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Jude's avatar

I need some advice when it comes to my niece. Your help would be greatly appreciated (details inside)

Asked by Jude (31980 points ) August 4th, 2009

It’s been quite a stressful few years for my family and I. Especially, my older sister who has had a rough go.

My sister (who is 47) and her husband adopted a little girl from China. She was a year old at the time of the adoption and is now 6½. I would describe her as being a free-spirited child, loving, smart, but, with a mind of her own. She really is a great girl.

Two and a half years ago my sister and my niece were in a terrible car accident. And, because of the accident, my sister, who is an RN hasn’t been able to work since. She suffers from multiple injuries (they have now labeled her as being partially disabled), has some brain damage and isn’t able to form a grip with her right hand (no longer able to work in the OR)—there are also other spinal issues, as well. And, since the day of the accident, she has battling it out with the insurance company. Still is. All of it is very stressful and is a huge strain on her marriage (they’re worried about money and because of the accident, she’s depressed).

Six months after the accident, my Mom, whom all of my siblings and I were extremely close to, died of Ovarian cancer. It was a short illness, and such an awful thing to witness. It tore my siblings and I apart. My niece was 4 at the time of my Mom’s illness and death. Back then, my niece had issues with my sister leaving (her side, really), and would have extreme meltdowns when my sister tried/or needed to get away. We’re talking—rubbing her feet together so hard, that she would form bruises. My sister described it like this—it’s as though my niece goes into some sort of a trance/another world and it’s extremely difficult to bring her out of it. I got to witness it a few times and it was awful. Because of this, my sister had to bring her up to the hospital when we were there for my Mom. My niece got to see Grandma at her worst. She and my Mom were extremely close. Kindred souls, I would say. And, so, the poor thing saw Grandma sick and the pain, worrying and sadness that the rest of the family were going through. I mean, my sister and I would take care of my Mom at night, and my niece was always there and saw all of it..

A year later, my sister’s husband lost three family members, including his Dad. My niece was close to him, as well.

Since my Mom’s death, my niece has brought her name up everyday. She talks about “coffins” and “skeletons” and would break down and start sobbing when there was a movie or show where a child or animal lost it’s Mother. Anything that was sad in a movie, she would break down and start sobbing. She often says that she misses Grandma and cries. She is also worried that her own Mom, my sister, is going to die or that she will leave. For the past 3 years, she has started with some strange controlling behavior (when it comes to my sister and my brother-in-law). Weird things like, my sister can’t buckle up her seat belt before my niece does, or, my sister can’t come down the stairs before my niece does (it’s almost obsessive/compulsive). It changes all of the time… The other day, she wouldn’t let my sister help a young friend when her nose started to bleed. My niece saw the blood, started to cry and say “don’t help her, Mom. You can’t help her”. They had the hardest time calming her down and had to bring her into the house, so the neighbors wouldn’t hear. They were worried that the neighbors would think that they were hurting her.

I feel that because of the accident, my Mom (and the other family members), who died, and, perhaps, because of being abandoned as a child (she still remembers being in the crib at the orphanage, and a few other “not so great things” from when she was an infant in China); that she, in her own (6½ year old) way, is trying to control her world the only way that she knows how. She’s afraid of losing her Mom and Dad and that’s why she acts out.

I really do think that my sister needs to get some help with this. A child psychologist, perhaps.

Any advice, or your thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

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13 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

I think your intuition is absolutely correct. She needs psychotherapy, and you need to begin some research to find someone competent. I would suggest a CSW whose bio/curriculum vitae demonstrates expertise both with children and with Cognitive-Behavioral or Dialectical-Behavioral therapy.

I say a CSW because MDs (Psychiatrists) largely dispense medications now, rather than do talk therapy. If medications prove to be necessary, the therapist will refer you to a psychopharmacologist, but I recommend you resist medicating a child unless you very much trust the practitioner.

Likeradar's avatar

This child has been through a lot in less than seven years. Sounds like she definitley should see a therapist.

Is anything known about the mental health history of her biological family?

Jude's avatar

@Likeradar No. They don’t know who her biological parents are. And, there is no way to find out. She was found, alone, swaddled in a towel at a bus stop near the orphanage.

wundayatta's avatar

Therapy for all involved sounds like it might help. Your sister’s depression should be dealt with, too. It definitely influences your niece’s views and behavior.

Bri_L's avatar

I agree with @daloon. For all involved. Some group and individual if that is possible.

tinyfaery's avatar

Sounds like she might have an attachment disorder. Other than that I think her reaction to death is common in children.

Therapy.

Darwin's avatar

I agree that therapy for all is in order. She sounds a bit like my son who also has some attachment issues.

And I don’t agree that hers is the normal child’s approach to death. My family has gone through similar losses but I have been able to help my children cope with them well. Perhaps her feelings about death are so extreme because of the problems her mother has been facing with the accident.

In any case, therapy is an excellent idea.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

Let me chime in with the consensus and recommend therapy. My wife and I raised twins that came to us at age 7, and there were many issues they were dealing with. Family therapy helped us not only deal with undesirable behaviors, but also understand why such behaviors were acted out. Nowhere near the intensity you and your family are dealing with, but I would think that both group (for all involved) and individual psychotherapy would be in order.

erniefernandez's avatar

All I can think to suggest is taking the issue with the insurance company to the local news.

With all the attention surrounding healthcare now, they will be very willing to give you what you want to shut you up.

That’s what my father did. Now he has a kidney and a pancreas!

Jude's avatar

Thanks for your help/advice, everyone. I’ll pass on it on to my sister tonight. She called last night, at her wits end, and I didn’t know how to help her or what to do.

I agree, in that the family (individually and as a whole) would benefit from counseling.

Jude's avatar

Just a follow-up here. My niece is seeing a counselor. She’s seen her a few times already. I talked to my sister tonight, and she told me that the counselor believes that my niece is “angry that she was abandoned by her birth parents in China, and is worried that my sister is going to abandon her, as well”. The one thing that the therapist said was that my sister and her husband have to reassure Maddie that nothing is going to happen to her and that she’s safe. The therapist is also doing some grief counseling with Maddie. Maddie seems to like the therapist. Here’s hoping that this will help.

likipie's avatar

My little sister exhibits behavior similar to this. It’s not quite as extreme, but close to. I recommend you contact a grief counselor that specializes in children because it seems like a lot of this behavior can be caused by the loss of her grandmother and other people she knew/was close to. There are tones of free services, my mother, sister and I are attending free grief counseling through our local Hospice organization (we recently lost our dad/husband) and it’s helped my sister a lot to talk about him without freaking out and it’s also taught my mom how to deal with some of the behavior she’s showing because of the loss. I wish you luck with your niece, it sounds like she has great potential and is a great kid, she just needs some help dealing with her losses better. I hope this helped a little.

likipie's avatar

@Jude I didn’t read your post above the one I just posted, so ignore the advice on seeing a professional!

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