Mommy Wars: PI vs. 2

Post-institutionalized (PI)
Definition according to some random online dictionary:
Post – prefix meaning formerly
institutionalize – to place or confine in an institution, esp. one for the care of mental illness, alcoholism, etc.

Two Years Old (2)
Definition according to many mothers worldwide:
a debilitating illness causing symptoms such as mine, gimme, and no. Symptoms may also include lack of communication skills, public temper tantrums, over active reflexes resulting in limbs randomly flinging objects, an unearthy sense of aim, inability to listen, and fascination with bizarre objects.

I have notices quite a bit of talk around the internets from mothers wondering if the behaviors their child exhibits are as a result of post-institutionalization. While it is a distinct possibility that this may be true, I find it interesting that many of the mothers asking are mothers to two year olds. As parents to PI kids we become hypersensitive to behaviors that could be signs of greater challenges to come.

“Did Johnny throw his lunch at me because he has a deep seeded need for my love because he was confined to a crib for the first year of his life and fed by bottle propping or is he just a two year old who said he wanted ‘nabich’ for lunch. Which I thought that meant sandwich, but clearly it meant ‘Mother I would like a grilled cheese sandwich with exactly 1 teaspoon of butter on each slice of bread, a cup of milk and a banana, and don’t even think of trying to pass off that processed American cheez food crap on me.’ Dear lord what does this mean?”

Distinguishing PI vs. 2 can be a challenge and at some point we just have to sit back and say, “yep, he’s 2.” But when does that happen. I guess it depends on when your child came home. So many bring their children home around 12-18 months. There are a few of us who get their children right at the doorway to the terrible twos. 23 months here.

Seeing the fine line between PI and 2 is an art. We want to make sure we are tending to our children’s institutionalized behaviors as to cut down on future therapy bills. We want to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they are just being two. I tend to err on the side of 2. Call me naive if you will. So many of the behaviors my child exhibits are just being 2. I’ll give you some examples.

1. Boy throws food.

2 year old issue. You could look deeper into this as a control issue, but this is also a two year old control issue. It is also a from of testing. I am trying to see if the rules are the same no matter what you feed me, what meal it is or where we are. Two year olds test too.

2. Boy rocks in his bed.

PI issue. This behavior occurs in biological children as well as adopted children. I am sure that the behavior originated as a self soothing mechanism and has just turned into his “thing.” Children have all kinds of comfort items/behaviors. Lovies, pacifiers, blankies, a favorite stuffed animal, thumb sucking. All self soothing devices. My child rocks.

3. Boy screams at me if he doesn’t get what he wants at that very second.

2 year old issue. 9 times out of 10 he doesn’t get it right then because I can’t understand what he is asking for. I try to ask for him to repeat the request and he screams louder.

4. Boy constantly kissing owies.

2 year old issue. Children quickly learn what behavior earns attention. If you are constantly trying to pacify your children or giving in to their (loud) demands they learn that this gets then attention. Likewise, if you child is accident prone (like mine) you are forever kissing boo-boos. They will then learn that boo-boo kisses are attention and will fake accidents or make mountains out of mole hills. But this is a reciprocal behavior. You make them feel better by kissing boo-boos so they want to make you feel better by kissing yours. This is a good behavior. It is showing your child is learning empathy.

We have our fair share of PI issues in this house. I am not trying to say our life is all rose petals. But with every PI issue comes two year old behaviors. What I am getting at is that at some point we have to draw the line and realize that our children are two years old. We have to stop making excuses for their behavior. “Oh I’m sorry Mrs. Jones. Billy picked all of your flowers because he was in an orphanage and never got to see flowers.”

So my question to you is: at what point do/did you draw the line on PI vs. 2 (or any other age)? Do you still use PI as an excuse for your child’s naughty behavior? How many times a day do you find yourself wondering if “this behavior” means something more?

10 Comment

  1. Rhonda says: Reply

    Only EVERY day! Quite honestly, with Clyde, I usually chalk it up to him being two. Every so often I have to re-evaluate. But for the most part, he is just a very STRONG two-year old (almost three).

    With Bonnie, because she is older, there are still quite a few PI issues. But she keeps shedding them with time, and that’s encouraging.

