it’s not “just a kid thing”: behaviors in adopted and foster children

it's not just a kid thing - behaviors in traumatized children


“Desi cries every time we’re in the car, no matter what I do she won’t stop,” Jason complained to his friend.
“Oh, don’t worry, she’ll grow out of it, Zavier did that when he was young too,” replied Zack.

As parents of hurting children we hear this often, far too often. Our friends and family share their similar experiences on everything; picky eaters, criers, infants having difficulty weaning from the bottle, problems with potty training. We hear of teens who act out, use drugs and smoke to escape. Friends tell us of their teens who don’t listen, pre-teens who are promiscuous.

But there’s a difference, our children didn’t get a healthy start in life with love, care, and affection.

They were neglected, wondering when they’d be fed, never held, never soothed when they cried. They were abused, beat on, hit when they cried, yelled at when they asked questions, and heinous acts were laid upon them that we don’t even want to contemplate.

So, when an adoptive or foster parent says their child cries when they’re put in the car, we have to think outside of normal, outside that box that feels so comfy and safe. How many of our children were driven away from all they knew, in a vehicle? Most.

When children are abused and neglected, even thought it’s terrible and frightening, it’s all they know, it’s familiar. So, when that social worker drives them away from their home, it’s daunting and scary. They don’t know what to expect, they definitely don’t expect something better.

Even if children who lived in an orphanage before joining their adoptive family weren’t abused, leaving those walls is harrowing, sometimes that orphanage is all they know, and maybe it brought something better than starving on the street in a frozen desolate country. When any of these kids are taken to a new place, it’s scary.

Maybe Desi, who cries every time she’s put in the car had a terrifying experience in a vehicle, and when that door closes, those horrific memories come back assaulting her, and she cries.

it's not just a kid thing

Maybe Desi is afraid her new family will take her and drop her off with someone new, because whenever she was put in the car, she was abandoned on someones door step and her mom didn’t pick her up again for weeks.
People who don’t live our lives and contemplate our children’s circumstances don’t get it. A few days after our son, Jeremiah, came to us, I was visiting with a friend of mine. When I mentioned that he cried all the time, she said, “My mom said my brother was like that, he was colicky.”

Yeah, we could chalk it up to colic, and a very small part of it was (because we worked on changing his formula and finally found one – plus gas drops – that decreased his crying by a minimal percentage), but a majority of his distress was caused by something else. Trauma.

Jeremiah’s biological father had let Jeremiah cry, he didn’t sooth him, and didn’t feed him nearly enough. Eyewitnesses saw him pushing Jeremiah around town in a stroller, while Jeremiah screamed, his bio father never doing anything to help the newborn. The same eyewitness saw the bio dad pushing Jeremiah in a stroller around town when it was fifteen-degrees outside (he wasn’t going to work, his travels sometimes had no purpose).

Jeremiah hadn’t yet learned that crying wouldn’t bring any comfort, it takes time for infants to learn that crying won’t bring food, a soothing back rub, rocking, holding, someone to change a dirty diaper, a mother to sing lullabies to help him go to sleep, a nightlight for the overwhelming darkness, something to look at from the bottom of the empty crib.

Until a child learns that crying gets him nothing, all he knows is crying, because that’s what babies normally do to get what they need. All Jeremiah knew was crying and being uncomfortable.

So no, avoiding the real issue and hearing that my friend’s brother had colic too made me mad. Sometimes our friends and family forget what our children went through, or they try to pretend, and want to believe that everything’s okay. They don’t believe that extensive trauma causes a plethora of issues, they don’t think people treat infants and children so horribly, to them it’s impossible to believe. Sadly, parents and caregivers do these horrific things and we need to recognize it if we’re going to help our children.

Another thing our two children did was stay awake on long road trips, even one that lasted twelve-hours. We’ve heard from other non-adoptive parents that their children don’t sleep much in the car either.

