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Adoption Techniques for Treating Adoptive Parent Issues
Adoptive Parent continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 2
Effective Parenting

CEUs Question 2 | CEUs Test | Table of Contents | Adoption
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed Motives for Adoption.  These have included Love and a Good Home, the "Savior Complex," and the "Feelings About Adoption" Technique.

Do you have a client who is worried or unsure about how he or she will parent an adopted child?  Do you feel he or she needs reassurance? 

On this track, we will discuss four factors of parenting.  These will include commitment, flexibility, empathy and intuition.  As you listen, think of your client.  How do you respond to him or her in these areas?

4 Factors of Effective Parenting

Factor #1 - Commitment
First, let’s discuss commitment.  As you know, parenthood is not a disposable commodity.  Children available for adoption may be poor, malnourished, orphaned or have serious behavioral difficulties, but they are human.  They need the same love and security that their parents do.

Few parents would willingly relinquish their birth-children because developmental, medical or behavioral problems made them difficult to raise.  However, some families have disrupted adoptive placements, or returned the child to state or agency custody, due to reasons concerning medical or behavior problems.  For example, one agency received a phone call from a prospective client who asked, "What is your return policy?"!

Many consider adoption to be a "second best" option to biological children.  For some perspectives, adoptive parenting becomes a back-up plan.  However, each move a child experiences reduces the chances that he or she will find a permanent home.  Simply put, your client ideally needs to be committed to his or her adopted children as deeply and unequivocally as he or she would with birth-children. 

I find I need to explain to some clients, "All children can have medical problems, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems.  Parenthood does not come with guarantees.  The one thing the successful adoptive parents I’ve talked to have in common is that they view themselves as parents unconditionally."

A client may ask, "But what if the child has serious emotional issues?"  Perhaps a child has true attachment difficulties and is a danger to him- or herself and the family, for example, if a child has depression after a move, and chooses to take that out with suicidal behaviors, in extreme cases.  Perhaps the child chooses to act out his or her anger about moving in the form of violence toward family members.  Should families disrupt adoptions or discontinue it for these reasons?  While it is understandable that families cannot continue to live in a dangerous situation, there are options short of disruption, which is permanent. 

I explain to parents in these cases, "Children with attachment difficulties may require residential treatment, meaning the child lives in a home away from his or her family.  They visit or call the child, and still call him or her their son or daughter.  Such a commitment proves to the child that he or she is still loved and accepted, even if he or she cannot live at home."

It is unfair to say that adoptive placements should never disrupt.  In some cases, disruption or discontinuance of the adoption, may be in the child’s best interests.  Adoptive parents should, however, be determined to stick with the placement until no other option is available.  The trusted biological parents in these children’s lives have oftentimes hurt these children, and this may be repeatedly.  Many of these children will have problems with yet another rejection.

Factor #2 - Flexibility
Second, let’s discuss flexibility.  Agencies look for parents who are flexible and have realistic expectations.  I have found with my clients that in order to be a successful parent, many have adoptive parents need to be willing to accommodate various personalities and to concentrate on the most serious behavior problems first, leaving the minor behavior problems for later. 

If a child has been abused or has serious developmental delays, he or she may never meet the parent’s initial expectations.  Do you need to be clear with your prospective adoptive parents by stating to them, "You can alter your expectations, but not the child."?  Have you found, as I have, that many prospective adoptive parents have a mental picture of what their child will be like, and spend much time planning how they will relate to their fantasy child?  However, seldom does the reality mesh with the fantasy.

Many children arrive in their families with numerous behaviors that need to be adjusted.  Many families address the most serious behaviors, such as suicidal or violent behaviors, first and leave minor ones until the child has settled in.  This may mean that small but annoying issues, like table manners, are not addressed for quite some time. 

In the exhausting first weeks of placement, it may be unreasonable for a parent or child to attempt to change every behavior.  Parents sometimes have to change their long-term expectations too.  A parent who feels education is a top priority may have trouble accepting a child who turns out to have learning disabilities.  Children who arrive at an older age may already have ideas about their career choices, too, and may not listen to suggestions made by the adoptive parents.

Factor #3 - Empathy
Third, in addition to commitment and flexibility, let’s discuss empathy.  I find I need to state to adoptive parents, "Empathy is the ability to identify mentally with a person so that you can understand his or her feelings.  Children who have lost their birth families, for whatever reason, will feel abandoned and rejected.  Through empathy, you can see things through their child’s eyes."

Have you found, as I have, that parents can use the memories of their most profound losses to help them relate to their children?  For example, if they have lost someone close to them, through death, divorce, or estrangement, even as an adult, they may be better able to empathize with their child.  As you may know, losing a parent can be a traumatic experience, even for adults with mature coping skills.  How much more so is it for a child?

If  parents can draw on their own issues of separation and loss, they may be better equipped to handle their child’s emotional needs.  Of course there will likely be days when the child may wish he or she was not adopted, regardless of how much their parents love them.  There will probably always be missing pieces in the child’s life, and you will not be able to supply them.  It is difficult to watch your child struggle with her sadness and anger, but true empathy, offered at the proper time, can help.

Factor #4 - Intuition
Fourth, let’s discuss intuition.  Intuition, the ability to discern what is happening in a situation without being told, is also a helpful quality for parents.  Intuition can give a parent the ability to see when emotional issues are masquerading as behavioral problems.  Parents can often tell when their child is having a lousy day, is tired, or is not feeling well.  It can be considerably harder to make those calls if the parent has known his or her eight-year-old for only six months! 

However, if the child is normally well-behaved, and then acts totally obnoxious for several days in a row, it’s a pretty safe bet that something is going on emotionally.  Instead of the parent focusing on how his behavior affects him or her, the parent can stand back and see if there is a pattern that will explain his or her actions.

Do you have a client who might benefit from hearing this track?  On this track, we have discussed Four Factors of Parenting.  These have included commitment, flexibility, empathy and intuition.

On the next track, we will discuss Age, Race and Disabilities in Adoption.  This will include Which Age?, Trans-racial Adoption and Adopting the Disabled.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Canzi, E., Molgora, S., Fenaroli, V., Rosnati, R., Saita, E., & Ranieri, S. (2019). “Your stress is my stress”: A dyadic study on adoptive and biological first-time parents. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 8(4), 197–207.

Carnaghi, A., Anderson, J., & Bianchi, M. (2020). On the origin of beliefs about the sexual orientation and gender-role development of children raised by gay-male and heterosexual parents: An Italian study. Men and Masculinities, 23(3-4), 636–660.

Clauss-Ehlers, C. S. (2017). In search of an evidence-based approach to understand and promote effective parenting practices. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 6(3), 135–153.

Lindhiem, O., Vaughn-Coaxum, R. A., Higa, J., Harris, J. L., Kolko, D. J., & Pilkonis, P. A. (2019). Development and validation of the Knowledge of Effective Parenting Test (KEPT) in a nationally representative sample. Psychological Assessment, 31(6), 781–792.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 2
What are four factors of parenting? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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