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I Need Advice On Whats Going On With This Child?


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I have a child who is 4 and a half yrs old, he is due to start school this september. This child was adopted a year ago and has attended with us since that point.


His background before this was rough, there was violence in his family and he had been with three temporary carers before his adoption. He was adopeted with his younger brother.


The childs parents are lovely people and the child seems very happy with them. But there are some problems, I'd like to know what you think.


This child, although loving and caring etc, seems to enjoy doing things he shouldn't, almost like he enjoys getting away with things. He will do the simplist of things such as removing the wheels from the construction trolleys but then swear blind it wasnt him. He is completely unable to offer an reasons as to why he does things, just replies he doesnt know or it wasnt him, or he will change the subject and try to tell a 'story'. The child is in most areas very clever and his general development is on par for his age.


At home this child is ripping the wallpaper off of his bedroom wall and no matter what he is told or asked or how it is handled he just will not stop - he does not seem to connect that he isnt supposed to do it.


Now the worrying situation at the moment is that he has been sneaking girls pull up pants from the nursery and putting them on under his clothes, taking them home, hiding them and then wearing them under his clothes. He doesnt soil them but just wears them. Now our children have little saloon doors on their toilets and children of his age do recieve privacy but are suppervised from the door - my staff are dumbfounded as to how he has been able to do this. Mum had no idea that this was going on until they went swimming and she discovered them under his boxershorts as he does dress himself too at home. The child claimed he didnt know who put them on or where he got them and then just said he didnt know. Mum hasnt made a huge deal of this with him but obviously it is worrying her.


We have explored the possibility of wanting to regress to be like a baby, but this doesnt seem to be the case, this little boy is very anti baby things and will have cuddles but not in a baby like manner.


Now obviously some of these seem really trivial but I'm mentioning them because on the whole i feel that this child has some behavioural issues but none that are significant ly obvious, he can be told off for something one day have it explained to him etc but then it doesnt seem to sink in.


We use a strong praise system here and really push that with that child but to no avail.


I am intending to do some work on consequences with this little one as I feel that he doesnt truly appreciate that there are consequences to what he is doing, where as by four this is normally developing. Having said that, he can tell you what would happen through discussion but cannot apply this to his own behaviour.


I am working with mum and dad and plan to chat with my area senco about it but I'm really just looking for views on this....


Help anyone??


Nic x

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Oh... difficult situation. I can imagine how he has felt... 1st hurt by his own family, then going around with 3 different other people who took care of him and finally getting adopted... all this in lless than 5 years. There has been so much innestablility in his life. What do you know of the places he was before he was adopted? Children might deny they have done something 'wrong' when they are afraid of being punished, because of his previous experience(s). That is the only thing that comes to my mind. If this is the case, then he just has to gain your confidence... that you are his friend, that he can say the truth to you and that you will not get mad, no matter what the truth might come out to be. If it was something REALLY serious, you can let him know you are upset, yet that you are not angry or that you still love him. Yet... there must be a consecuence or he might get the idea he can always do whatever he wants and it won't hurt other people's feelings. You would have to find a rational consequence to each behavioural situation. Children at this age somehow are learning what is right and wrong at this age, but one this is understanding and another to put it in practice. Hopefully he will get there.


About the pull-ups... no idea... sorry.

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Good grief, you do have your hands full xD


I'd echo smileyPR even to the...About the pull-ups... no idea... sorry.


Are we overlooking the fact that although all these things have happened at a very young age, he might be remembering things which he has no vocabulary for and understanding of?

Our memories of early childhood are usually based on a big event, something which to adults might not seem a big deal but to a child have a huge impact, and he has obviously had a lot happen to him.

I can remember being in hospital at 3 years old and things I have told my mom were a surprise to her.

He's got a lot going on so I'd deal with one thing at a time. Decide what you or his parents want to sort out first and concentrate on that, whether it's the pull-ups or the ripping wall paper or removing wheels.

I hope you find a way of helping him :o

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At such a young age to of had so many homes and so much upset makes me feel quite sad. How is the younger brother doing? This lad sounds very clever to think of excuses and to be able to remove the wheels!! I wonder if the child treats any thing with respect ... this would be hard to do if his whole word has been trashed over and over again. The child must be very bright to stash away the pull ups and then wear them, again if his whole world has been a muddle/ cover up/ unstable, then he is just repeating the actions adults have done in his life but in his own little way.

I do feel that you are right to be concerned and talking to his new parents is a wise move. I feel he will need much more time to gain confidence and trust in every one and his surroundings. It is a good job that people like you notice and take the time to help :o .