Neither Payton nor Jeremiah slept in the car for several years after they came to live with us, whether the trip last three-hours, seven-hours, or twelve-hours. In Payton’s case, we know she was left with strangers constantly, we’ve heard horror stories about some of the people she was left with. She lived in several foster homes before she came to us, and it’s no wonder her eyes were peeled on the road ahead when we took long road trips. She held them wide open as if invisible toothpicks were holding her eyelids open, no soothing, comforting words could convince her all was going to be okay, she could rest. No words, No actions. Just time.

Friends of ours adopted their two girls from Korea, and they’ve told us their daughters did the same thing, it’s as if it was exactly the same story, only different kids from another country.

There’s a really good chance Payton did this because she was afraid we were going to take her somewhere, drop her off where she would be abused, and never see her again. It broke my heart. But because my heart broke, I was able to help her in the ways she needed. Getting mad doesn’t fix it, blaming the child doesn’t fix it.

Having compassion and a willingness to meet your child where they are and dedicating yourself to them is what fixes it.

No, Payton didn’t do this because she was “that way.” It wasn’t a “normal kid thing.” It was trauma based, and we needed to recognize this.

So, when a hurting child hits, we don’t blow it off and say, “It’s just boys,” we have to address it where our child is, talking about what’s going on inside them, discussing feelings. Maybe that child’s father hit him, and taught him hitting was the answer, thus you have a child who hits, and it’s not “just a boy thing.” Saying “Stop it Daniel!” won’t help (although you still intervene), you have to dig deeper, get down to those feelings.

When friends and family tell you, “My kids did that too, she’ll grow out of it,” or “Don’t worry about it, it’s a kids thing,” or “It’s normal,” know that your story is different. Your kids didn’t have their beginning.

Your kids need you to recognize this and help them through it in an understanding and compassionate way.

What do you do when others give you this parent mantra? Do you respond, and how?

Here’s another post that will help you meet your child where they are:
What Emotion is My Adopted/Foster Child Dealing With?

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are your worries about your child’s future stealing joy from the present?

“We can help pave the roads of those around us, but we can’t choose their direction.” – Shri Rama

* You can listen to a recording of this post, just scroll to the end.

When you adopt, occasionally worry comes with it. How will my child feel about their adoption? Will they feel like I took them away from their birth family when the birth family’s the ones who chose to not stay in contact? When my child becomes a teenager will he hate me? Will my daughter know how much I love her?

We hear stories from other parents and adoptees about adopted people feeling like their adoptive families took them away from their birth family, they wish they’d had more contact with their birth family, or they turn away from their adoptive family altogether. These situations are rare, but many adoptive parents can’t help but worry. If it’s not a consistent pestering of our hearts, then an occasional one.

First we have to remember that most teens (the non-adopted ones) go through the “horrible parent” phase; we’re horrible, uncaring, stupid, uneducated, mean, and all around “the worst parent on the face of the earth, and how come I ended up with you as a parent?!” It happens. All the time. Adopted children have an ideal to lean on though, and this is where it changes up a bit, or a lot. That ideal is that life would have been better if they’d stayed with their biological family. Most of the time this isn’t the case (excluding cases of corruption in adoption), hence the need for foster care and adoption.

I’ve worried and fretted about my daughter turning against me when all I’ve done is love her. But here’s the thing, I can’t worry about the future because I have no idea what it holds. I still do worry sometimes, but I try not to. I say this as a person who has a rare genetic disease that is worsening by the year and has no cure, so worry is my game, I’m winning. I’ve had plenty of training in how to worry about the impending seriousness of a situation.

we can only pave the road, we can't choose our child's direction

Because of this disease, and because of research done on cancer, I know that worry kills because worry is stress, and stress kills. And although you may not have a deadly disease, stress isn’t good for you either, I’m sure you’ve heard about the many scientific studies done on it’s outcomes. Not good.
As the quote says at the beginning of this post, we can’t determine what our children do in their future or how they feel. However we can love them unconditionally, and be open to talking with them about their birth family, adoption, or reasons they’re in foster care as they’re able to handle it.

