Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The one about defiance and refusals


This is something that seems to be getting to not only me, but other adopters (and birth parents) at the moment. And I've written about it before here, but it's getting worse...much worse. Is it the time of year? Is it the up/down weather? Who knows, but one thing is for certain, Mini is pretty damn good at defiance, and regardless of situation, parent involved, time of day and any number of other factors, he will use his (already pretty powerful) lungs to pronounce an enormous 'NO!'.

He has a number of ways at expressing this negative, always shouted, and always said with venom & vitriol and often the words are spat out:

I will not.
You can't make me.
Bog off.
I don't want tooooo.
*Thumbs downs*
*Blows raspberries*
I've told you before, I'M NOT DOING THAT!

He also uses distraction, avoidance and bargaining too -

I'm just.... scratching my nose/stroking this teddy bear/having a think...
What about doing x,y,z first?
Did you see what Dollop did?
*Pretends not to hear*
*Coughs over everything asked/said*
*Runs away and hides*
*Fake crying*

And to top off these refusals, often they are accompanied by a slap, smack, whack, or scratch. This non-compliance always feels like a battle of wills or a control issue. Mini always seems so manipulative when he's like this, and there's almost a glint in his eye. He most definitely smiles and celebrates if he feels he's 'won' a battle of defiance.

It's even comical sometimes - the amount of ways he tries to avoid doing something or defy us. The funniest times are when he doesn't think about what he's saying no to - he's just in a no mood... e.g Would you like chocolate icecream with chocolate sauce and sprinkles for breakfast? NO! or If you get dressed now we can go to the park. YOU CAN'T MAKE ME.

But actually it isn't funny. It's just bloody hard work. Can you imagine any other relationship where it would be acceptable to constantly be told 'no'? Work? With your other half? It is utterly demoralising and exhausting for me and the NC.

I know that lots of birth children are like this too. But I feel quite strongly that there's a difference, at least between Mini and his non-adopted peers. All children say no sometimes, of course they do. (We're going through the terrible two's with Dollop right now, 'No' is a favourite of hers too at the moment!). But with Mini it seems uncontrollable, he cannot stop himself from refusing or arguing. He just will not comply with things - even things that suit or benefit him.He's not just saying the word for the sake of it, he absolutely will not do x,y,z and nothing ain't gonna make him either!

What concerns me is that he's not like this at school. He's not like this at Nanna and Grandad's either. It's just with us. He doesn't limit it to home and is quite happy to defy us whilst out and about, but only us.
It's hard to know whether he is like this because of his past; his trauma and anxieties. Or is he just stubborn? Does he have a mental health issue? 

I'm running out of ideas. Our post adoption social worker has suggested a possible cause is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (his suggestion is based on assessments we've already undertaken which various people have reviewed, and is something that we've actually thought about before, and others who know Mini and some who don't have also suggested it). The same social worker tells us that Theraplay will help. We're still on the waiting list (and have been since May). But right now, at the start of the summer holidays, with the prospect of another 6 weeks - 6 WHOLE WEEKS!!! - like this, I am filled with dread. And I'm trying to keep a number of bargaining, coercing and negotiating tools up my sleeve, and ways of asking Mini to do something without actually asking him. Can I do it for 6 loooooooong weeks? I bloody well hope so else we're all in trouble.


  1. Mini like our child appears to be selectively ODD. I am finding it quite difficult at the moment too. When Mini is being so defiant can he snap out of it if say someone calls to visit unexpected? It amazes me that our child can do this. I do think this is a very extreme version of the testing of boundries at the 2 to 3 year stage going badly wrong for our children. Child is 11 and we trained her to say No problem which worked sometimes but even that is not working now. I understand how difficult this behaviour is too cope with, and how draining.

    1. Thanks for your comment Anne. No, he doesn't snap out of it. He can be mostly compliant elsewhere, but no, once he's in a 'no' state of mind, that's it.

      This seems very different from the testing boundaries that we're getting from Dollop, and is also very different from when Mini was in that same stage. That was hard, but manageable. This is so very extreme and as a 5 year old boy with better verbal skills and more physical strength than a 2 year old, it's quite scary.

