Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I'm listening to a set of presentations by a lady named Holly van Gulden. She grew up in a large, multi-national, multi-racial foster/adoptive family. I believe she was the only bio child in the family. She is also an adoptive mom and a therapist who works with adoptive kids, particularly the most troubled ones.

Now, life with Max isn't easy, but he's also not one of the most troubled ones. Yeah, he is passive agressive. Yeah, he's oppositional and defiant. Yeah, he has physically attacked me. Yeah, he's somewhat destructive. Yeah, he lies. Yeah, he hordes in a way that is precariously close to stealing. However, sometimes he also does what he's asked to do. Sometimes he's cheerful and helpful. He's only had one hard hit in the last several months, although there are other agressive behaviors.

But. He doesn't attack me with butcher knives. He hasn't yet molested anyone. (I do say yet because he's done a little skirting of the issue and I don't feel the case is closed here for sure.) He doesn't ruin Davan's stuff. Nor does he physically harm her. He doesn't

So, in listening to these presentations called Keeping Families Healthy, I'm sometimes thinking we don't have it so badly. Suffice it to say that it's bad enough for me, though. And I still need to hear what they're saying to deal with stuff.

There are three separate presentations in the set. The first is about Keeping Healthy Siblings Healthy When One Child is Acting Out. The second is called Living with an Angry Child. Both are interesting and pertinent. It's the second that's got me thinking, yet again, about anger.

I read a lot about anger with parenting. It's in most parenting books. We get angry. How do we deal with it? It's an especially big deal with a child who is angry because parents get angry more easily then.

I've read to let it out in small bursts as you feel it. It's okay to yell a little to prevent build up of anger, says this theory. When I yell, Max tunes out, freezes up and probably takes a bunch of steps backward.

I've been told by therapists that it's okay that I get angry and blow my top sometimes because Max is such a hard kid and I'm only human. Looking at it now, I'm thinking, "I don't need permission. That just makes it too easy to blow my top. I need to not blow my top instead."

And there's been lots of other advice, as well, both from therapists and from books. What van Gulden points out, and I think it's very valid, is that we're modeling all the time, that kids who've been abused often feel abused just by yelling (thus regressing in feelings of safety and security), and that we need to figure out how not to buy into the anger.

As is often the case when I read (or listen to) good advice, I also feel like too much is being asked of me. However, if I, the 36 year old, can't stop myself from picking Max up and shoving him into his room, then how can I ask Max, the 6 (almost 7) year old, to not shove when he's angry?

How do I manage my anger? Well, van Gulden has some advice about the matter. Don't add "should haves" to the equation is a big one. If a child doesn't do his chores, you can deal with that directly and might add some fuel to the pile of stress, but adding in "he should have done his chores" sparks the fuel, causing anger.

She has short stress reducing ideas - such as do jumping jacks.

Basically, the idea is that you can change yourself, but you can't change the child. If you do change yourself, your child will then have the room to grow. She, herself, was stuck for 4 years in a negative anger cycle with one of her kids. When she took her anger out of the situation, or the negative way of dealing with the anger out, then her son had room to grow.

It's a lot to swallow. Even if it's stuff I've heard before and even tell myself. I'm making things worse with my angry reactions. It's not that I've caused the damage in the first place that makes him angry, but I'm not helping him to heal, either.

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