All I can do is love my kids with all I have, and that’s what I do. Every day. Because in the end, my daughter may not have feelings of regret surrounding her adoption, she may not wish she lived with her biological family, she may be perfectly content with us.

I would like to add that what I’m talking about isn’t a desire to search for birth family, or make those connections and meet those family members. What I’m talking about goes much farther. The eagerness adoptive and foster children have to get in contact with their biological family is fairly common, however the anger about you adopting or fostering them isn’t the prevailing feeling.

As teens they may be angry, but as I said, many teens are, it’s simply that when they’ve been adopted or fostered they have something tangible to blame. Often this perception will pass and they’ll realize you are their family, the ones who loved them and took care of them, and they can accept their biological relatives as another addition to this family if that family is in a place to participate.

I know you feel like you’re pouring your whole life into your kids, and I’m glad you are because this is what they deserve, no matter how they treat you. They’ve been through trauma, and may take years to heal, years to accept your love and return it.

You may look at your child’s future as an adult and feel animosity at how they took so much of your time and effort, but they’re children and they deserve your unconditional love because they’re innocent. Nothing they’ve been through is fair, and they shouldn’t be expected to fix their hearts when so much damage has been done.

So keep moving forward. Keep reading Lovin’ Adoptin’. Also understand that love for these kids means having guidelines and expectations, you can read more about that in these posts:
Why Consequences & Rewards Don’t Work for Hurting Children
7 Reasons Why Time-In NOT Time-Out
Is Love Enough?

(I only talk about my daughter in this post because my adopted son has autism and doesn’t understand the concept of adoption at this time.)

Do you have any fears about your child’s future and whether they’ll be angry with you or turn away from you? If so, how do you deal with those feelings?

You can read more about talking about birth family in these posts:
Birth Family Relationships (How they can look different for each family and includes a checklist of “5 Factors to Consider in Open Adoptions”)
Questions About Birth Family (How to handle questions about birth family.)


You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, you may need to do this on the web version. You can also “like” my Facebook page and follow me on Twitter and Pinterest for more helpful information and links.

how to help your adopted/foster child sleep (sleep issues part 2)


Sleep issues are a hot topic in the adoption and foster care community. Last week I highlighted why hurting children have problems sleeping in my post, Why Adopted and Foster Children Have Sleep Issues, and as I promised, I’m back this week to give you ideas on how to help your kids sleep. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read the post I wrote last week on sleep. Reason being, if we familiarize ourselves with what’s at the heart of our children’s sleep disturbances we can better help them in a compassionate way.

Now let’s get some rest! How, you ask. First, let’s look at some simple steps to take. You may have already tried these, and if you have, don’t worry, a more in depth plan will follow in this post.

  • Routine – Consistency and schedules are especially important for children who’ve been adopted. Even if your child came from a foster home in Korea that had the sweetest foster mom, your child’s gone through a lot of change, and routine is essential.
    Have a calming routine before bed that does not include screen time, rambunctious activity, bright lights, or sugary snacks. (Preferably only veggies if they’re hungry. Because of food issues and adopted kids, we never denied our daughter food. But, she’s a good eater, so she will eat baby carrots before bed if she’s hungry. You can choose the most nutritious food your child will eat.)
  • Rocking – You can read all about rocking (I’m not just talking about infants) and it’s proven benefits here. Rocking can be done with any child that can sit in your lap. I suggest every parent rock their adopted child (for teens, you can incorporate other rhythmic movement during the day, ideas can be found in the previous link), and rocking before bed will help calm your child.
  • Quiet – Be sure that your child’s room is quiet. If their mind is working overtime, any noise will keep them alert and make their mind wander. Any noise coming from outside their room will make them obsess about what’s being said or done. Some children are worried about what’s happening on the other side of the door, and some wonder what they’re missing out on. They want to join the party! In fact, they want to be in the center of it. 🙂
  • Calming music – Just try it. Don’t listen to any other parenting advice about how they’ll get used to it, and won’t be able to sleep without it. If they can’t, so what. They’re sleeping! Our daughter still uses her lullaby (no words) music at night. It does that extra little bit to keep other noises from seeping into her brain, and lulls her to sleep.
  • Night light – Most parents think of this one, but just want to cover all the bases. If your child has fears, which all adopted kids will have some. I mean if you’re human, you have fears, and a night light can help relieve some fear of the dark. Make sure the light isn’t too bright, and if your child’s taking a nap, be sure that the room is dark enough during the day.

