telling abuse related behaviors from age-related behaviors

11 12 2009

One of the hardest things for me to do is to tell the difference between behaviors that the children have because of the abuse they went through and just their natural personality and age based behaviors.  There are some things that are pretty obvious.

Climbing the counters to steal candy off the top of the fridge – age related behavior.

Grabbing a kid’s crotch at school – abuse related behavior.

Breaking toys when mad – age related.

Smearing poo on the walls – abuse related.

But what about the other stuff?  Things like acting out for attention, being a know-it-all, and competing with siblings and other family members for attention.  It could be related to an attachment or anxiety disorder or it could just be that’s how they are naturally.  (I know plenty of grown-ups who are know-it-all attention whores and I’m sure they were born that way.)

It’s hardest with Alyssa because she is so much like me but also so much unlike me.  She considers herself a small grown-up who has what it takes to take care of other people and who believes that grown-ups need to earn her respect.  That’s all just like I was as a child.

Then she also refuses to do her work at school or learn things just for the fun of it.  She’d rather make friends and play at school than do her part.  That is so unlike me – I always wanted to please adults and impress them with my mad knowledge skills.  I took control by exceeding all expectations.  She takes control by manipulation then acts out when people don’t comply.  I’m a perfectionist and hardest on myself.  She seems to believe that people should just give her stuff because she’s adorable and smart.  If I wanted something, I would figure out how to get it.  If she wants something, she just takes it.

So how do you tell?

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I have a pet, and I got it myself.

15 06 2009

I don’t know whose great idea it was to give out “bug aquariums” with kids meals, but now each of my little sociopaths in training have one.  It’s not one of those ecologically friendly toys that look like colorful cricket cages that come with tongs and a tiny vaccuum powered thingy.   It’s a fully plastic “garden” with a clear dome that covers the little flat bottom.  It clicks closed like a makeup compact.

Not only does it look like the only bug it is capable of catching is the dead bug, it looks like any bug that did get caught would soon end up dead from suffocation.  It’s one of those toys you give your kids expecting them to catch a rock or at least promptly lose.  You never expect them to follow the directions and actually catch a live insect.

It’s only slightly less creepy than this.

My daughter, Alyssa, is particularly bad with pets.  I don’t know if it’s because she’s a tomboy or if she’s just that self-centered but she considers pets to be toys that don’t need foolish stuff like batteries.  She doesn’t realize they are ALIVE.  Our family is full of pets so we’ve been trying to teach her some compassion to the four-leggers and non-mamallian animals that live with us.

First, there was a fish named George.  George’s original name (from Alyssa) was Fish Piss.  After I got over that little bit of brain shock, we decided to name him after Curious George.   He had to move out of her room when she poured so much food in his bowl that the poor little guy couldn’t swim once the freeze-dried flakes puffed up.  The second time he had to move out (after much begging and pleading) was when she used the water from his bowl to supply her tea party. Repeat this scenario a couple more times before George bailed ship on his fishbowl and his corpse has never been located.

Teaching her compassion finally got laid by the roadside and now we’re just preaching “leave the animals alone.  Don’t interfere in their ecological setting.”  People ask the kids all the time “do you have pets?”  I don’t know why people talk to my kids, and I also don’t know why “do you have pets?” is such a common question.  It just is.

Ethan will start to talk about the cats and dogs.  Alyssa will yell over him “Mommy said I can’t have a pet because I’m mean to them.  She says maybe when I’m 6 we can try again.”  She’s really upset that I won’t provide her with an endless supply of living entertainment.

Back to the bug catcher.  I allowed her to keep it really because I was sick and Shaun took the kids out to eat and that’s what they came home with.  The next reason was that I didn’t consider the fact she’d catch something.

Cue Alyssa, proudly marching up to me like she’s just beat me at the world’s hardest game and she’s clutching the prize with a death grip.  “What you got?”  I asked.

“A pet.”

“What kind of pet?”

“It’s a fly.  I know you said you wouldn’t get me any more pets, so I went and got my OWN.”

“Is the fly alive?”

“I got my own pet and you have nothing to do with it.”

“Is the fly ALIVE?”  I’m trying to ignore the fact that she’s rubbing my face in the fact that mom’s have nothing to do with the raising of five year olds.

At this point Shaun, who has been examining it with a boy’s curiosity for all things trapped in tiny plastic cases declared that it was alive.

“Honey, do you know that bugs can’t live in there for long, right?”

No answer.

“The fly won’t live for long, baby.  Maybe we should take it outside and let it go.”

At this point, the soon to be insect coffin in clutched to her chest.  “No, he’s going to be my pet.”

She marched past me and set him on her shelf in a place of honor.  Shaun is so helpful at this point.  “If he dies, it’s ok.  We’ll just feed him to Ernie.  Ernie likes dead flies.”  Cue the chorus of EWWWWWs.

I have a feeling that I should be disturbed my daughter has a (possibly) dead fly in a plastic box in her room, but really I just want to teach her about Schrödinger’s cat. That would lead to nasty explanations of quantum mechanics and philosophy. I’m sure that her first words on the topic would be “this cannot be a quantum test because there’s a WINDOW into the box.  You can’t have an illustration of quantum potential when you can tell whether the fly is alive or dead.”

She, of course, would be right and have more ammo to feel superior to my old-school education.  The school year will be quite interesting with Singapore math and dual-immersion language studies.  She may very quickly surpass my skills.  I’ll just have to go old school and hack her computer terminal to play random Schoolhouse Rock videos.

I wonder if finding evidence of things that one can do with a dead fly will persuade her to flush it down the toilet and use the little aquarium the way it should be used – as a mold for the sand box.