Tuesday Topic: How Do We Help One Child Without Neglecting the Others?

tuesday topics

This week’s Tuesday Topic comes from a dad who wants help for his family.

We feel defeated by this child

We have 4 children at home: ages, 13, 11, 9, 4 (the 4 year old is our former foster son). We home school all the children. We have had the 4 year old since he was 3 months old. He was a drug baby, but not sure what drugs, and we are pretty certain there was alcohol in the pregnancy. He spent the first 3 months of his life in Children’s Hospital as he was born with his intestines outside his body; he had surgery and seems to be fine.

Obviously we are having some problems with him; so we started reading The Connected Child. It seems that all of the suggestions from the book are time consuming, and my wife feels like she simply cannot do all of the suggested things without neglecting the others. I know the book is not assuming that families only have one child. Sure he is only 4 years old, but he runs the house. He will scream and scream when my wife tells him “no.” She tries to correct with words, but it fails. She has tried to ignore but he will escalate until she responds.

No matter what, he will escalate until mom has to respond; she can’t even do a load of laundry because when she leaves he will do whatever he can to get her attention. The way my wife sees it is, if I give him what he wants he will keep demanding. For example, after meals he sits on the toilet to hopefully go potty (it has been this way for over a year) but when he goes in (we tell him what is coming) he throws himself down and the battle is on…if she gets him to sit he does all that he can to make her come back in… if we run to him every time he does this won’t he just be reinforced and never stop?

I guess we feel defeated by this child, that he is taking us away from the others and we do not want to resent him or have the others resent us…any ideas?

Friends, I don’t usually post such long questions, but I can hear the fear and fatigue in his words, and I’m sure you can too. Not to mention, I appreciate that he is reaching out on behalf of his wife and family – that’s a good husband and father.

You all are a wealth of wisdom, will you please take a moment to share some thoughts or give a word of encouragement? Your response doesn’t have to be perfect, sometimes it’s the little ideas that come together to help someone. We all know the isolation these challenges can bring, let’s make sure this family knows they are not alone.

Thanks for being the best readers ever.

encourage one another,


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Jennifer Shapiro Isaac
    February 16, 2016

    Our son came home at age 4, and this was a big struggle for us (it still can be – he's 12 now but our strategies have changed at different ages). One of the things we did early on was to buy an iPod shuffle, load it with music we approved of, and give it to him during demanding times. The fact that he had earphones on helped to "contain" him while giving me time for the other kids. He perceived it as a privilege, and we got the time we needed. This still happens quite a bit in our home, but with screens. We were a no cable, no video games, very minimal screens family for many years. But we have found that screens are sometimes (often?) needed to hold his focus so that the others of us can have a rest.

  2. Acceptance with Joy
    February 16, 2016

    Following. I have one like this. She turns twelve this week. She has lived here 6 years- the last two of which I have been so burned out that I'm afraid I'm the one with RAD. I'm barely surviving. It's reached a health crisis stage and I am losing hope. Thankfully my husband is stronger and doing all he can to keep this boat afloat…

    1. Le Moss
      February 17, 2016

      Mine also turns 12 in two weeks. She's been with us for four. We are at the end of our rope. But she spends hours and hours typing her book. I can't even read it, it's so full of violence and trauma. Screens… It does seem to help.

  3. Christina
    February 16, 2016

    I don't have much advice, because I am in the same situation right now (we have had our foster daughter for 8 months). But, after reading a few blog posts here, we have a few things we are trying. We started staggered bed times, so our child who has the most meltdowns go to bed first, and our younger biological child gets to stay up a little longer. We spend that time coloring, reading or playing a game with her. We are also staring with an attachment therapist, so that I have encouragement from a professional to continue in the connecting activities. I feel like I need someone to encourage me and give me ideas, so we found someone on the connected child website who is trained in the methods. That way we are not going against what the therapist suggests or educating our therapist. Just a few suggestions, but I look forward to what the more experienced parents say.

  4. Kaci
    February 16, 2016

    Something that helped me somewhat is I viewed where our child was emotionally. When our daughter at 4 entered our life, she was at a newborn emotionally. I then treated her as a newborn, that's how I played with her, that's how I disciplined her. I bought a carrier, so I could wear her on my back while I was doing some tasks. I kept her close throughout the day. I invited her to be my shadow. It was absolutely exhausting (especially because I had a newborn also) but she was able to slowly heal and slowly move through the ages. She's 8 now and I would say she's at age 4 emotionally/socially now.

