo. Same as you have with teachers.

Also, consider which sports might be easiest. For August, I thought sports where he was an individual contributor but in a team environment might be best. Swimming, track (except for the down time), golf, tennis (more whacking!). Of course, things got bad before we could ever explore those avenues (though we did do golf lessons) but that always made the most sense to me.

Whatever sports your child chooses, make sure you are their biggest cheerleader on the sidelines and support their dreams. Seeing you rooting for them will be a great boost in your bond!

Until next time,

Shannon

When You Just Need Sleep

I had something else planned for today but then I saw this in a magazine and I had to reprint it. Sometimes us RAD parents need all the help we can get to get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes, some more “unconventional” methods would be even more helpful. This comes from Elizabeth Preston from the latest issue of Real Simple Magazine:

Sound Machine Options That Would Actually Help Me Sleep

  • Flowing stream outside a rental house where I have absolutely no cell reception unless there’s an actual emergency at home, in which case I will be instantly reachable.
  • Engine of an airplane on which I have booked only one seat and no lap infants.
  • Sounds of the rain forest,where I live with no responsibilities because I’m an orchid now.
  • Crickets chirping at the exact same time of the year they always have, because the planet is not warming and it never was warming, in fact the climate is setting records for its unchangingness.
  • Traffic sounds without music, beeping, or cartoon voices mixed in, because the child in the backseat of the car is silently reading a book instead of blowing past her screen time quota.
  • Air conditioner that doesn’t add to the electric bill.
  • Bubbling pots on the stove, but I can’t offer to help cook because both my arms are broken
  • Lapping waves of an ocean my child is at least 100 yards away from, enclosed by a fence, even though she is a strong swimmer and is wearing a Coast Guard-approved, full-body flotation device.
  • Clothes dryer being run by someone else, who will also fold and put away the laundry.
  • Chatter of people talking in a nearby room at a party I didn’t plan the menu or tidy up for, because it’s at someone else’s house, and I’m lying on their four-poster guest bed with all the coats and I’ve locked the door.

But seriously, sleep is so vital and often so elusive to parents of RAD kiddos. Many live with alarms on the doors (not just on the outside). And even total exhaustion at the end of the day doesn’t shut down a brain full of worry and anxiety. So here are some natural herbal remedies for helping with relaxation and sleep.

Four Herbs to Help You Fall Asleep

  • Chamomile: A cup of chamomile tea before bed will help you unwind and fall asleep faster. A heaping tablespoon of the dried flowers in a cup of boiling water is all it takes.
  • Hops: Yes, hops is a component of beer, this doesn’t mean drinking a beer will help you sleep. Drinking tea made from 1-2 teaspoons of hops flowers (called “strobiles”) will help you get a deep restful sleep. Not a tea drinker? Make a sachet of hops, chamomile and lavender to tuck in your pillow and this will be a great sleep-aid as well.
  • Valerian: This is a well-known sleep aid. Use 1-2 teaspoons of dried valerian root to make a tea. In some places you can also find it in a pudding! Warning-it doesn’t smell great.
  • California Poppy: This has a mild sedative and anti-anxiety effects. Yes, it is a relative of the opium poppy but it has no opiates so it is in no way addictive. Steep 1-2 teaspoons of dried aerial parts of the plant in boiling water to make a soothing tea.

A good night’s sleep has so many benefits. If you find no other self-care, make sure this is one you focus on!

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

When you get “that” phone call…

It took about two weeks most years for me to have the phone number of August’s school memorized so that when it appeared on my phone I knew who was calling. And you all know that feeling. You may be shopping, working, at the gym, anywhere when you get “that” phone call. And your breath gets tight and your skin crawls and you think just a bit about whether or not to answer. Right?

I confess, I have not answered more than once. Just to have a couple minutes to collect myself. And then called back and apologized. Because I just couldn’t get hit with whatever “it” is. Maybe I’d go sit in my car if I was somewhere in public, just in case. But I didn’t want to be blindsided always by whatever was on the other side of that phone.

So what could happen when you get “that” phone call? Well it could be anything like the simple, “Your child forgot their lunch” or, “Your child isn’t feeling well.” But with our RAD kiddos there is an equal likelihood that it’s something way more complicated. With August it was the interesting things he chose to bring to school like the pocket knife and the water bottle full of vodka. Or the behaviors like looking in the women’s restroom or run-of-the-mill anger. Then there were some bigger issues like the stolen cell phone or when he ran away from the residential treatment center.

