Thursday, March 20, 2008


After a two or three week pause, V. has commenced with the fisticuffs again. She hits almost everyone and everything in sight. She smacks Anette, Adinah, smaller kids, bigger kids, chairs, tables, and stuffed lambs. If she slaps Adinah, and I say, "V. no!", "No, V.!" she looks me right in the eye and socks Adinah again. She puts the most hilarious impersonation of insolence on her face. It's nearly as funny as the Phantom of the Opera face she makes (clenched jaw, lips drawn back, teeth barred, eyes bugging) when she's trying to hold onto something someone is trying to take away from her.

I am flummoxed. I have no idea how to get her to stop clobbering everybody. I've tried saying 'No!" firmly and loudly, I've tried holding her fists down at her sides. If she's in a place she likes, such as the bathtub or sitting at the kitchen table, and she hits someone, I've tried taking her out of that spot immediately. She screams and wails. And when I retrieve her, she hits Adinah again.

In desperation, we have told Adinah that if V. keeps smacking her, she should hit her back. Now Adinah gives V. these quick and perfunctory pats on the arm. Which have no persuasive effect on V. whatsoever.

It's tempting to blame this behavior on something that may have happened to V. in her Before years, Flashtrigger would call them, but I think that's a red herring. I don't think this is real aggression. V. is 16 months old. She doesn't really use words, or understand them. She doesn't know how to touch other people yet. I think she's hitting other humans because she's trying to communicate with them.

I know it's sick (and possibly wrong) to compare our foster daughter to a cartoon dog, but I keep thinking of the Simpsons episode where the family is having so much trouble with Santa's Little Helper. Homer keeps saying 'No! NO!' to the dog, but then the camera cuts to Santa's Little Helper's POV, and everything is gray, and all the dog hears is Homer saying, 'Blah! BLAH! Blah blah bah BLAH!'

Maybe it's like that for V. She just doesn't understand what she's doing or what we're saying about it. Maybe.

Maybe we just have to try to ignore her hitting.

Like we do her screaming.


Elizabeth said...

Having a special-needs kid, I have some experience in this arena. Our daughter is autistic, has speech challenges, and is quite spirited and expressive. By which, I mean we've had a lot of experience with "behaviors" of all sorts. Here's what we've done that has worked very well. Be nonreactive to the bad behavior, by which I mean don't yell, don't hit, don't react. If you need to, give her a time out in her room, but very calmly, explaining "You can't scream here. If you want to scream you can do it in your room." Then, if she won't stop, simply take her to her room. If she hits, simply explain that's not OK, and put her in her room right away.

But, if she behaves in ways you want her to, praise her quickly and lavishly. If she asks for something sweetly, get it very quickly, and tell her what a nice job she did.

It's not easy. We're so trained to be reactive to bad behavior. But I promise you, if you stick to it, it works. Our daughter is now calm, sweet, and flexible. Good luck!

pat said...

Thanks for the words of wisdom, E. I have begun to suspect that this might be the way to go, and I know it won't be easy, esp. since V. doesn't understand speak yet, but I imagine it'll all work out with time and patience. Big ups from Vienna!