Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Questions and Answers

Feel free to post in comments if you have a question-- I will try to post answers when I can.  Here's one from this week:

Q: Hope Anne has left a new comment on your post "The culprit!": 
Meredith, would you mind when you have a minute explaing about some of the "strict boundaries" you had for Alexsa right from the start, and how you implemented those? Or if you don't want to do it publicly, would you drop me a line? I expect we are going to have some definite CHALLENGING behavoirs with our little gal. ;0-) And I want to learn what your tips are. THANKS! 

A: When visiting with Aleksa, we knew she would test boundaries as far as she could.  She had several 'habits' that we knew wouldn't fly with our crew and at our house.

One of those things was looking at us and running wherever she wanted to go with the "pixie grin" on her face.  She also would take any and all food offered to her and shove it-- whole-- into her mouth.  Then she would gag and sputter and spit it back into her hand and hand it to us, then take it again and reingest it.  Not only dangerous with choking, but disgusting :).  Aleksa ate like an animal.  Face in the bowl, not chewing, swallowing things whole and wearing half of it.  It was a mess, not safe, and wasted a ton of food since she was wearing it or it was on the floor.

She hasn't run since we tog home-- tho she hasn't had much opportunity to either.  I'm sure it'll happen, but for now, she's adjusting and possibly due to the other boundaries we've set, she hasn't tested that one yet.

The food we are working on and I'll leave for another post, tho I do address the behavior part of it below (not function-- but we are cutting things up and keeping a tight 'reign' on how much she can shove in her mouth at a time).  Here are a few other things that I did immediately with her to set firm boundaries and help us all have a better adjustment...

The very first thing I did when I picked her up from the orphanage was "win."  Yep, I said to her "I'm in charge, and you will obey."  How?  I put a seatbelt on her!  We had a 2 1/2 hour drive (which turned into almost 5 hours because of snow and traffic) ahead of us and I immediately buckled her in the car.  She HATED IT.  She fought me, screamed, begged me to unbuckle it, etc.  At one point she'd squirmed so much, and the roads were so bumpy that the belt was constantly locked, that I had to unbuckle it, loosen it, and rebuckle it.  OH MY GOODNESS!  You'd have thought I loosed a wild animal!  She went full force lunging to get out of that seat!  She wanted to grab the light-up controls at the front of the car (A/C and radio, etc) since it was dark out.  I (once again) had to seriously wrestle her back into the seat and asked the driver to pull over so I could rebuckle her since the roads were so bumpy I couldn't even pull the seatbelt out without it locking.

For the first 40 min (including the belt-locking episode) the "inspector" (like a social worker) was next to Aleksa in the car.  He asked, through our interpreter, if I was happy.  He seemed SCARED.  :)  I said "YES!"  I'm not sure what he thought of that, but the adoption was final and I had custody, so at that point... his opinion didn't matter :D

I never again had to struggle with the idea of wearing a seatbelt after that trip.  No complaints about the carseat since she's been home (she's in a 5-pt Nautilus that goes up to 65 lbs in the harness).  She learned in that trip that she will wear a seatbelt.  Period.  No more questions!

Some of the other things we quickly set was a boundary to keep her from going "up the step" into the kitchenette area of the apartment.  We were in a 20x12 studio apartment with 2 burners, a sink and a minifridge.  In that little space, I wanted to be SURE she couldn't get to the stove or other hot items.  She'd go up the step, I'd put her down (firmly) the step, tell her NO (Nyet) and if she did it again, she got moved further away.  She was already very familiar with the idea of time-out and YES she got a few in those very first days.  She learned quickly not to go up the step.  She would stand by it until she had permission to go up since you had to go that way to get to the bathroom as well.  We also didn't have to worry about her playing in the bathroom since it killed two birds with one stone.

Once we got home, we have a baby gate on our kitchen but I rarely actually lock it all the way unless I'll be out of sight of the opening.  She has not had any issues staying in the family room and playroom while that gate is unlocked.  She learned in Ukraine that there would be boundaries on where she was allowed to be and she transferred that EASILY back home.  She also has not gone into the bathroom without asking (which isn't gated) and seems to have transferred that boundary as well.  I DO believe she had some boundaries at the institution, but we had to establish those for ourselves for it to 'transfer' that we, too, would have boundaries.

