The first e-mail came, a cry for help: a mother struggling with her three year old daughter, just home from Russia for seven months. She describes her child as crying over everything, defiant and yelling, and saying no to almost every request. She feels worn out and is wondering if she's losing her mind. What followed were exchanges that yielded a treasure trove of suggestions that I share with you here:
Things that have worked:
Physical exertion: get out to playgrounds to climb, run, ride her trike, etc Swimming is great. Any kind of heavy work - like lifting heavy cushions, etc.
Lots of structure, with not too many activities in a day
Unstructured, creative activities for periods within the routine, including art. The chance to "process" activities and relationships in imaginary play or drawing is still really important
Working on feelings materials to teach what faces look like with certain emotions, working with her to identify with words her own feelings. Allowing anger, but not letting it disrupt routines.
SLEEP - One of the most critical behaviors to manage. The ritual of lying down and resting often led to sixty minutes of sleep in mid-day until kindergarten, and it clearly helped her to manage herself. And we have a really early bedtime to this day - lights out at 7:15 - because we notice if that slips, her behavior does too.
Incentives, not consequences
Similarly, time-ins, instead of time-outs. I still don't like to leave her alone when she has a tantrum (although sometimes I do). There is something about her needing to be reminded of our connection and love that steadies and calms her more than anything else (most of the time).
Consistency of care with grown-ups - we found that switching babysitters as seldom as we could was a really good thing, and new people still jar her
A body sock. This tool hugs the body and calms the child. It can be found online.
Occupational Therapy is enormously helpful for kids who were under stimulated in institutional settings and who suffer low impulse control
Somatic Experiencing is a therapeutic modality that is helpful for children dealing with traumatic beginnings.
Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogan is an incredible resource book
Remember: nobody likes their child all the time!