It’s not typical

I would love to say that my daughter has no problems associated with her background, trauma, and adoption. After all, she was very young when placed, experienced no direct neglect or abuse, (but was at risk, given her 7 older brothers and sisters had all been subjected to both neglect and emotional abuse), and had just one very quiet foster placement between birth parents and us.

But we all know what damage can be caused by moving from one set of parents, to another, then to adoptive parents. There doesn’t need to be abuse or neglect, because the act of moving is traumatic enough, let alone being wrenched away from all you’ve ever known…

So, anyway, she does have problems. She has tantrums at school (she’s 5 and in reception by the way…but coming to the end of it). Several mums have tried to reassure me that their 5 year olds tantrum too, and the teacher even mentioned that young girls can be vicious in their retaliations, but none of them have wee’d on the beanbags during such a tantrum and then tried to slap the TA, or purposefully knotted another child’s hair to the wire fence at playtime because she wouldn’t share a ball. And when you talk further, you realise their definition of tantrum is completely different to your own, and when they say their child has them…they mean maybe once a week, usually in frustration after a ‘no’ from mum. And when the teacher carries on telling you about retaliation, you realise she means hiding a rubber instead of having to share it, or new best friends being found to spite each other.

She screams. And when I say scream, I mean glass-shattering pitch for prolonged periods. Other mums tell me their 5 year olds scream too, but having been round a friend’s house when one of these other girls ‘screamed’ I can assure you it’s not like my daughter’s screams. You might flinch when your daughter screams. I went to the doctor after going deaf temporarily.First Aid poster

She pinches, scratches and occasionally tries to bite us. Oh yes, apparently that’s normal too, but I’m yet to see any other parents in the playground with scratches on their face, red marks around their necks and bruises on their arms! And even when I have seen other children hurt their parents, I’m yet to see any of them look as intent on causing pain and hurt as my daughter.


I would love to believe that all her behaviour IS ‘normal’.

I’d love to believe she’s like every other 5 year old. But all those times I’ve told myself it is ‘normal’, well, I’m starting to realise that I was kidding myself. I’m recognising that it’s not normal for 5 year olds to tantrum every day, and definitely not in the manner that she does, I’m recognising that the level of screaming we are subjected to is not typical, and the venom with which she hurts us (even though she sometimes comes to apologise and hug later) is unusual.

This is not how I thought it would be. I’m ashamed that I’m only just recognising and understanding that my daughter’s behaviour is different. But I don’t want to kid myself any more…it’s only hurting and damaging her more. We need help.

9 thoughts on “It’s not typical

  1. Amanda Boorman

    I really appreciate this writing. It makes me feel supported in its honesty. Having parented a child with severe trauma from five to eighteen I can recognise the situations you describe as if you were describing our own past experiences. It’s a slow process isnt it? ….but change comes and the small achievements mean so much they are priceless. To help us I used to write down the emotional achievements at home and school that my daughter was making as they may otherwise go unnoticed in a busy setting where academic skills gained the most attention. The list would have things like “was brave despite a big fear” or “sat still and calm for ten minutes” or. “spoke about a feeling” This helped the teachers and TA’s (only the wise ones admittedly!) to keep a perspective on her achievements and their expectations. In retrospect think it helps to give teachers as much info about trauma as possible. Not whole books but easy accessible key chapters or quotes from relevant books on attachment (Hughes, Bomber ) and more personal knowledge of your child as an individual. There is no quick fix I don’t think but going with my gut that things were going to be very different was the first step I took to learn about what my daughter and I needed to progress her emotional development safely.

  2. claire

    Its great that your really ‘seeing’ your daughters struggles. And your right, its not ‘normal’. She’s suffererd a great loss. Birth mum, siblings, foster carer’s to name bu a few.
    Perhaps your gp could make a referal to camhs, or perhaps your pasw coul offer some theraplay.
    Really hope you get some support x

  3. Sally

    I well remember that time when I knew that things weren’t right but everyone around me was trying to blandly convince me that they were. It was the start of having to get ‘tooled’ up for the job.
    As Amanda describes in her comment we have to see the world a little differently – celebrate the progress, no matter how small and focus on emotional well-being.
    There is lots of support both on Adoption Social and twitter, so do come and seek it out if you want to.
    Sending you a big hug x

  4. Rachel

    I can totally relate to this. And gosh, I feel for you. The way you understand your daughter’s challenges and can describe them so honestly (and without completely losing your sense of humour) is a massive, massive tick in the “credit” column. Be proud of that – sometimes it might feel like the only one. And please don’t be ashamed of ANYTHING.

