Sunday, May 2, 2010

Can You Teach A Child To Care?

We adopted Riley when he was four years old. Our first clue that he wasn't going to be an easy child to parent came on the day that we went to visit him and his brother and sister at a foster home. We took all of the kids to Sonic to get them slushes. Riley promptly poked his straw through the bottom of his cup and proceeded to wave the cup around all over the back seat before telling us that he had even poked a hole in the cup. He thought it was funny. We did not. We chalked it up to him being a 4 year old and cleaned up the mess.

When you go through foster parent/adoptive parent training they don't go over Reactive Attachment Disorder. At least they didn't when we went through the training. We struggled with Riley for years and had no idea what to do with him. We seriously considered calling the case working a few times and telling her that we just didn't know what to do with this child. We didn't, but we considered it. He lied. He stole. He attacked the other children. He would be superficially nice to near strangers (who all thought that he was the cutest little thing) and then he would purposely disobey us. Soooooooooooooo many people told us how wonderful he was at church nursery and at school and we would tell them "oh just wait until you tell him no or don't let him do something that he wants to". They never believed us .... until it happened. His first grade teacher didn't want to hear our warnings ... she didn't want "preconceived ideas" about her students before she had them in class. She changed her mind after she discovered that Riley had been secretly stealing Tootsie Rolls out of the treat jars for months and hiding them in his backpack. After we caught him and she punished him by not allowing him to have any more treats from the treat jar ... he hated her guts.

Reactive Attachment Disorder can happen to any child who has suffered loss of some sort (especially when they are very young). It can even happen to babies who do not form close bonds during their first few years of life. This describes Riley perfectly. He was raised more or less on bologna and television from the time he was born. His older sister (who was only one and a half when Riley was born) actually was responsible for feeding him and changing his diapers until they were put in foster care. How horrific is that? The foster home that they were placed in wasn't much better. The literally put the kids outside in the morning (this was during the summer) and didn't let them back in the house until after dark. They fed them on the front porch and the kids used the bathroom outside. How can any child form any attachments to anybody in a place like that? Young children don't understand the complex concept of attachment at that age, they just know that they can't trust anybody to take care of them or to hang around long enough to care.

So here we are ten years later and sometimes I wonder if we have made any difference at all. How much is because of what he has been through and how much is just him? Is it our place to help him find his way in the world or is that one of the life lessons that he has to learn on his own? He has to be the smartest, the fastest, the first. He has to have the biggest portions of everything and he has to be told to be helpful to other people. He would spend all day playing video games or watching tv if we would let him. He doesn't like interacting with people and all conversations with him turn ugly rather quickly. He picks on his older brother to the point where Bryce can't take it anymore and it turns into a punching, kicking, biting fight. I worry that the years that I spent on meds had something to do with it all too, but I know that I can't go back and change that. I have to work from right now and am at a loss as to what to do with this child. Can you teach a child to care? Can you teach a child that they don't always have to be first, fastest, smartest, or have the most?

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