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this poor little chap sounds like he's just crying out for attention, of any kind.I agree with what's been said already, in that he must have had a really muddled start to life.I'd say ignore the pull-ups issue (though perhaps they could be moved somewhere that he can't get at them for a while?? it may be that he just wants to be 'babied' for a time?How long has he been out of nappies??Is he missing how they feel if it's not been long?

As to the wheels thing, why not give him some things he is allowed to dismantle and a tool set to do it with??One of my sons was fascinated by how things worked and loved taking them apart, into their component pieces.He could even make some collage work with the bits and pieces afterwards??

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Thank you for all of your replies.


It is hard with this child as the new parents recieve a lot of social worker intervention and at times it almost feels like there are many excuses made for his behaviour but no attempts to help him deal with whatever is motivating it in the first place.


I mean with the wall paper issue they said to just paint his room, but to me that is defeating the purpose, he has to learn that he cant do certain things doesnt he?? By removing all temptations its not helping him to deal with things.


I have decided not to move the pull ups as to be honest I cant store them anywhere else and I think that he has to learn that they are there but they arent for him, so we have increased supervision without him being aware.


The wheels I gave as an example to the sorts of 'silly' things he will do, where there seems no rhyme or reason for them.


We do try and give this child lots of leeway for adjusting to a loving environment and in many ways he is a totally settled child but in others it just seems so far away.


Thanks for the support and i will let you know what we come up with.


Nic x

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I am no expert but I bet Peggy has some gems of wisdom on this subject. PEGGY, WHERE ARE YOU?!

I can guess that part of his behaviour is seeking to test boundaries he is beginning to realise are actually secure - as our security does lie in firm boundaries, doesn't it. I am aware of other children in a similar situation to your little boy who continually test, in some cases repeatedly over years just to check the boundaries are still where they think they are. Its not surprising when you consider all the changes he has been through in his short life. I also agree that he has probably been subjected to things that affect him deeply although he has no apparent memory of them..... Such wounds will inevitably take a long time and lots of tough love to heal.


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I think he is pushing to see how far he can go before some one punishes him or he gets moved to a new home.

He is seeeing if he is really bad then he will be moved or taken away. he is scared, as far as he can see he's always moved on or punished.

I would say that everybody has to look at the behaviour and say doesn't matter how bad you are or how silly the things are that you do you are still going to be loved, and not moved on.

alot of love and re-assurance from all sides and stop questioning him on why he is doing the things he is doing. some of it might be subconscious and that he doesn't no why he is doing it.

lots of cuddles and hugs and tell him constantly that he is loved. I wouldn't even say to him that what he is doing is wrong or making you sad. Just tell him what ever he does he will always be loved.

I know this might go against the grain, and that you should say that what he is doing is wrong but don't make a big point of it.


What a very sad and scared little boy. with love and attention he will settle down I'm sure. :o

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I have to agree with all advice - especially steph.


This might sound obvious and be what you're already doing but I have found it worked for us in the past and we are perservering with a child we have at the moment who's behaviour often baffles us.


As well as or even instead of focusing on how to tackle the types of behaviour that cause concern we simply identify that this is a child in need and plan to ensure that his/her keyworker has special time 1-1 with him/her everyday - nothing pre-planned just making sure they take time to join that child at thier self initiated tasks and spend quality time getting to know them and sharing pleasurable experiences.


Often even with the best of initentions we can end up having many negative interactions with children like this over the course of a day and need to track ourselves to ensure we have sought them out at times when we can simply play together and not because their behaviour has forced us to notice them.

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Guest sqpeg

I would go with nsunshine

give time and attention when he's not looking for it form a strong relationship not over lovey or cuddley

so he doesn't need to use this learned behaviour to communicate

his communication skills are possibly a bit skewed - this is what i do, say, to make you look my way - perhaps you'll laugh and play perhaps you'll chase me away.

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A friend of mine was told when she was little she used to do things like that - attention seeking in all the wrong ways. She was in a children's home for a long time before being adopted and was doing all the things she knew she shouldn't waiting for someone to get cross with her and send her back - she knew she wasn't going to stay long cos she hadn't stayed long anywhere else......she remembers some of it as an adult and that hopeless feeling that the people around her were just pretending and they were going to send her back cos she was so naughty!

Patience was her cure... hope it works for you too!

Sarahx :o

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From what I have read it sounds as though this little chap now has a secure and loving homelife for the first time. On top of this he his attending your setting where he is also welcomed and clearly valued as an individual.


This must seem very very strange to him if his previous background has been violent at times and unsettled due to various moves/different carers.