So what do you do when you get “that” phone call? I think there were days when we immediately would have sided with our child and blamed the teacher. Or sided with the teacher and blamed the child. But those of us with RAD kiddos know that nothing with our children is that clear cut. Ideally, you have established a close relationship with your child’s teachers so that when situations occur, communication is easy. And hopefully, your child’s teachers have an understanding of their behavior and can put the incident in that context.

The key here is this is where all your work at the beginning of the school year pays off. And if it hasn’t been done yet, now is the time to get it done. For example, I was working as a substitute teacher a couple of weeks ago in a high school social studies class. There was a student who was giving me a lot of back talk from the moment I walked in. Now I’m not saying he was a RAD kiddo, but he did remind me a lot of August. This kept up until he asked to go to the bathroom. I said yes at which point he took all his books and left. I asked the class if he was coming back and they said probably not so I notified the Dean who let me know later they had him.

At the end of the day he came back to the room and apologized. He said he knew he wasn’t doing well so he left. He apparently has medication that he takes and he knew he needed some. I told him I understood and that I had a son very much like him. What I wish I’d been able to suggest but couldn’t is why didn’t he have a behavior plan that gave him the opportunity to leave without the chance of getting into trouble. The class knew him as a trouble-maker. There was no information from the teacher. He didn’t have any “out” to help him. I was pleased he knew himself enough to remove himself from the situation but I wish he had some support to make it easier for him.

Hopefully when you get “that” phone call you will already have the relationship that will allow you to process whatever prompted the call in the context of RAD and your child’s unique behaviors. If not, consider this your open door. One of the reasons we moved August between third and fourth grades was that he was labeled in his prior school by a teacher who wouldn’t work with us. Getting teachers informed and knowledgeable about RAD generally and your child specifically is critical to a successful partnership in handling behavior.

Of utmost importance is for the teacher to understand that you know RAD doesn’t excuse your child’s behaviors; it explains them. And you’re not using this illness to let your child get away with anything. Here’s a very good article for teachers on how to deal with a traumatized child. It may be a good reference for starting a conversation with your child’s teacher. Don’t be afraid of the phone…it’s all part of the process.

Until next time,

Shannon

Homemade Self-care Products

When we are feeling the most stressed and at our wit’s end, some easy quick self-care can be just the trick to bring us down to earth. And taking care of ourselves doesn’t have to be expensive and even creating self-care products can be soothing if you are a slightly crafty type (and even if you aren’t). These homemade self-care products allow you to make your own calming comfort products for face, body and hair. Also, you can pick some of the smells and other materials to make them the best for you.

A pretty jar can make having the lotion even more fun!

Homemade Lotion
1/3 cup coconut oil
2 oz. Beeswax
5 drops essential oil fragrance of your choice
Supplies: double boiler, bowl, hand mixer, clean jar for storing

In a double boiler, heat up coconut oil and beeswax. When completely melted, add the essential oil. Next, pour into bowl and wait until cooled. Then, using hand mixer, whip the lotion until it is the consistency of…lotion. This is how the coconut oil keeps whipped at room temperature. Homemade lotion doesn’t last as long as manufactured; it will be good for about two months.

Vanilla Olive Oil Body Scrub
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
2 cups Turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)
1 Tablespoon honey
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon Vanilla extract or your favorite essential oil
Supplies: bowl, spoon, airtight container

Mix together sugars. Then, add olive oil. Last, mix in honey and vanilla or fragrance. Store in airtight container. Some notes: this is NOT a face scrub; body only. If it’s too coarse, you can use regular brown sugar instead of Turbinado. The olive oil will settle so you’ll need to stir it and if you want a more liquid consistency you can add more oil after it’s packaged.

Jelly sized mason jars are perfect for storing!

Homemade Bath Salts
2 cups coarse sea salt
1 cup Epsom salt
1/3 cup baking soda
Essential oil of choice
Food coloring
Supplies: bowl, container with stopper or airtight container

In a bowl, combine the sea salt, Epsom salt and baking soda. Add a few drops of your chosen essential oil and combine. Next, add food coloring to get the color you’d like. Store in container. Sea salt is an exfoliate, Epsom salts soothe and fight inflammation. Baking soda softens water.

These can also make great gifts for other stressed out friends or family members with the holidays coming up. But this is the time for you. Now, I’m off to make some body scrub…enjoy!

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