    Also when my husband got home, he immediately took over which was such a blessing for me. My husband also encouraged me to have self care and take a couple of hours on Saturday to myself. Eventually we also had my daughter who we homeschool go to the local school for a few hours a day. This allowed me to give the other children attention and gave me a break. I felt like I parented her so much better when I had that break, but it was hard for me to give myself that freedom to send her.

  5. hedvig08
    February 16, 2016

    Has he been evaluated by a psychologist knowledgable in FAS and the drugrelated similiar (can't think of the name right now …)? Find a supportive team of other parents in smiliar positions and professionals who can guide you.

    I would try to spend some one-on-one time with the other children and leave the rest to God. You are in a position where you cannot give everybody the attention you would like to. Your other children will understand at least some of this. From what I gather from research on siblings to special needs children, the most important thing is to have some specific quality time that is "just mine" with us parents. The quantity is less important but that it is regular is.

  6. Lori
    February 16, 2016

    I can personally relate to one child (our youngest adopted child) causing havoc in the family and the concerns that this father has. As background, we have four children in the home, 26, 17, 13, and 11. Our three youngest are all adopted as older children internationally. I also home schooled.

    We have had to make decisions for the kids that we may not have made before mister 11 year old came into our family five years ago. I had been home schooling the other two and was going to include our new son. That did not work well at all. Lots of doctor/therapist/psychiatrist visits later and many diagnoses and intervention, things were still hard. We made the decision that we all needed a break from our son and so we sent him to a private school that was willing to deal with his issues. We also enrolled one of our daughters in an online charter school to take some pressure off. Just because you get a break during the day doesn't mean there is not a lot of stress still on everyone.

    I also see a therapist. It is someone who has experience with adoptive issues so she can understand where I am coming from and it really helps to be able to voice frustration or despair and have her give me some feedback and ideas. This is invaluable to me. I also have a few friends who can understand from their personal experience as well. You have to take care of yourself.

    The other thing that we have been trying to get in place more regularly is respite care. Everyone in the family REALLY needs a break from this child. It isn't being a bad parent to admit that. In fact, it is being a proactive parent who wants what is best for ALL the kids. Honestly, our son probably needs the break as much as we do as he struggles with anxiety and attachment issues.

    It is probably not going to get easier. I have lots of talks with my kids about how the Lord wants us to view their brother and that we need to love him – no matter how he acts. It is good training. Man, that sounded really defeatist and preachy! I don't mean it that way. Life is not easy. We will always face trials and suffering and we need to learn to rely on the Lord and get stronger in Him so that we can handle them. I tell my kids (which means I am telling me!) that the Lord is in control and everything that is placed in our lives is from His hand and is for our good. That doesn't make it easier, but it does give it purpose.

    I am in a very low place right now. Parenting children with severe issues is exhausting. Right now, I keep telling myself that I need to be better at organizing my time so that I am sure to get some exercise every day and some time to just be quiet with the Lord and His Word. Those things have fallen by the wayside and I think that is why I am so drained. We pour ourselves out every minute of every day. We MUST be filling ourselves up!

  7. Pete Zipf
    February 16, 2016

    Our 9yo son came home at age 4 from Ethiopia. His severe malnutrition and multiple layers of trauma with no-prior-language mastery and cognitive delay he brought home – manifested to PTSD, ADHD symptoms and RAD along with the layers of academic challenges. So, when the "four year home mark" came and went – with fewer improvements than we expected — it was hard.

    Today, he's 'disregulated' less often and we are grateful for the extra help from our public school system. Still, there are days he sucks the life out of my wife or me. Some days I have more patience – other days she does. We've learned that under the most difficult circumstances there are occasions one has to step away before we say or do something that is not helpful. One of us may retreat to a quiet place alone for a short time to regroup personally to allow the other to lovingly take on the challenge of the moment and then regroup together to provide a unified front to our son.

    Most times one or more of our other children are present during even the most difficult times.
    Our two older daughters (bio) are 14 and 12.
    Our youngest son (8yo) was also born in Ethiopia but he's been home since infancy, and he is well adjusted and- while youngest – is better attuned, emotionally aware and in some ways, more mature.

    That said, I know our other three children have been affected by the physical, emotional and spiritual emphasis we have had to spend out. So… let me say first of all — we relate to you.