Maybe for want of a better way of putting it 'he can't quite believe his luck!' - life is suddenly great and it is all new and alien to him. Perhaps he is frightened that his new found home/life won't last and that he will yet again be moved. Perhaps he really is a bright little fellow and is testing the boundaries just to see how far he can go.


I totally agree with Steph and also with the suggestion of painting the bedroom. I would normally go for the 'he needs to understand his behaviour has consequences etc etc ' however I really think such reactions need to be played down for the time being. I would go for lots and lots of reassurance, lots of descriptive praise at any opportunity. I am not suggesting you let him get away with absolutely everything but to try and find a balance of flexibility if that makes sense!


As for the pull ups I would pay no attention to the fact that they are 'girls pull ups' and wouldn't make an issue out of the fact he is taking/wearing them. Who knows, maybe previously he was shouted at or punished for wetting/soiling and sees the pants as some sort of safety net 'just in case'. There again you could turn it on it's head so to speak and ask him if he would like to wear pull ups and the answer would probably be no and you could find he simply stops taking them. He may simply be taking them because he can do so without being seen.


It may well be that he has some behavioural issues but in all honesty I would be very surprised if he didn't given his troubled start in life.


My heart goes out to the little lad and I feel for you too as it cannot be an easy situation. It sounds as though you have a good partnership with his parents and if you can agree strategies that you will both employ then continuity in management of his behaviour will hopefully enable the child to feel more settled.


Hang on in there, good luck, I am sure things will work out and please do let us know how things go :-)

Edited by Geraldine
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I agree, this was my first instinct, I think he is pushing the boundaries to see what will happen. If I do this, will I get sent back. Perhaps he is thinking that this is inevitable, get if over with, sooner or later I'll be sent back/on to the next person. Lucky he has you and his new adoptive parents to give him all the love, reassurance and stability he so desperately needs.


Generally, we would expect to set boundaries but I think in this case it is important to consider the really important boundaries and try to understand/ignore others. I would suggest letting him have the pull ups to play with, either with dolls or for himself. Give him wheels to play with etc.


Not suggesting getting the balance will be easy.

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See LJW don't need me, all comments are excellent.


Remember Maslow




This lad is only just climbing onto the second step. I would say though that part of building his security is to have boundaries and consequences, just as others have said, make sure they are the important ones. squpeg, love your little rhyme :o


He may still be waiting for counselling (play therapy) or doing some life story work ( although he might be seen as a bit young for this)

I wonder do his parents talk to him about his past or only wait until he mentions it. This is the difficult part of fostering I have personally experienced. Yet, with our own children we often talk about past memories mostly happy but some sad.

Imagine if the majority of your past memories are not good, or even your happy memories are not talked about, this impacts on self discovery which is very relevant for this age group. the who am I?, what 'position' do I have in this life, world, family, preschool?


Many adults self distruct, choose the wrong friends/partners, behave unsociably, test relationships, partly because low self worth makes them feel undiserving (scuse spelling) or it is a way they actually feel / act out some sense of control "I'll end this before someone else does it for me".


Think positive around and for this child, he now has a good future and will realise it soon and learn ( like any other concept, skill or knowledge) that he is worth it and more. xD



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Bear in mind that it might get worse before it gets better as the child could think right I have to step this behaviour up a gear as I'm not getting the result I expect. I only say this so that you are prepared, not to alarm you!

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The first thing i thought when i read this post was what a clever and imaginative child, to have the physical capabilities to do these things while he is being watched most of the time.

It made me read it again and think of a few things hes getting from doing this:

  • all that attention from people who want to know how and why just like he does
  • he seems creative, and maybe needs some activities to harness this
  • Has he got an interest in taking things apart and putting them back together?
  • He's probably never had to explain himself to anyone that actually wanted the answer before
  • No matter what he says hes still going to be told he shouldnt do it, and probably been told that in the short few years of his life about everything

I would think that this child needs a little less time to explore independantly and a bit more focused activity with positive encouragement along the lines of his interests. Maybe he never had pullups and wished he had done.


There are lots of books about being sly, telling the truth etc.. and maybe a circle time in which the question "why" can be part of the game, and encourage all of the children to give explanations about why certain things are done a certain way.


Consequences can be quite fun and dont have to be hard for him, start with simple ones like what would happen if i tipped my milk over and then do it. And how about re-wording what is said to him after hes done something to "next time can you.... instead as that would be much better" or something similar.


Just a few ideas that you may have already tried but its very easy to over look the simple things when you are frustrated.


Good Luck :o

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  • 2 months later...

