Diva Fits

We’ve been home 11 days now and both of the kids continue to amaze us with their transitions.  I would say 85% of the time the kids are happy and enjoying their new lives.  This post isn’t about that 85%- it’s about the other 15%.

I’m telling you this because I want to present a true picture of what adoption looks like because it’s not all roses and rainbows.  Parenting an adopted child is challenging.  All kids that have been adopted will have some issues to work through and it’s our job as parents to help them do so.  These issues can look like behavior that any kid might deal with- things like lying or fits or acting out.  But a deeper look at the behavior can reveal a totally different motivation.  For example, a biological child might tell a lie to test you or to see what he can get away with.  An adopted child might tell a lie because that’s what they had to do to survive their early years.  The adopted child needs to understand that their basic needs will be met; that they no longer have to lie to survive.  To punish an adopted child for lying in the same way a biological child would be punished is not fair to anyone.

But it’s also not fair to assume that every bad behavior has its roots in adoption.  Knowing what behaviors are adoption related vs. when limits are being tested has been one of our biggest challenges so far.

The best example of this for our adoption is a little event I’d like to call a Diva fit.  A Diva fit is a major event, but it’s not a scary one.  She is not violent.  She doesn’t rage.  She doesn’t destroy things.  She mostly keeps to herself and cries at varying volumes.  She speaks, sometimes yells, in Tigrinya.  This goes one for 45 minutes or an hour and we haven’t really found anything to stop them besides time.   They are happening less often at home than they happened in country. We’ve had a day or two with no fits, but we usually get at least one good fit a day, sometimes more.  Sometimes she has a fit when she doesn’t get her way but they most often occur at bedtime.

The first few nights home she went to bed with no issues.  The next few nights she cried because she wanted me to sleep with her.  Those nights were hard.  She cried, grabbed my arm, looked at me with pitiful eyes…but then I would kiss her goodnight, walk out of the room, and she would quickly settle down and go to sleep.  After a few nights of that, we went back to no issues.

Then the major night fits started.

The last few nights she has been out of control.  She is fine as we read, she starts whimpering as we pray, and she loses it when we say good night.  As soon as I get out of her bed she gets out too.  She follows me to the door, yelling at me in Tigrinya.  It’s clear that she’s trying to communicate something but I don’t know what it is.  The first night this happened it dragged on and on and on.  We read multiple books, I sneaked away slowly- at first sitting at the foot of her bed, then standing in her room, then standing by the door, then standing on the other side of the door.   The further I got away the louder she  screamed- and this happened four times in a row.  Eventually I went to the other side of the door and then ran to my room and shut the door.  I peeked into the hallway just long enough to see her look out the door, find the house dark and deserted, and then stomp back to bed.  She was asleep 5 minutes later (she will eventually share a room with the baby so we have the video monitor set up in there).

Tonight was the second major fit night.  We didn’t want to go through the whole routine again as it’s loud, it takes a long time, and there are other kids that need to sleep.   We tried sneaking away slowly and then running to our room again, but this time she chased us.  We walked her back to bed, tucked her in again, and then walked out to the hallway.  We shut the door and held it closed.  She tried to follow us, tried to open the door, yelled and banged on it several times when she couldn’t open it…and then went to bed and fell asleep.  The entire routine tonight took about 15 minutes vs.an hour last night.

It’s really hard to lock your kid in their room…especially when you know that kid is shifting through a ton of emotions.  It’s really sad to think about her going to bed upset when it’s already a strange bed in a strange house.  It’s really upsetting to hear your kid yelling “MOMMY” bookmarked by a bunch of words you don’t understand.  It’s really hard to know if you’re working through an adoption related issue or just a kid that doesn’t want to go to bed.  It’s really hard to know if you’re doing the right thing by setting the expectation or screwing up a kid by locking her in her room.  (For the record- we wouldn’t mind if she slept with Smiles but Smiles has no interest.  Sleeping with us is not an option.  We don’t care if lights are on or off, if she sleeps in bed or on the floor, if her door is open or shut etc- just that she’s in her room at bedtime).

I don’t know if we’re handling this the right way or not.  Any other adoptive parents have input?

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7 Comments

Filed under First Weeks Home

7 responses to “Diva Fits

  1. I’m not an adoptive parent, but I specialize in behavior. There is no “fix all” plan. It takes time. Giving general advice is not what you need because every child is different. While you can maybe categorize into “adoptive behavior” and “normal behavior” there are still many layers beneath that. All behavior serves a purpose. The key is finding the purpose.

  2. Christina

    I’m obviously not a parent, but I agree that she sounds scared. The transition is hard enough, and it sounded like (from your description of the orphanage) she was used to sleeping with other people around her. Now she has the big empty room to herself and noone can understand what she is trying to say to them and the adults are forcing her to be in her room alone because neither her parents nor her brother want her sleeping with them. I really hope you can find a better solution than running away or locking her in her room, because that just sounds so sad for her. Though you obviously can’t let her have her way every time she cries. I think so many issues would be better if you could understand what she was trying to say to you and explain to her your reasoning for your actions as well. Things will get better.

  3. Kali Schaeffer

    Honestly it sound like a little of both. Children learn routine at a very small age and she possibly grew up sleeping with someone always. So that’s what she is used to. It would of been easier to break her of this if she wasn’t in the situation she was in and was much younger.

    On the other hand you are her new mommy something she has wanted her entire life. It’s like she wants to be the baby and regain those years she lost without you in her life….:)

  4. Dana

    Both of our boys had never ever slept in a room by themselves when they came to us so we had to slowly transition them to that. First sleeping on a mattress on the floor in our room and then further transitioning from there. I realize that your situation is totally different though so that may not work. Praying for wisdom in this! It is hard!

  5. Hi Jayme! I know you are very studious, so this is probably something you are already very aware of, but have you studied any of Dr. Karyn Purvis’ work? She has some really great insight on attachment issues among adopted children.

  6. findingmagnolia

    Is there any chance you could lie down with her while she falls asleep? It sounds like she falls asleep really fast, so it shouldn’t take too much out of your routine at night. When there is a question of whether to use structure or nurture and the answer is unclear, I’d say choose nurture. And I second the recommendation for Karyn Purvis and Empowered to Connect: http://empoweredtoconnect.org

  7. Jan

    I’m also an adoptive mom and a psychologist and I would definitely recommend a more gradual approach to helping her sleep on her own. Running to your room or locking her in her room is not sending the correct message to her and may set you up for future problems. It will become easier when her language improves. I like the idea of staying in the room with her until she falls asleep. Use that time as bonding. This is a very confusing, scary, unknown time for her (and maybe for you too!) Eventually it gets easier!

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