  8. Pete Zipf
    February 16, 2016

    (cont'd from above)

    I almost hesitated to write because we are still struggling to put the proper pieces in place and follow through on what is needed – amongst our 'busy'. But we say "no" a lot to keep family dinner time sacred and attempt to make progress with some of the following:

    NOTE: I feel like what I have to share may not directly address the stress issue you're sharing, but my wife and I have found that when we are unified, and that our other three kids have their hearts tied around ours – the two of us feel much more at peace – with more to give and more willingness to press on because we're ALL in it together.

    1. Recapture time away just you and She. Whatever it takes. Regularly leverage your quality time to pour into each other. Affirm the reality of your challenges – don't ignore them – but try hard to nail down maybe one or two specific ways you could alleviate the pressure for the other. You may have already solved this complexity, but we ignored this area too long and we hurt each other. Thankfully, we are repairing the damage from our negligence – and are committed not to return to that place any time soon.

  9. Nicole
    February 16, 2016

    Our family hears your family!!! I'm so thankful you're posting this question because I think the various responses are going to help a lot of families (including ours). A couple principles that have helped our family: 1. We take book suggestions when they lower our children's anxiety. If they don't lower our child's anxiety, we have to problem solve more specifically, because until our child's anxiety is calmed, he will not be able to connect (and his behavior will be a challenge for the whole family), 2. For our most anxious children, structure IS nurture and it was the only nurture one of our children could accept for over a year. His body/behavior began to tell us, over time, he was beginning to trust us and could accept more typical nurture, 3. I've had to throw out my ideals. All of them. I always thought I would homeschool all of our children and I thought it would be best for attachment. But, I was losing my biological children. Eventually, I learned my adopted children needed a predictable break me as much as I needed a predictable break from them. It isn't ideal to both homeschool and work with school schedule (IEPs, etc…), but our family is much healthier as a result. My biological son needed space. His needs were great. As the parent, I had to sacrifice my ideals to give each of my children what they needed. I'm still learning and I'm certain your family is not exactly like mine. I look forward to reading more responses.

  10. Pete Zipf
    February 16, 2016

    (con'd from above)
    (One quick and pragmatic thing — For us, my wife was carrying a lot of tasks/life-demands in her head – she needed a way to unload all of it so it didn't continue to weigh her down. This will continue to be a battle for her – but after a long talk we figured out that a giant magnet board in a central location with space for notes etc could help. Also, we decided that dates needed to include other-than-family/job struggles — We chose books to read that we're interested in, but that have little to do with our day to day.)

    So, even when it feels hopeless – steal time away to do something that is FILLING to you both together – achieving emotional and spiritual respite time for you both. This MUST be done.

    2. To be even more intentional with our other 3 kids.
    I've realized that until recently, I (and maybe Amy) have been in a more "defensive posture" that has affected our approach with our son. We have always been mindful of the need to appropriate our expectations for him, but I have to admit that I have have tried to speed his process… and rush him toward goals that he's still not quite ready for.

    I say this because our other kids occasionally feel a sense of "injustice" – which has caused tension in our relationships with them. I guess I had been thinking – if he gets to the level of the others, the ground will be more level for all involved. Not quite yet.

    So, to address this concern more, I and my wife carve out additional focused time away with the other three – individually – for a little extra-special treatment and quality time. I'm talking an hour or 3 at a time. Occasionally more. Play hooky for a day, boardwalk arcade, early breakfast out before school, make a snowman, get hot-chocolate or a root-beer float — a decaf coffee and two apple pies go a long way.

  11. Pete Zipf
    February 16, 2016

    (cont'd from above)
    Those dates with my girls and my youngest son give them a chance for me or Amy to hear their heart… it's often not even a venting of frustration on their part – but just the extra special attention to refill their emotional bank account speaks volumes to them. I invite them to share their frustrations, concerns, questions and fears but as well… During those times, it has been incredibly helpful for us to talk about the progress that their brother is making – and exhorting them for something specific that they did – that day or that week – for their brother that was especially kind, thoughtful and loving. Helping them to clearly see how they are an integral part to their brother's healing process too.

    (Again, this doesn't address the "wiped-out-ness" of your wife directly, but if you can find other ways to alleviate stress on her in one area… helping her say "no" in one place so she can say "yes" in another more rejuvenating and favorable areas for her – maybe it would be helpful.)

    As the rest of my family is refilled – so am I. Then, I am even more encouraged to pursue the 'troubled-but-healing-heart' of our other son.