*I was reminded earlier today the importance of considering the child’s background. One foster mom said she let her foster son pick out his own sleeping bag. He’d never slept in a bed so they started with a sleeping bag, where he was comfortable, added a pillow, and then the mattress on the floor, then onto the bed. Always have the nice bed available, but don’t force what they child is anxious about.

The above solutions seem fairly simple, but if, in the past you’ve had children who fell asleep easily it may not occur to you to try these different resolutions. My daughter’s Grandma is a perfect example of this. She’s been running an in-home daycare for forty years, and in that time she hasn’t taken care of one adopted child. I have to assume that every child who’s ever entered her home takes naps without a fuss.

Then my daughter entered the dynamic. She needed to take the occasional nap at Grandma’s during daycare hours. It didn’t work. Why? Because Grandma didn’t set the room up for Payton to have a restful nap. First, Payton’s amped up because she’s at Grandma’s and loves to be around the other kids. Second, noise, noise, noise, and for her, this doesn’t work, her brain cannot shut down without a quiet place to rest. Third, light. Forth, it was a warm house. I wouldn’t have been able to fall asleep, and I’m usually running on some barely there exhaust fumes. The sleep situation wasn’t conducive to sleep, so we must make sure that is taken care of first.

Now we’ll move to the more complex, but often necessary plan to help your child fall and stay asleep.

The following ideas are going to take time, but they’re proven to work. You may come up with reasons why you can’t carry out this plan, but I encourage you to try everything possible to follow through.

Getting your child to sleep has many benefits, all of which I am sure you are aware. A tired parent can become easily irritated, impatient, and forgetful. A tired child can become irritable, angry, excessively hungry, have a short attention span, and an inability to focus (the list goes on). This will cause problems at home and school. I’m not saying sleep is going to solve all your child’s behavior problems, because it won’t, but wouldn’t it be nice if it took care of some of them?

It’s best if the following plan be accomplished with both parents. If your child is attached to one parent and will not let the other parent put them to bed, have that parent help in another area of the house; putting another child to bed, washing dishes, picking up the house. Try to get on the same page and work together. (Have your spouse read my first post on sleep issues so they understand why this needs to be done, and read this one as well.)

The plan below is what helped our daughter truly fall asleep and stay asleep. It was also a big part of our bonding experience because it shows the child in a physical way that we’re there for them.

We can tell our child all we want that we won’t leave them, and they are safe, but they can SEE and trust the physical more readily.

I encourage you to begin with the steps listed above before moving onto these. Make sure all your child’s needs are met before going to bed, make it part of your routine if needed. Have them get the drink of water, go potty, blow their nose, put on chapstick, get the bear, get the blanket. Whatever it is that your child asks you for after bed, make sure it’s done before they go to their room for the night.

Each of these steps we did for an average of two weeks (some were longer). There is no set pattern, as each child is different. Just make sure you do it long enough so as not to set the whole process back.