    When we brought our three home everyone thought they were adorable little moppets who just needed love and a good feed to blossom into well-balanced, loving individuals. Even our social worker felt they had been taken into care too young for any “damage” to have been done. Fast forward two years, and all the problems stored up in those very early weeks and months have risen to the surface. The rose tinted glasses are not just off, they’re broken, stamped on and buried under a mountain of Lego.

    Sally’s right – in the world of (non-existent) adoption support, chatting to other adoptive parents via social media and sites like this is an absolute lifeline. We get it. If you can’t get together physically with other adopters for mutual support, keep talking online. It really helps.

    I find that replacing “normal” with “normal for him/her” has changed my thinking. Yes, my 4y/o can behave at times like Damien from The Omen, but he’s better than he used to be and making slow, steady progress on his own personal curve. And bugger everyone else’s.

    Hang on in there xxx

  5. Walking On

    Can totally empathise with how you feel in the ‘it wasn’t meant to be like this’ stakes. Our son who came to us at 4 y/o and is now 7 y/o is the same. Not just a little the same, exactly as you describe. All I hear from other (non adopter) parents was that it was a phase and he would come through it. It’s not. It’s a process and slow progress but I cling on to the day at a time mantra and keep talking to my adopter friends and keep believing that we will get there. I do think that with age (although emotionally delayed) things do start to get a bit better. We have just started to access CAMHS and through that I can see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel … perhaps worth considering if you haven’t already? Sending calm vibes and positive energy from our house to yours. : )

  6. Julie

    You can see the ‘blips’ that do happen, but, with love, understanding & care, things will improve. Just do not listen or compare to other (birth) parents. We are on a totally different path to them. And as the other lady said, do remember that they make significant improvements in their lives that we can see, but others do not. Our son is now 9 (arrived at almost 3 with no knowledge of caring/ emotions et al), & he has improved so much. He still has differences to others, but he is our gorgeous boy.

  7. new pyjama mummy

    I can relate to this too – the emotional roller coaster ride is at times very fierce. It is early days for us as we are in our first year together but the symptoms are loud and clear – it drives me nuts with some of the suggestions and palming off comments – suggesting a tougher approach with more consequences I don’t think is right and the oh mine does that isn’t helpful. Time in works and if I can sooth before it goes from 0-100 it is so much easier but there are times when it gets to me and the 0-100 is seemingly instantaneous. We are just embarking a journey with CAMHS and I found Dan Hughes really helpful – Parenting Matters series – BAAF – Parenting children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I really like the idea from Amanda of recording the emotional triumphs.

  8. Gem from Life with Katie

    We have been grappling with similar issues in our house and I’ve been struggling to understand what is happening with Katie’s behaviour. Other than silly stuff at school (including weeing in the school play house) most of our issues are at home or out as a family. Katie hits, thumps, spits, screams, and has total meltdown tantrums where there is no reaching her on an almost daily basis currently. I don’t know whether it’s tiredness and change related or whether there is other “adoption” related issues, including FAS, afoot. I’m exhausted from living in a war zone though. I can’t wait to get her to bed at night (if she’ll stay there). I don’t know what the answer is, all I can do is relate. I’ve spoken to our SW and got some behavioural tips and am getting some emotional support for Katie at school from next term. I’ve heard tale of things improving by midway through year 1 (Katie is currently reception year too). She has so much going on at the moment that I’m going to hang in there and give it some time and see what happens. I don’t like my daughter some days at the moment as she gets so mean. I get up everyday and try again. We have the odd good day and am getting some success with a star chart and very very tight boundaries. I like the idea of “what’s normal for us” That feels reassuring and stops me comparing too much with other children.

    Incidentally, has this been going on all year or just since Easter?


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