  2. Lauri says: Reply

    All the time… Im always wondering what’s the deeper issue behind some behaviors. I think 75% of our issues are your typical toddler stuff and others are attahment or PI related.

    Its a tough line to draw and I dont want to be one who explains naughty behavior or makes excuses all because of the PI thing….

    I try not to overthink it too much… but I do

  3. serena says: Reply

    GREAT topic. I spent so much time worrying and working on attachment. This is what I was told and have now seen it in action. The behaviors can be the same (tantrums, antisocial behaviors, obstinance, etc). Its the intensity of the IA behavior that is different. For instance, what kid doesn’t throw tantrums at certain ages. But there are a few I’ve seen that are tantrums of unbelievable proportions. It was something I had never seen before!! If you hadn’t seen the tantrum, you would think the parent was all wigged about a normal behavior….tantrums… When you hear it, it scares ya to death.

    My little girl would SCREAM in anger (really it was terror) when she got hurt. She didn’t come to me like you’re average two year old. It took a while and this is one remaining area that I believe is a hold over from the fear of being hurt and alone. Its hard to work on because she doesn’t fall every day.

    Another thing I’ve heard over and over is almost every time the parents find terrible problems coming to a head at 7 or 8….they had a gut feeling all along that all was not well. We all might over-think or over analize, but we know when its improving or not. Trust our gut.

  4. Jenny says: Reply

    My girls at 11 months throw tantrums get pissed and hit/get mean and basically scream alot. I feel that is all 11 month old behaviour. Some of it is a little stronger than I would have imagined at this age but I see it more as they are almost 1, want to communicate and have opinions but can’t express it. (food, diapers, bath, toys)

    Now, sleep, I feel is post institution. I recently found out that in our orphanage the girls were woken up to eat and do things, never establishing a great sleep pattern. So…yeah, my 20 minute sleepers, make sense.

    They both bang their faces/heads on stuff, totally 1 year old behaviour.

    While they are attached, they still have a look of where the hell is mom or dad if we leave the room…PI issue.

    Some physical and fine motor issues, which could be either twin or PI. Who knows.

    I see a combo. Definitely a combo. And I find us making less excuses of “because they are adopted” now.

  5. Kate says: Reply

    This is a great post, its great how you highlight the difference. I suspect a lot of people see regular 2 yr old behaviour as PI!

  6. I tend to err on the side of normal kid behavior, and the PI vs. 2 applies to other ages too, unfortunately, it won’t stop next year! I hate putting labels on kids, though. However, the hitting/biting/temper tantrums we’ve dealt with are definately PI. Thankfully, they are happening less and less outside of that environment.

  7. Lauren says: Reply

    Loved this post….

  8. Lea says: Reply

    Yep, great post. I err on the side of assuming the behavior is normal for their age, although the PI question will sometimes be nagging in the back of my mind. We did see a few behaviors that were obviously PI in the beginning but they seem to have all disappeared within a couple of months….for now anyway. I treat them as I would a bio child in every way and, if that nagging voice is questioning, I do more reading and asking parents of bio children what their kids did. These days it seems their behavior is just normal stuff that kids do.

  9. I think there is a lot of individuality in behavior. Some PI kids took it harder than others, some had better or worse care- And I think personalities differ. What I am saying is that a PI child may have a problem in an area that he would have had regardless of the institutional care. I also think there are gender differences. Perhaps the best way is to just deal with each child as behaviors emerge – the best way that you know how. I have to tell you that my three boys were much more difficult and had more issues than Pineapple (except for the clinginess).

  10. Cathy says: Reply

    Our daughter K was adopted at age 17 months and is now 26 months old. I agree with several of the above posters, that certain behaviors can clearly be attributed to PI issues (rage at bedtime and need to eat when someone else eats no matter her hunger level) while others are clearly “age 2” issues (going “deaf” when asked to do something she does not want to do, having difficulty sharing a toy). The harder ones are the “in-betweens”… when she walks into Sunday school without a backward glance: is that a good “I am secure enough to go to class without fear” or a bad “I am not attached enough to be afraid to leave my parents”? We tend to initially treat the “in-betweens” as if they are not PI related, then assess how she is responding/modifying her behavior over time. It is a very fluid thing, to be sure…..

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