I've talked about praise before, but it's rearing it's head again...
I can count to ten too mummy.
I'm eating all my dinner up too mummy.
I've put my pants on myself too mummy.
I washed my hands without any help too mummy.
These are things that Mini often says. Often in the middle of me praising Dollop, or immediately after, before I've even taken a breath. He has to be loved, noticed and praised as much as Dollop or preferably more. The times that Mini gets praise but Dollop doesn't are irrelevant to him. He HAS to have praise when she does, if not, he asks for it.
If you look at what he wants praise for you might think he's regressed a bit, and of course there are times when that is the case, but for the most part I don't think that's why he does this. I think it's because he needs to feel like he's not different...needs to feel perhaps as if he's just like Dollop, and because he needs to know that we love him as much as her.
These are the things that Dollop (being nearly 3) gets praise for, because of course she's still learning to do all of those things. Mini doesn't generally get praise for them because he knows how to do them all, and has for some time. He gets congratulated instead for building Lego things both with instructions and with his imagination, and for sitting still during dinner, and for reading well - that kind of age appropriate thing!
So what about Dollop? There are of course times when Mini is at school and Dollop gets 1:1 attention and time with me. And of course, she gets lots of praise in those times however, whenever Mini is around I always have to treat them exactly the same. I can't even spontaneously say I love you to her, without then feeling forced to say it to him too. Of course I love him, but sometimes in a moment, I want to only say it to Dollop. Just like at times, I just tell him. What is this teaching Dollop and her 3 yr old developing brain? I worry about that.
I do know that some of this is quite normal - I remember getting cross when my brother got something...hugs, sweets, attention, praise, toys or whatever else and I didn't. I'm the first one to admit that I often wailed 'but it's not fair' at my parents, when my brother seemed to get preferential treatment. I know I'm to expect that between Mini and Dollop too. But how I handle it with them is perhaps different to how my mother dealt with it because she didn't have to worry about a traumatised child, or our feelings about difference.
I worry that if I treat them differently then that extends the gap between Mini and Dollop. Or at least the gap in Mini's mind - I don't want to make that any wider. We know Mini already feels different, he's told us so, and the professionals feel it's clear from his reactions and behaviour. I also accept that we can't stop Mini feeling different. I'm sure many adult adoptees grew up feeling different...loved, happy, but different. What we need to do is accept Mini's feelings, and let him become proud of his differences, or at least accepting of them.
So for now, I continue to praise Mini when he asks for it. And I praise him much more when he doesn't ask for it. I dislike how contrived it feels, but I'm hoping that as Mini matures and becomes more confident in himself, more accepting of his strengths and weaknesses, more accepting of his past and present, and more reflective then he'll be happier to just take the genuine praise, and not need to ask for the fake stuff.
And to help him in that we work on making Mini feel confident and proud about himself, we remind him that we love him for who he is, not who he isn't, and we remind him about all the special bits of him that we love. And Dave-the-therapist works on pointing bits out about Mini that are just his...his muscles for example as he punches through ever-increasing amounts of newspaper, getting prouder and feeling stronger each time more paper is added. He always comes out of those sessions standing just a little bit taller.
Are your children like this? What do you do?