    I must admit, the above mentioned "perfect world scenario" doesn't play out every week… but we are making strides together. In closing, as alluded to earlier – I have definitely realized that when I am in a healthier place – spiritually, emotionally, and physically — I am in a better position to take extra load, go an extra mile and carry an extra burden to chase the heart of the one that needs extra love and grace.

  12. Becky Bowersox
    February 16, 2016

    We have 3 children – bio siblings that we adopted together almost 9 years ago. All of them struggle but in different ways, with one demanding the most attention in loud and sometimes violent ways. It has just been in the last 2 or 3 years that I've recognized the extent to which the oldest's struggles have created secondary trauma for the rest of us. It's easy to beat myself up about those things, but I'm choosing to do what I can to counteract it while believing that God can handle our mess. Here are a few things we've found helpful:

    My husband and I take turns going on dates with each of our kiddos individually. We are not consistent with the frequency of these dates at all, but we do try to maintain a general order so that one kid doesn't have two dates before the another kid has one. Sometimes these come close together, but many times months go by between them. We've chosen to offer ourselves grace by being thankful that they happen at all instead of beating ourselves up for not having more of them. Most of these dates are very inexpensive – a walk or a game at the park followed by ice cream, a trip to Starbucks for a treat while we play a card or board game, etc.

    Another helpful strategy – which isn't anything profound – is family movie dinners. They serve a wide variety of purposes in our family. (1) It's been a rough day or week, and I can't face cooking dinner. Everyone works together to make movie dinner. It's all finger foods that everyone can help prepare and set up – popcorn, raw veggies, fruit, nuts, and other snacks we have around. (2) Family movie night creates a happy family bonding time that doesn't require a lot of effort on the part of my husband or me. When the kids were little, they would finish eating their food and then all pile onto the couch to snuggle with my husband and me. The 14-year-old no longer joins us on the couch, but the other two still do. (3) Movie nights are often a preventative thing for us. If we were out late at a party the night before and kids are tired and cranky, we know that things could turn ugly fast. We often plan a family movie night so that we know we won't have a disastrous evening.

    Last summer was the first time that we intentionally planned time for our oldest to spend a few days at a time away when the rest of us were at home in our normal routines. It felt like a huge breath of fresh air to do everyday things without anyone needing to worry about what he would do or say. I wish I had figured out the importance of respite opportunities sooner.

  13. Rachel
    February 17, 2016

    I would like to also echo this question. I have 3 adopted children, they are biological siblings, from a background of hurt. There is competition by the oldest and the youngest to have my undivided attention but I see the middle one hurting and wanting as well but is a gentler soul with not the same drama-seeking attention-demanding behaviours. I actively seek out time with her and reward her with my time when she is calm and the other 2 are not, this however causes the other 2 to seek ways to wound her heart in a harder way — almost like punishing her for having my attention. I want all 3 sisters to love each other and attach to each other but don't know how this can happen.

  14. zeek
    February 17, 2016

    Thanks for all the replies! Here is what we have done so far, some of this is by suggestion from Lisa.

    We have an appointment with a therapist who specializes in these kind of kids, we are hopeful that this will get us on the same page.

    God has moved the heart of an adoptive parent in our church, she has agreed to take the adopted child every Thursday from 1:00-5:30. I wept, literally, when my wife told me she was taking him.

    We have decided to enroll him in preschool next year, we think this will be good for him and the rest of us. We are hopeful that it will help him learn, no way he can at home right now, and help the other kids learn.

    We made a google sheet called discipline matrix, and on it we list the discipline on the top row, and the infractions below. In this way we can both be consistent when the other isn't there. From what we read consistency/structure are absolutely needed.

    I have identified my sin in this…..that I am not trusting God with my wife. I am gone from 6am,-4pm and my wife is at home dealing with home schooling and an adopted child. I often think of her during the day, she texts me updates about what he is doing, asking advice….but all I can think about is rescuing her. But to do that is to get in God's way, as we know He is refining my wife through this difficult season.

    We are also dealing with the death of my wife's mom, she died 12-31-16, she lived on our farm in a trailer It has been tough, and we know that the 4 year old is grieving as well, inn his own way. We simply cannot run to this child every 3 seconds, he cannot be the center of the home. We are convinced he is attached, as we have 6 children total and see him doing the same things as the bio children, as far as attachment.

    All he wants is my wife, when she starts teaching the other and he is playing he will scream, throw, spit…do whatever he can to get her to come in, so then the cycle continues….this is where we need help. As long as you are giving him attention he is a great kid, but as soon as you give the other kids attention…..he ramps up until we have no choice but to goo in and deal with him.

    Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      February 17, 2016

      So good to hear from you, Zeek. I was hoping you were seeing the comments. Lots of wise folks here.

    2. Kim
      February 17, 2016

      It's sounds like you are already feeling more hopeful! These changes sound like they will be life giving for you and your wife. I have a couple of other thoughts/ideas:
      1. With the history of prenatal drug exposure, and suspected alcohol exposure, I would schedule an appointment with a pediatrician to discuss any developmental or behavioral problems that your child might have as a result of that exposure. Different drugs affect development in different ways. While a therapist will be able to help you tremendously with your child's behavior, a pediatrician will be able to determine if your child needs to be evaluated by other professionals (occupational therapist, developmental specialists, education specialists, etc). They will look at the big picture of your child's health and will know what resources are in your area.
      2. See if there are any preschool openings available immediately, rather than waiting until next fall. Its only February. Waiting until next year seems like a long time if you are needing the relief right now.
      3. Look at other ways you can simply life right now. Maybe it's eating more sandwiches for dinner rather than cooking every night. Or doing once a month cooking or some other meal planning method that will relieve the daily stress of meal prep. Maybe it's having lower expectations for homeschool for this season.
      4. Have some "school work" for your son to do during homeschool time when he wants to be right there with Mom – coloring pages, books to look at only during school time, etc.
      5. encourage your wife to extend herself grace during this time. She is grieving the loss of her mother, parenting a child who has a lot of needs, homeschooling your other children, and much more. She has a lot on her plate! The loss of a close family member is a high stress event. your wife is grieving, and that will affect her ability to cope with stress right now. That's normal and will improve with time.

  15. Amanda
    February 19, 2016

    Check out some of the "Circle of Security" teaching…there's lots on Youtube. Perhaps a concentrated effort (2-4 weeks) on connecting (Connect Child principles) will bring some much needed relief for everyone. My question for our 5 and 3 year old foster children is always "what is the behaviour telling me". We realize that what children don't talk out, they act out. It's not usually enough to correct the behaviour (that's like putting a bandaid on), but we must get to the reason behind the behaviour so there can be healing.
    Lisa's suggestion of "tend to the wounded child first" from this week was brilliant. I don't know why I'd never thought of that either.
    Josh Shipp has some good insight into troublesome children as well.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      February 20, 2016

      Great thoughts, Amanda. Thank you.

  16. Dena
    December 31, 2016

    Hello!i am new to this thread. Thank you for the helpful posts! I’d like some advice on our situation…
    We said yes to being a pre adoptive home to a sibling set 2 years ago — they are now 4.5 and 2.5 years old. The 4.5 year old has a TPR trial date in feb and the 2.5 year olds case has taken a turn to where he’s likely returning to bio dad ( different bio dad than 4.5 year old). We also have to bio kids ages 10 and 7. The 4.5 year old is requiring more and more attention and exhibiting more and more behaviors. We have read the connected child book and it really is helping to make her the priority. When she’s connected she behaves much better. There is fierce competition between her and the 2.5 year old. The 2.5 year old still
    Has 3 visits / week and although she does not want to go On visits , it makes her soooo jealous that he goes. Also she is hype vigilant when foster care workers come
    To The house , which is often due to little ones visit schedule. We feel we are at a cross Road. If it were
    Just my husband and I we would not think of letting go of 2.5 year old. But the reality is that he will be going and it’s going to be very difficult on everyone, especially 4.5 y o 1/2 bio sister 🙁
    So my question is : do we ride this out while it’s causing her stress to see him
    Come and go , knowing he will inevitably leave one day and not come
    Back — unknown date? Or do we decide to make an end date and transition sooner because she is getting older and the longer he’s here the harder it is on the kids as the
    Bond is deepening. ?
    This stinks. I never could have guessed it would go this way. We trust the Lords plan evens when it doesn’t make sense. And want to do what’s best for the family as we look at the big picture and evalute. Unfortunately it is unlikely we will
    Have a relationship w bio dad when 2.5 year old returns home. If we could have a relationship we would definitely stay the course …

    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 31, 2016

      Hi Dena, thanks so much for your comment. I can see that this is really hard for everyone. My question is, will the children continue to be in touch and have visits with each other even after the younger sibling is reunified with his bio dad? If he transitions to another home, how long would he be there before he goes to bio dad? I would worry about the trauma of a move for him right now, even though it is very hard on his older sister. What do the children’s counselors and caseworkers advise?


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