How can I tell if the behavior I am seeing in my adopted child is normal behavior for her age or if it is related to adoption?
Parents of adopted children frequently hear from friends or relatives “My child does that all the time – it’s just normal behavior.” Is it?
Adoptive children exhibit the same behavior as other children. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to tell the difference:
1. Is the behavior the same as other children her age in
duration, frequency and/or intensity?
Most children have occasional temper tantrums when they don’t get their way or exhibit other challenging behaviors like lying, arguing, or fighting with siblings. It becomes a concern when these behaviors are occurring on a frequent basis, last for more than a few minutes, are out of proportion for the situation, and/or involve harming themselves or others.
2. Is the behavior appropriate for my child’s age or
characteristic of a much younger child?
Adopted children who have suffered abuse, neglect or have had multiple caregivers are often delayed emotionally and/or socially. They have missed earlier stages of development and tend to be drawn to play with much younger children or engage in activities that are below their chronological age. We can expect two year olds to act out their frustrations with temper tantrums, exhibit oppositional behavior, and try our patience. When we see this behavior in much older children, it is often a sign that they have not resolved some of those earlier issues.
3. Is this an issue that has been causing problems for 6
months or longer?
Most typical childhood challenges change every six to twelve months. If this has been an on-going problem for more than six months, it may be time to call for a consultation.
When should I look for help?
All families can benefit from pre and post adoption support. This ranges from how to answer a preschooler’s questions about her birth family, working with a child who has experienced abuse and neglect, to helping an adolescent grapple with the issues about his identity.
It is never too early for a prospective adoptive family to seek help. My mother used to say “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” This phrase is aptly applied to adoption.
I can help you address these and many other concerns:
Should I adopt a child?
How will adoption affect my family?
Is it better to adopt a younger child or an older child who needs a home?
What can I do to help my child feel comfortable in our home and build an attachment?
How do I help my biological children to adjust to having a new sibling?
How and when do I talk to my child about being adopted?
What information should I give about her birth family and why she came to be adopted?
Do I allow my child to have continued contact with biological family members?
What should I do when my child tells me he hates me and wishes he could live with his birth family?
My child has melt downs over nothing – what do I do?
She lies about everything – even when it makes more sense to tell the truth.
I found things in my son’s pocket and I know he stole it from school. This is not the first time that he has taken something that wasn’t his.
I find candy wrappers and other food hidden in her room. I know she gets enough to eat. Why is this happening?
My daughter tells me she doesn’t have any homework but her grades are terrible. We have constant battles over this and nothing is helping. What do I do?
The sweet little boy we brought into our home has turned into a monster. He won’t do anything we ask him to and he curses and screams at us. He is an “angel” at school and when other people are around, so they think I am too tough on him. I am afraid to go to sleep at night because he might carry out some of his threats to hurt us.
I feel like I am on a constant roller coaster ride. Things go smoothly for a while and then something sets him off and we are in for a wild ride. Why doesn’t the progress he makes seem to last?
A child’s understanding of adoption changes as they grow. Developmental milestones can trigger new questions and fears about things they took for granted at a younger age. Entering school requires a child to answer questions from classmates and teachers which can trigger emotions. He may begin to compare his family to others. Traditional school assignments like family trees and sharing details about early childhood cause children to feel singled out or excluded.
Special times and events can trigger memories from early childhood that they cannot verbalize or explain. Your child may not understand what is going on other than feeling sad, angry or agitated. Her birthday may have been a happy event in the past, but this year she makes the connection that this was the last time she saw her birth mother. Other common triggers are anniversary dates - being separated from family, moved to a new foster home or orphanage, or adoption day. Many families report that holidays are often miserable. Their adopted children sabotage activities that should be enjoyable. They may be replaying past experiences or feel like they just don’t deserve anything good.