The Downward Spiral of My Son's Behavior|The Holy MessOur adopted 10 year old son had an inexplicable rage inside of him.

Actually, anyone who understands trauma and adoption would say it’s totally explainable. Click here to read about understanding kids with trauma history.

The Early Years

We started with 2 year old temper tantrums that were more aggressive than most, and those never seemed to go away, becoming progressively bigger, louder, and angrier as he grew older.

The rest of the time, he was a perfectly sweet child. He made eye contact. He was loving. He gave hugs that were real.

He was not overly defiant, although he was incredibly, supremely hyper. Besides being adopted he has a complex medical history, so we had reasons and explanations for it.

He had some odd sensory issues and behaviors, like rubbing blankets, rubbing people, rubbing the cats.

Food had always been a problem. So, so, so picky, always.

Chewing food and then spitting it back out. It was a victory when we got him to spit it into the garbage and not just right back onto his plate at the dinner table. The first year of life it was almost impossible to get him to take a bottle at all, but that isn’t totally unusual for preemies.

As our son grew, life could be going along totally fine, and then BOOM, one thing would set him off and he would be in a full blown rage over the most minor issue. I remember when he was a toddler taking him into the garage and holding him for 30 minutes or more while he screamed and raged.

We tried all sorts of things to calm him, ignore him, manage him.

We tried all types of therapy.

We had therapists come to the house. We went to therapies.

All the books, all the stuff.

We did the big time evaluations at the hospitals and treatment centers. We have 50 page evaluation documents. I think we are up to at least 5 of them now. A few new tidbits are in each one, but really it was medical explanations of what we already knew. Do more therapies. You are good parents. He’s fortunate to have you. You are doing more than most.

Thank you, but…that doesn’t help us get through the days any better.

Sometimes the rages would be every day, sometimes only once a week.

There were always issues, but overall he held it together fairly well outside of home. He could function. He had friends. He made it though a school day. Life at home was not easy, but we managed. We were tired, but we managed, and we could function.

The kid is so freakin’ cute, it saves him. People like him despite the fact that he drives them a bit crazy. He’s very lovable and warm. He has a fantastic sense of humor, too.

Changes at School

Fourth grade was when we started to see concerning, bigger changes. Our son got into fights with kids in the classroom. Up until this time, he always had friends at school. He would come home and tell me kids picked on him, but the teachers reported he was quite popular. It was his own turned-around thoughts that made him think kids picked on him.

But now, things were changing. His relationship with his teacher that year was negative, too. She was a great teacher but not the right match for him — more strict and less warm. He started having fits in the classroom which had never happened before.

In fourth grade our son had his first suspensions, which was new, and fist-fights with other boys, also totally new.

Fifth grade was a fresh start with a fantastic teacher, but we still saw a continuation of the spiral downward, both at home and at school. We started with a new therapist (our previous therapist, who we loved, moved away). The change was good for our son. He was part of an African drumming group and had music in common with his new, male therapist.

Still, being at the local mental health center, they never had enough time on the schedule for the intense therapy we needed. One hour twice a month was nothing for the troubles with which we were dealing.

As the school year progressed, our son started having serious behavior issues. More fights, and more serious ones. He was removed from before and after school activities. He spent less and less time in the regular classroom.

His behavior plan was adjusted, and then it was adjusted again. Then again.

Many times I requested he have his own teacher’s aide, and many times I was denied.

Could he be moved into a smaller classroom, I asked?

Oh no, not even close, I was told.

Our son’s behavior continued to deteriorate.

In retrospect, I feel the school staff did so much, and they were wonderful, but they did too much. They told me they were building a case for the help he needed for the future — proving they did all the could for him. I hear the logic, but I disagree.

While I understand Least Restrictive Environment I also see it as the Waiting to Fail model, and each time my child fails, he is damaged.

He is not a piece of paper, he is not a number. He is a child.

At one point I asked the special ed teacher if we should hire a special education advocate. “Oh no,” she said. “Those just make the school staff annoyed and don’t do you any good.”


We should have hired an advocate at that point. My son has rights as a student of public education. I was continually told, “We don’t have an aide for him,” which honestly is not our problem as parents. They have to meet his needs, and if an aide is not the solution, then something has to be.

By the end of the school year, our son was spending very little time in the regular classroom. He was constantly moving throughout his day.

Twenty minutes in the special ed room. Then 20 minutes in the front office. Then 20 minutes with the speech teacher. Then 20 minutes having his lunch with the school psychologist.

This is not what’s best for a child who cannot calm himself down.

We had several BIG incidents that last year of elementary school. A rage where the classroom had to be cleared. A fist-fight with another student. A couple more suspensions and so many in-school ones I lost track. Yelling the F-word down the hallway.

I dreaded the phone around 2:30 every afternoon because I knew it was the principal calling to tell what new bad thing had happened that day.

Stuff I would have been mortified about years ago now became part of my normal. Remind me how we got here again?

I learned you have to let go of guilt. You have to let go of control and constant worry.

Otherwise, you just go crazy with grief.

What I will say was awesome is that the school never once made us feel bad about our son’s behavior. Never. We had our clashes, but all in all we worked as a team. They felt just as bad as we did, if not worse.

The school so much wanted our son to be successful. They had seen him grow up all his years with them and were as perplexed and worried as we were about the drastic changes we saw in his last year.

Rages at Home

School is a huge deal, but it’s not all of life. There is also home, which ultimately is more of an influence than school.

Home life wasn’t going so hot at this point either.

The rages we had always dealt with at home now increased in intensity. Our son was kicking holes in the walls on a regular basis. What had happened once, now happened 6, 7, 8 times.

Rages went from once or twice a week to once or twice a day. They lasted longer.

Our other children learned to lock themselves in their rooms when the raging began. Dinners were often eaten behind locked doors. Dishes piled up in bedrooms.

I kept a stash of board games and treats in my room for the other children to keep busy during these outburst sessions.

The physical aggression toward us increased. We had talked with our therapist many times about calling the police or taking our son to the walk-in crisis treatment center.

I knew the time for both was surely coming, but dreaded doing it.

Still Standing

Bible Verse

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

Journaling Prompt

Have times of suffering produced endurance and character in your life? Are you going through a time of suffering now? Talk to God about it.

The Downward Spiral of My Son's Behavior|The Holy Mess


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Bruce Perry, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook

Parents and Caregivers: Are You Dealing with Secondary PTSD?

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