Another big area was that she expected food IMMEDIATELY.  In the institution, food was served in a different building from the sleeping or daytime (Watching TV) buildings.  When food was ready, the girls went there.  They didn't wait.  They were served, ate whatever was in sight, and left. This left us with two things: one, she didn't understand having to wait while food cooked, and two, she couldn't wrap her mind around a grocery store or restaurant or even roadside-stand where there was food that SHE couldn't eat IMMEDIATELY.

In our tiny apartment, removal from me while cooking wasn't a possibility.  We had a tiny table with one chair which she quickly claimed as hers.  She'd sit there then start banging the table and crying while I cooked.  We'd move the chair away from the table and tell her no, she had to wait.  If she continued I'd make her leave the chair and sit on the bed.  If she still continued, I'd move the chair itself out of the room (into the bathroom) so it was out of sight and might help show that food wasn't coming right now.  Most of the time one of the first two, or all three would work.  Twice, we then had her SIT in the chair-- in the bathroom.  That needed to be done only for about 1 minute and she stopped, came out (with permission) and waited nicely for the food.  I considered giving her something to snack on (and if she was legitimately hungry, such as if the meal was later than usual etc, then I would) but I decided not to start that habit.  At home, the kids wait for dinner.  If I give them a snack first, they won't eat dinner.  Why would I start something with her that wouldn't work once home?

Now home, I've just had to say no, she needs to wait, and she's done great.  Now... whining between bites or eating in any civilized manner... those are taking a lot more work :)

The grocery store issue got 10,000 times better once she'd been with us a few days.  The first grocery trip (when I realized this was an issue) she didn't know what to think of it and I was pretty sure I was about to be kicked out of the ritzy grocery store in Ukraine.  However, when we got home and she was able to eat one of the apples I'd bought and I gave her a drink of juice and then cooked dinner... she was MUCH better.  I think she understood we were bringing it home.

She's only been to the grocery store two times since then, and not at all since coming home.  She behaved the second two Ukraine trips and listened for the most part when I said "Wait, later" (with signs but in English).  She wasn't happy about it, but she stopped.

I won't pretend to know all the answers, GOODNESS I don't!  But those are a few of the things we've done to set firm boundaries from the get-go.

IN ADDITION to those things, we've also been sure to give LOTS of hugs, kisses, snuggles and love when she does things right-- and "just because."  After she's had a time out or other consequence, we've given a lot of opportunities for her to "do good" to be rewarded with hugs and kisses and love.  And... occasionally some "tempts" like when her balloon went on the step and we'd leave it there for a while and she'd need to figure out that just because she wants something, if it's out of reach and not in an area she's allowed to go, that she couldn't have it.  Of course, we'd only leave it there a little while and not put it there on purpose (because that's just plain mean :D).

**Michael wanted me to add that the boundaries we've used with her are always very concrete-- a door, a step, a gate... not a "line in the sand" or "don't go past the couch" type of boundary which doesn't have any definitive "one side, the other side" about it.


  1. Thank you! I'm esp. glad to hear about the seat belt enforcement in country, and also that you weren't harassed. Our situation with our Dd adopted from R--ia at age 5.5 was harder because we were given "glorified baby sitting privileges" during the 10 day wiating period. She was NOT ours--we didn't dare push anything, and we got NO help from the locals who said she was just "not understanding you becauase you don't speak the native tongue." We KNEW that wasn't true most of the time . . . she knew but wanted to do whatever she wanted. They eventually figured that out when she wouldn't even listen to them and began to defy what ever they told her. . . . our trip home from the airport (one hour drive) was the first time we could enforce the seat belt issue (and mercy it was bad! Our two older kids are still almost traumatized from that and tell us they do NOT want to ride home from the airport with K. when she comes home if she's going to act like that) because even when we tried on the airplane the R--ian stewardesses acted like we were child abusers. The locals in the stores did too and would even TAKE HER AWAY FROM US when she began to scream or tantrum and give her candy and sweets and baby her (!!!) so you can imagine what a mess we had on our hands by the time we got home. Of course, we know now that our Dd had some real RAD issues so maybe even had we had legal custody of her right from the get-go it wouldn't have been much different . . . I don't know. At least things are going MUCh better with her now after years of hard work and love and prayers, but we'd like a chance to hope for things to be better this time, so please keep sharing!!

  2. I have a question about time-outs. Fortunately I can ask this anonymously so that I don't have to die of embarassment should anyone find out how many children I have! How do you get a child to stay in time-out?