  • After you have finished the above routine and put your child in bed, sit next to your child’s bed and hold his hand while he falls asleep. If your child won’t hold your hand, lay your hand on his back. Be sure your child is asleep (deep rhythmic breathing) before you leave their side.
    If your child wakes during the night, go to him and do the same thing. If there’s a storm, make considerations to let him sleep in your room (check regulations for foster children – maybe you can camp out on the floor, or all camp in the living room if there’s more than one child).
  • After you’ve held your child’s hand for as long as needed (a couple of weeks or more), move away from his bed. Make yourself comfortable, lay down with a pillow and take a nap.
  • Now you will move to the doorway and sit just inside his room until he falls asleep.
  • Next move outside his door, but leave the door open. If he says anything, reassure him you’re there.
    You may be sitting outside your child’s door longer than you were in their room because you are now out of sight. Over time your child will begin to trust that you’re going to be there, as along as you really are (and they will know).
  • If you close your child’s door at night, it will take an extra step. If you’ve never closed your child’s door at night, there’s no need to now (unless of course it’s too noisy). If you do begin closing the door, expect some anxiety, because this will be a big change for your child. If needed, close your child’s door and sit outside his room. If he calls for you, if at all possible, stay outside the door and reassure him that you’re there.

*The above plan was recommended by Scott Chaussee of Ariel Clinical Services.

Always consider what is happening in your child’s world to cause sleep disturbances.

Think about what happened that day, what’s going to happen in the next week or month. Anxiety can cause exacerbated behaviors in hurting children and the inability to fall asleep is a big one. As your child bonds, they’ll become less anxious, but it’s still something to always be mindful of.

About three years after we implemented this whole routine with our daughter, Payton, it was clearly embedded in her mind. For years, when she put her babies and animals to sleep, she placed a chair outside her door and read a book. That’s exactly what we did with her. Thankfully she didn’t yell and scream from her chair, telling her babies to be quiet. At least we did one thing right.

When we’d had success with this plan, we noticed that many families who had adopted their children around the same time as us had kids who still weren’t sleeping. These families weren’t willing to look at what was causing the sleep issues and neither were they willing to put the time and effort into dealing with it.

This is a short investment for a long term gain.

It will probably take a few months, and some lost time with your spouse, but in the end, you will be so glad you did it, I know we are. In the end, using this technique will help everyone in the family.

*Another post that might be of interest: what happens when hurting children can’t sleep?

  • I would like to talk about sleep aids. I feel there is a time and place for natural remedies, even medication. In fact, we tried a natural remedy (for sleep) with our daughter and it didn’t work. However, I believe there is an underlying cause for most of our children’s sleep issues, and if we don’t get to the bottom of it (or bond – even at night by showing them they’re safe) the lack of sleep will continue and won’t be dealt with at the level it needs to be.
good night

I hope these ideas help your family. May you all begin to rest!

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why consequences & rewards don’t work for hurting children (adoption/foster)

consequences

You can listen to a recording of this post, just scroll down to the bottom of this page and don some earbuds. 🙂

“My child doesn’t respond to consequences, I can take away anything and he doesn’t care.” “Rewards mean nothing to my daughter, I can offer an ice cream at McDonald’s or a new Wii game, it doesn’t matter to her.” I hear these stories ALL. THE. TIME. It’s as though all of us who have children who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized live in the same house! Yes, every child is unique, but there are many similarities in hurting kids.

One of the similarities that’s common in hurting children is their response to consequences, discipline, and rewards. At some point in your journey, you may have been encouraged by other parents to read Love and Logic or attend one of their seminars, other parenting advice may be thrown at you, saying, “I promise, this works.” The problem is, there’s a missing link, their child probably didn’t experience trauma, neglect, or abuse, or at least it didn’t have the same affect on their child.

Love and Logic, Have a New Kid by Friday, as well as other parenting books and classes have some great information, but they aren’t the cure-all for a hurting child.

When we were struggling with our daughter’s behaviors a friend of mine (she had adopted domestically) suggested I read Have a New Kid by Friday. She said, “It works. Find something she cares about and remove it if she makes a wrong choice.” I said, “I’ve tried that.” She replied, adamantly, nodding her head, “There’s something.” I read the book anyway, there were some good ideas, very helpful ones for children who aren’t hurting. But, why don’t consequences and reward systems work for kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized?