      Hugs to you, I know you know what it's like x

  2. Very similar to LE. She has started doing it with Grandma too though (which I do wierdly think is a good thing)but yes, Anne, she can snap out of it as quick as anything if anyone comes round... I have been wondering if she has a mental health condition too Stix. She really can be that extreme and loves it if husb and I argue out of frustration too (we try not to in front of her, but we're human and it does really get us down.) Oh and did I mention the 'new' one ....... wetting at will........??? don't get me started...
    What I'm trying to say with this rant is - I understand. I get it. And yes, it's bloody hard xx

    1. Thanks Kat, I know you're there too...

      We get wetting at will - horrible with girls and boys, but imagine a hose spraying wildly around the room....not nice. Mini's aim is not great at the best of times!

      We've had it in the past with nanna and grandad, but I guess I'm stubborn and won't back down when something *has* to be done, nanna negotiates and the 'rules' there are different so it happens less. We also go back to Mini's issue of abandonment. He thinks he's going to be left there, so he is all sweetness and light to make people love him, to make them want him, just in case he has to live there. Then when he comes home, it all comes out and we get the punishment because we 'allowed' him to think that he was leaving us. No amount of reassurance stops this, although it's getting a little better.

      Keep going hun x

  3. You could be writing about Katie here as well! I was assured by Katie's pre-school teacher that this behaviour is actually (dare I say it?) "normal" for a 4 year old. Indeed consultation with my friends of other 4 year olds has brought the confirmation that their children are all acting the same as well. In fact parents with older children are reporting similar behaviour. It's difficult when you have adopted children to know if it's simply the time of year (tired out children plus warm weather plus changes pending with the start of a new school year) or whether it's because our children are adopted or whether it might be a combination of both. Katie's BM was dx with ODD and I have worked with teens with ODD in the past. My experience was that ODD manifests with everyone the person comes into contact with. I know a particular client I had tried very hard to not let it show with me but that person couldn't help themselves and we had many a stand off (which baring in mind that person was not far off 6ft and about 18st and I'm only 5ft3 was very interesting!).

    Like Kat we are also getting daytime wetting again. I think this is related partly to the old "can't be arsed" (literally) syndrome and also because she is anxious about the change of starting big school. Katie was never bothered about wet nappies before she was dry and she happily runs around with wet knickers *rolls eyes with frustration*

    Like you, nothing is working with Katie at the moment. She is defying everything. All the same it is frustrating. I am doing a lot of ignoring rather than responding. I just walk away from her and totally ignore what she has done. No reaction means it doesn't escalate. The escalation is often worse than the initial crime. I think a lot of it is negative attention seeking and, let's face it, nothing gets more attention than defiant behaviour. So we are ignoring and trying to be creative with our reactions. Easier said than done some moments of the day but we'll stick with it. We are also doing a reward system for staying in bed at night + staying dry and I have purchased some more of her favourite Little ponies and she will get one every morning if she has stayed dry the day before and gone to bed nicely. This motivates her at bedtime (whether it works during the day remains to be seen - will be blogging about it I'm sure!).

    Hang in there and in the meantime, you know where we are for support and cyber G&Ts xxx

    1. Thanks Gem - the cyber G&Ts are always appreciated! Sometimes I allow myself a real one too ;-)

      At 2ish, Mini went through the same boundary testing that Dollop is now going through - all normal development. Then it dwindled, and has come back at various times with a bit more force each time, but there hasn't been a pattern to it. It hasn't been this time of year before. Whilst I know that all children are going through a difficult time at the moment, this seems different from what I see and hear of my friend's children. And it's been going on for much longer than those other children too...

      You are lucky things don't escalate when you walk away. They do here, big style. Mini will run after me and hit me, or Dollop if he reaches her first. He will roar and roar and road and frighten Dollop. He will scream. He will sometimes spit. He will stand where he is and wee, or if he wants to make an extra big deal, he'll climb on a chair and do it instead. He will throw objects and try to break things. If those all fail to gain my attention he ends up having a full blown rage. And what was *just* defiance then turns into something more serious, harmful, distressing, violent and scary.

      To be honest, we've tried so many things - reverse psychology, ignoring, being firm, being soft, physically walking away (which I hate because it reinforces his feelings about abandonment/rejection), giving choices, removing him from a situation, doing the task in question together, removing toys, reward charts, happy/sad faces, cancelling tv time etc etc, and whilst something might work for a time, it doesn't last. We continue to treat/reward the good behaviour with surprise dips in the grab bag.
      I could write a whole other blog post on what we've tried and how they have/haven't worked. lol.