It is certainly a challenge for you all, and especially for the child. It may be worth phoning adoption uk (or looking on their website) They have a team of people you can ring and talk to who have all been involved in the adoption process and may have some first hand advice to offer. (not sure if the pull up thing will have been experienced by others but you never know!)

Anyway hope this might help.

Good Luck

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I think someone else has alread touched on the issue of deliberate sabotage (taking wheels off things, pulling at wallpaper, challenging affections). When I say this I don't mean that this child has a dislike of what he/ they have now, quite the opposite. It sounds like what they are doing is natural given their experiences. Here thay are now with a lovely family who care for them, which is obvious. They will have a natural mistrust though and want to get through the veneer of what they feel is suspect love. To do this (and it's all unconcious) they have to sabotage anything good without knowing why as what they will have is a very unconcious knowledge of the relationship beween love and hate.


If they keep pushing with challenging behaviour they will (so they think) get the reaction that they are so used to, when they can't hit up against that they will keep pushing as they will find it hard to accept that they have love and it won't change.


As for the pull ups... it could be something as simple as they once saw some pull ups, wondered what they were, never had any themselves and feel a little jealous about it. Or that they see it as something that someone else has and they don't. Could the parents offer to buy them some to play with?


I think the only way to go with this is to accept it's a long haul and no matter what they throw at you, don't react in the way they expect (which obviously wouldn't happen anyway). But you can be firm with boundaries as long as it comes from a place of love, as always. They will need the repetition I expect for quite some time.

I do some work with young adults who have similar challenges and the sabotage thing is quite common, and difficult to endure until you see the results a long way down the line.


What a difficult task you have but a wonderful opportunity to make a difference for them.

Good Luck.

Edited by Guest
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Hi Nic. I taught a child last year who had been adopted. I still have to deal with him now as I am KS1 coordinator. He had had a difficult start in life and I don't think that his adoptive parents were the best people to deal with his particular needs but I digress.


The child I taught was extremely difficult and there are several things you say that are very similar to some of the things I had to deal with. There is a condition called 'reactive attachment disorder' which can be caused by abuse, maternal neglect etc. One of the signs of the disorder is a desire for control - hence the inappropriate behaviour, the lying and the long stories: the child has had no control and these patterns of behaviour are a way of controlling what is going on around them. Basically any attention, good or bad, is better than being ignored.


The best way I have found to deal with my child is to try really hard to never get cross (at times this is incredibly difficult) and to always talk to him in a neutral tone. Although it sounds dreadful overt praise is not a good idea as it can make him hyper. If he behaves well I just say, in a neutral tone, 'Well done X, you are playing nicely' and walk away. If he does something 'wrong' then I will outline what he has done, tell him he knows he's not meant to do it and outline his punishment e.g. missing some of his playtime. If he starts telling me a story then I'll remind him that that's not what we're talking about right now. He will often try to control the punishment - how long will I be staying in? - and I tell him, still in a neutral voice, until I say he can go out. Offering him choices also works well - you can stop breaking that toy or you can come and spend playtime with me. What do you choose?' Often he will choose another alternative, 'I choose to go out and play' and I remind him that that wasn't one of the choices and offer him my choices again.


Everything I have written sounds dreadful and goes against everything I believe BUT this has been the only way to deal with this child.


If you type 'reactive attachment disorder' into Google you will come up with lots of stuff to read - some is better than others.


Can I just add that I am by no way saying that every child who is adopted or fostered suffers from these patterns of behaviour - I would hate to offend anyone.

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Your tale rings many bells.My 2 daughters are adopted and the youngest one has had behaviour problems very similair to your little chap and still does even though she's now 10.She was older than my first daughter when we got her and had had an unsettled start to life including foster parents who should never had be approved.

She seems to have this inate need to refirm by challenging behaviour thats she's 'loved and safe'-"prove you love me even when I'm not nice then I might believe it....a bit".Some would say she lies when misdeemers are discovered but I have come to realise to her she's not lying she believes her stories, to her they are the truth once spoken.She doesn't take wheels off things-she empties things (messier the better) bubble bath,make up, talc.Seems like the same sort of behaviour?.No nappies but difficulty getting rid of dummies (100's)and a soft toy who still goes away with us :o as if she missed a section of babyhood and is still trying to replace it.


Give security physical and mental, clear boundaries, re-enforcement of rules of behaviour daily (with so many carers his 'rules' have changed frequently) ALL aspects of his development including emotional have been delayed/impaired.I'm afraid there is no quick fix or single cause for his behaviour.


Your instincts are correct and serving you well-Trust them!

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