Because many adopted and foster children don’t care about the material world around them.

Often they don’t have a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket when they’re young, they aren’t connected to anything, so removing it doesn’t make any difference to them. Neither are rewards important enough for them to turn off their strong emotions and behaviors for them.

The logic part of Love and Logic doesn’t work because hurting kids don’t think logically, their brain isn’t calm enough or reasonable enough to do so.

Their brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for since their birth. This DOES NOT mean they aren’t intelligent, oh no, most children who’ve been through trauma are very smart (all about that in another post), but logical they are not. Not until they’ve made significant attachments.

These kiddos are constantly in fight or flight mode. There are three responses that children have to trauma – fight, flight, and dissociation. When looking at the trauma response in adults, Putnam says, “Among the constellation of symptoms associated with the trauma response in adults is dissociation. Dissociation is simply disengaging from stimuli in the external world and attending to an ‘internal’ world. Daydreaming, fantasy, depersonalization, and derealization are all examples of dissociation.” Putnam goes on to explain what happens to a soldier during battle and how dissociation can take affect, and he concludes, “It is this very ability to dissociate which can keep soldiers alive.”

It is much the same for our children. They have connected to the world around them; what’s going on, where they are, and who is present, not a person or item. They were in life preserving mode before they came to us, and it’s going to take a lengthy amount of time to learn that their new parents and caretakers can be trusted.

It will take more than a few months to learn they don’t have to fight, flee, or dissociate from their life any longer. I’m not encouraging you to throw out all consequences or rewards, we need to use them to lay a foundation for their future. Your child still needs to know they can’t get away with hitting, tearing apart the house, or yelling.

Some ways to begin to curb your child’s behaviors are through time-ins.

Time-ins are time with you, if your child is small enough, that means sitting on your lap, preferably while rocking (make sure you are safe and not harming your child). If your child is bigger, you can have your child sit in a chair near you. You can also have your child do something with you, preferably not something fun if this is being utilized as a consequence.

Using natural consequences lays that foundation I mentioned earlier. An example of this is if your daughter draws on the couch with a marker, she can’t use markers or crayons for a set period of time. (I don’t recommend using natural consequences with food related instances.) Remember that you may not see a difference in your child’s behavior, they have to make attachments, then their brain will calm down and heal so they can think logically and care about those around them.

When you have a child who’s come from a neglectful or abusive situation, your parenting techniques need to be tweaked.

Dozens of times I’ve seen parents of older biological children say, “My other kids turned out great, what’s the problem? It can’t be me, because I did it right four times.” What they don’t see is that parenting a hurting child and one who’s been loved consistently is vastly different. Parents think they can implement the same techniques they used with their biological children with their hurting children and it will all turn out the same. Sadly, they’re wrong.

Hurting kids come with a whole different set of rules, and many of those rules are difficult for us to understand. One big one is that it takes time. Lots of time. Are you willing to be patient with your children? Are you willing to show them love, read on this website about how to parent your child, and be consistent?

  • A child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized will react differently than a child who has been loved consistently to consequences, discipline, and rewards.
  • Hurting children aren’t connected to the material items around them, so removing them won’t make a big difference immediately. You can use these discipline techniques, but understand you are laying a foundation for later.
  • A hurting child’s brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for consistently.
  • A hurting child doesn’t think logically because their brain isn’t calm. This doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent!
  • Often dissociating is what kept our children alive in their neglectful, abusive environment, and this will carry over to their new environment – your home. It will take time for them to heal.
  • Use time-ins when behavior is unacceptable. CHOOSE your battles. Use consequences and rewards to lay a foundation.
  • Parenting techniques for hurting children need to be modified.

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Be sure to check out my CONTENTS page for more posts on how to help your foster and adopted children and your family.
You can receive every post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on the web version. For more helpful information and links you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and Pinterest.