      Now it's just a case of knowing that I have all those things I've tried before, plus he's now old enough to understand negotiation and bargaining, and I have to read each situation and choose the right tool for the job.

      Other than rage related wetting, we are now beyond all doubt that Mini's usual wetting is down to school anxieties. We had a few wet days and wet beds at the very start of the hols but it's now 5 nights/day since school finished, and he's been dry day and night for the last 2 days. ***Well done Mini*** But interestingly Mini has never been bothered about wet nappies or pants. It doesn't wake him up in the night, and he always seems surprised when I ask him to change because he's wet himself...he usually hasn't noticed.

      Good luck to you too - hope the reward system works xx

  4. Well, last summer left me severally depressed by my son's defiance. If he wasn't refusing to do something, he was trying to spoil something nice. At school he is and always was The Golden Boy. He would come out at the end of the school day all smiles, then he would start on me as soon as we got in the car. That was bad enough, but the six weeks summer holidays? OMG! The relentlessness of it! Every day, the deliberate awkwardness, the passive-aggressiveness, the tantrums, the screaming, the out-and-out defiance. When all I was trying to do was give him and his sister a lovely holiday? I threw everything I had at him in my Good Therapeutic Parenting Toolbox, but the effort nearly finished me off. It's off-the-scale no-where-near-normal extreme behaviour and you're right to be cautious about how YOU will survive the holiday imho. You need no ones permission to take good care of yourself, remember that! A lot of Mothers forget it.

    It is ODD, imho, but it's just one tool in the adopted child's box that they pick up and use to feel powerful. Sometimes my Son seems ADHD too. Sometimes he appears to have a learning difficulty as he can't grasp something way below his years. But all of these things seem turn-off-and-onable.

    He appears to be healing as he gets older, he's now 9, but I am taking no chances. This summer he's in a lot of clubs.

    1. Thanks for your comment Scribbles. 9? Do I really have to wait another 4 years before it starts to get better??? ;-)

      Interestingly a friend who has an older daughter who she adopted about 4 years ago has said it's taken time, all that time in fact, for things to improve. She suggests that perhaps as self-awareness has grown, the defiance has improved, or perhaps she just doesn't need to be like that anymore.

      You're right it is off-the-scale no-where-near-normal extreme behaviour so I've got a lot planned this summer - and he's been better on our busier days so far. He's also going to a couple of day-camp activities, but again, I can't rely on these too much because he just can't cope with the thought of being left there :-(

  5. My son has autism and his refusals are often a way of him being in control of something if he is anxious and feels something else is moving out of his control, often he has no real interest in the issue more the fact that he is in control of making the decision yes or no. We were advised when he was preschool age not to ask him 'yes/no' questions such as 'would you like to sit?' or 'will you sit down?' but to say instead 'are you going to sit on the red or the blue chair?'
    I work in a primary school supporting a boy with ADHD and some of your descriptions of Mini's behaviour sound like him especially the avoidance tactics and a complete refusal to negitiate. We think he has some autistic traits and that it is a matter of taking control when anxious.
    Maybe it is just settling into being at home during the holidays, although it's nice to be home and he has made improvements in not wetting, it is a change from the norm which for him is a day at school. Saying that my 2 older boys who are not SEN are always awful for the first few days of the holiday!

  6. I wish it was just a settling into home thing, but sadly it's been this way for a while now.

    I'm grateful for everyone's suggestions, but we really have tried everything before - including the 'are you going to sit on the red or the blue chair' but to no avail. Whatever he chooses first is wrong, he then has to chop and change his mind. So if he chose the blue chair first, he'd sit on it, and then immediately want the red one. Then the blue one again, and of course if anyone else dared sit on the one he wasn't on, that'd be the one he wanted most, but *forgot to say that one* or *accidentally said the wrong one but really wanted the other one*.

    Infuriating and frustrating. I always had suspicions that Mini was on the austistic spectrum somewhere as he does show some traits, but he was observed at nursery by a family health adviser/health visitor who said he was too sociable to be autistic. I know now that attachment disorders can present as very similar. And although our CAMHS therapist won't diagnose, we know he has an attachment issue.

    I hope the rest of your holiday goes well x