I’ve been having some more of those ‘all children do that’ conversations recently. I'm sitting here, writing this post with a mild concussion and a blackening eye after my 5 year old headbutted me during a rage, after he pinched, punched and slapped me. And I'm wondering, do 'all 5 year olds *really* do that?'
Everyone knows a child who displays one or two, or sometimes even three or four of the same (or similar) behaviours as Mini. Whether it’s aggressive tantrums, sibling rivalry, screaming, an inability to calm down, the need to make noise, controlling conversations, babyish behaviour, fear of sirens or hand-dryers, difficult decision making, refusing to go to bed, wetting, soiling, or a bad reaction to ‘No’.
I know that most 5 year olds do ‘some’ of these things at some point in their lives. But I know not all children do ‘all’ of these things almost ‘all’ of the time – Mini does. He is good mostly when in company, you might see him as a little excitable, but he is excitable all the time, and because he puts on a ‘good’ front for you and holds in all the ‘not good’, he then lets that out when he is at home with us – when you are not there to see it. He’s good because he likes to please you, and he’s craving your acceptance, but when he’s home, he’s not good, because he’s punishing us for letting him think (even if it’s just for a short time) that he’s going to be moved on to another family i.e you…and it doesn’t matter whether he loves/dislikes you, he’s still worried that he’s being prepared to come and live with you…
If you know Mini well, or even not so well, you’ll probably see a little boy who looks confident, brimming with bravado, pleasant, friendly, chatty, with mostly good manners. To us, that confidence and bravado hides a frightened, unsettled little boy who is holding in all sorts of horrible and upsetting emotions, who is worried that his mummy and daddy are going to leave him somewhere else, worried they don’t love him, worried they love his sister more than him.
If you’re very lucky and extra close to Mini, you might get to see him hitting and spitting at us, or diving off high furniture and you’ll probably think that he’s being a slightly raucous, but completely normal 5 year old who is testing his boundaries (and his parents). To us, those over the top behaviours are covering worries and anxieties, and are desperate attempts to get attention all the time – that way he can’t be forgotten about, that way he knows we’re acknowledging him, to Mini negative attention is better than none at all. They're also indicators to us that a meltdown or rage is coming, because Mini is angry about his feelings, about not being able to understand those feelings properly.
If you sit and observe long enough, you might see Mini copying Dollop’s baby talk, toddler waddle, sucking his fists (like he’s teething) and immature play. You’d probably think he was showing off by being silly, or even (if you were quite imaginative) amusing his sister. To us, he's making sure we don't forget he's there, and he wants to see that despite their differences, we treat him and Dollop the same.
Many many people think that love is enough to care for an adopted child. But you have to remember that no matter how young the child is, they’ve always had a past. In some cases there will be traumas such as neglect or abuse, physical or emotional. In all cases, our children have experienced the trauma of losing their birth mother and then their foster carer whether they remember those ‘events’ or not. Love is not enough to undo those pasts and traumas, but it can make the journey away from them a little easier.
My boy can't remember those things happening, he remembers the bad scary feelings he felt when they happened. My boy is frightened. My boy is worried. We will continue to reassure him that we love him, that he’s staying here forever and ever. And we’ll hope that if we chip away at the bad stuff long enough and continue pushing the good, loving stuff in…it might start to get through to him.
I love him to bits, but I really hope that not all 5 year olds are like my boy.