Back in 1986, Janet Jackson came out with a hit album and song entitled "Control." During the chorus, she sang, "Control, to get what I want. Control, got to have a lot." This could be Cava's theme song as he attempts to transition from having grown up in an orphanage where he had none to being in a family where he has more freedom. Because of this, he often feels overwhelmed and, out of this anxiety, he tries to take control of the environment around him; whether that be at home or school. That's why we're working on teaching Cava some positive ways that he can feel he has some "control" without being a little dictator.
Something Cava loves to do is turn lights on and off. In some circumstances and places, this is no problem, but when he's somewhere like school or the doctor's office, then it becomes more of an issue. His therapist asked Danelle where the light switches were at the boarding school. When Danelle told her that the light switches were placed higher on the walls so only the caregivers could turn them on and off, the therapist explained that this was probably why Cava has such a fascination with being able to.
One of the big areas where Cava attempts to take control is with meals. At his boarding school, food was already set on the tables before the children arrived and there were no choices. They ate what was placed before them. Nor did he see the preparation of his meals. Now he has to sniff all of the ingredients as well as the meals themselves first. He loves to help us make dinner. First he gets the stepping stool he uses when he brushes his teeth and then he puts on the apron. Cava is very serious when he's working in the kitchen with either Danelle or myself. By allowing him to assist us in meal preparations, we are giving him a small sense of control.
Of course eating the meals are a different story.
Often times he will sniff the food, say, "Yummy," and either take one bite and push the plate away or he will sniff the food and not even taste anything. This is especially true when the food is any type of vegetable. "Eat your dinner," we tell him, but Cava just shakes his head and walks away from the table. There are times he does this even when it's a food he likes. For awhile, we would leave his plate at the table because he would come back through and eat piecemeal. But, in an attempt to teach him to sit down and eat with us when we eat, once he gets up, we take the plate away and he's done. We also let him know that if he doesn't eat his dinner then he won't get any snacks afterwards. Accepting and rejecting food is one way he is trying to show he's in control. We are trying to get him to begin tasting new foods by giving him smaller portions and by making it a game, "I bet you can't eat one bite of those green beans."
The chart itself is a way for him to understand that his choices have consequences: either good ones (he gets a sticker for different periods of the day and, at the end of the week we add up how many so that he can use those to buy something from the prize box) or negative ones (no stickers and, depending on the behavior, the corner for 8 minutes). By doing this, we hope to help him learn to control himself, his anger, and aggression in a healthy way.
Pajamas are a healthy opportunity for Cava to take some control in his life. He still gets excited about getting to pick out which pajamas he wears to bed and he loves to show us which one he chose and he will come into the room, put his hands on his hips and thrusts out his chest proudly.
In an attempt to help Cava feel like he has some control, we do what Dr. Karyn Purvis recommends in her book The Connected Child, and we offer Cava choices. Doing this will help him learn, in her words, to "learn about choices and teamwork." (As a side note, she is also a contributor on the website: http://empoweredtoconnect.org/).
As I have mentioned previously, language is a major root of many of Cava's adjustment issues and why he lashes out. Not being understood, he becomes frustrated and his frustration can turn to hostility. In an attempt to help him, we have put up note cards with both the Ukrainian and English words of what something is (refrigerator, table, desk, bed, and so on). While I am teaching him the English word, I also let him teach me the Ukrainian word. Cava tends to giggle at my bumbling, fumbling attempts to pronounce the Ukrainian words. He'll shake his head at me, laugh, and say, "Nooooo." Then he'll repeat the word for me until I either get it right or he is ready to move on to the next one.
All of these are ways we are attempting to help Cava feel some sense of control so that he doesn't get out of control. It's a struggle and there has definitely been bumps, but we know that, in the long run, it will not only help Cava feel loved and secure, but will help us become a stronger, closer family.