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“I loved him but I didn’t like him” – parenting a violent child

Published: November 29, 2016

An adoptive Mum shares the challenges of caring for a child with behavioural difficulties.
My son, Ralph, was 3 and my daughter, Hera, was 2 when they came to us. They had endured dreadful abuse and neglect in their early years. My son was lovely and charming but had violent tantrums. Ralph took up all the space in the house, leaving little room for Hera. I can’t remember my daughter smiling at me for the first year.

Right from the start we had difficulties at school. By Year 2 Ralph was being bullied by classmates and isolated by teachers. We moved him to a different school where, at first, he appeared to cope. But as he got older, the problems increased. I began to dread the trips to the playground, the dark looks from other parents and the approach of his teacher. I was the bad mother of the naughty boy.

Meanwhile, at home things were getting worse. Ralph was becoming more and more violent. He appeared to have no idea of danger, and no interest in relating to me in any other way other than screaming, hitting and yelling abuse. I loved him with all my heart but I didn’t like him; he seemed to be using every means possible to make me reject him, yet it was also very apparent that he needed me.

Eventually I came across the website for Family Futures adoption and adoption support agency. I talked to the manager, Alan Burnell who informed me that Ralph had attachment disorder and explained developmental trauma. For the first time in years I began to feel some optimism.

The first thing I did on returning home was to contact social services. I hadn’t done this before because, having been a social worker, I felt I was admitting to failure. Ralph started having therapy from the post-adoption unit and it appeared to help. The therapist also saw Hera, because of her relationship with Ralph and because I was concerned she was too good! I watched as this apparently happy child curled up in a ball in the corner of the room. She expressed her feeling of not feeling part of our family. Ralph’s behaviour was taking up all the space and energy in the household.

I began to absorb all the information I could on developmental trauma and attachment disorder. I tried to explain the condition to his teachers and gave them all the information I could. They are busy people and didn’t read it. I got the feeling they thought I was an inadequate parent looking for excuses for her naughty son. After 18 months of therapy, Ralph’s behaviour appeared to be improving although he was still having violent outbursts and could be very abusive.

When Ralph moved to Year 5, I arranged to talk to his new teacher to explain the behaviours she would encounter and suggest some possible ways to deal with them. Her intentions were good but she was unwilling to change her teaching style. His behaviour in and out of school started to disintegrate rapidly. The work that had been done in therapy was undone. He began to be sent out of class and seemed to be spending more time at home than at school. It soon became clear the only resolution they wanted was for Ralph to leave the school. I had to find an alternative fast. Thankfully, I lived in a reasonably enlightened authority and managed to get Ralph into a special school, for children with high-functioning autism and behavioural difficulties. It worked!

Within a couple of months Ralph’s behaviour improved radically. His outbursts became less frequent and of shorter duration and violence. For the first time in seven years I didn’t have to explain myself to others, and could relax. He stays at school a couple of nights a week and, finally, after years of being squashed in a corner, Hera has space and time with us. She has become happier and more confident and can trust us enough to misbehave! Ralph and Hera’s relationship with each other has also improved. I cannot begin to express the joy at positive things Ralph’s teachers have to say at parent meetings – and I no longer see Ralph’s future as prison.

Extracted from the book “Adopting – Real Life Stories” by Ann Morris – available now from Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 


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