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

Section 14
Common Behaviors of Adopted Children

CEUs Question 14 | 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 toileting problems.  These included different customs, bedwetting, the training technique, soiling and intestinal difficulties.

On this track, we will discuss three common behaviors and possible solutions.  These will include control battles, temper tantrums the phrase, "You’re not my real mom."

As you know, most human beings strive for agreement between their inner and outer lives.  Children whose inner feelings are chaotic, angry and painful find agreement when their outer lives are that way too.  That may be the only time when they are truly comfortable, when their inner and outer lives match.  Understanding the pain beneath the behavior can help a child bring his or her inner life into harmony with a more peaceful outer life.  Although no solution works for every child or parent, I have found several examples that have been helpful to adoptive families.

3 Common Behaviors & Possible Solutions

Problem #1 - Control Battles
First, let’s discuss control battles.  Control lies at the heart of many behaviors.  Parents, too, can have control issues that aggravate behavior.  Learning how to pick your battles wisely is one of the biggest challenges of parenting.  One technique that many families use in dealing with control issues is to give choices and let the child take the consequences.

Allen, age 37 and Carrie, age 38, had an adopted son, Austin, age 10.  Carrie stated, "Austin and I were leaving the house in frigid weather.  Austin didn’t want to wear his coat and argued with me about whether it was really cold outside or not.  I shrugged, said, ‘Whatever,’ and got in the car.  About a mile down the road Austin said, ‘I’m cold,’ through blue lips and chattering teeth.  I replied, ‘I bet you are.’  Since then, he thinks about it seriously when I suggest that he wear a coat."

The natural consequences of being very, very cold taught Austin the value of a coat more quickly and effectively than an argument with Carrie might have.  I have found that this technique works best when parents don’t mention the lesson being imparted.  Saying, "I told you so" might only restart the battle.

Giving choices can also prevent battles before they start.  I provided Allen and Carrie with this example.  A child may start a battle every night at dinner when his mother pours him a drink.  If he is given milk, he wants juice; if he is given juice, he wants milk.  Instead, his mom might ask, "Do you want milk or juice?"  If he feels like he has a choice, he may become less difficult.  I stated to Allen and Carrie, "If Austin refuses to choose when you provide him with choices, you might restate the choices with the implied third choice that if he doesn’t decide, you will."

I also suggested to Carrie and Allen that if Austin fought everything they asked him to do, they might try asking Austin, "What do you think will work?"  In a later session, Allen and Carrie described an ongoing argument they were having with Austin about taking out the trash.  Allen stated, "I finally asked Austin, ‘What’s going to work here?  I need the trash taken out!’  Austin replied, ‘I hate taking out the trash, but I’d do the dishes!’  So, now I take out the trash and Austin does the dishes three nights a week."

Problem #2 - Temper Tantrums
Second, let’s discuss temper tantrums.  If a child throws tantrums often, his parents will probably end up walking on eggshells trying to prevent them.  While temper tantrums can be trying in 2-year-olds, many parents find them absolutely infuriating in older children.  While I have found that a cure for temper tantrums is usually helping the child deal with the feelings behind them, a short-term solution is often necessary at first.

Max and Amy, both aged 35, had adopted Conner, age 4.  Max stated, "Conner will throw fits any time he doesn’t get something he wants.  If we’re in the grocery store and we don’t buy him candy, he throws a fit.  If we want to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go, he throws a fit.  What do you suggest?"

I stated, "You might try just stepping back with a bored expression on your face and calmly telling Conner to let you know when he is done.  The more you react to his tantrums, the more likely he is to continue them.  If you are at home, you may insist that Conner rage in his room only, again, with as little reaction as you can muster.  A behavioral tantrum is no fun if it doesn’t get you anything, and the less reaction Conner gets, the more quickly he is likely let go of this behavior. 

"Unfortunately, getting Conner to his room may require that you carry him there.  If you cannot do that, the rest of the family can leave the room where he is.  After the tantrum has ended, you might calmly inform Conner of the consequences you have decided upon.  I have found that this works best if a parent and child have agreed upon the consequences ahead of time."

Problem #3 - You’re not My Real Mom
Third, in addition to control battles and temper tantrums, the phrase, "You’re not my real mom!"  Virtually every adoptive parent hears this at one time or another.  The first reaction is usually hurt feelings, followed by anger. 

Veronica, age 40, was a single, adoptive mom to Jerry, age 11.  Veronica stated, "I had overheard Jerry cursing with his friends, and I was not happy about it.  I had a talk with Jerry, and said that I didn’t want to hear him cursing again, and all of a sudden he yells at me, ‘You’re not my real mom!  You can’t tell me what to do!’  What was I supposed to say to that?  I was so hurt and shocked, and I wondered what I had done wrong!"

I have found that parents often wonder what they did wrong when their child says, "You’re not my real parents!", or figure that the child is trying to use the emotional power of this statement to get something.  In many cases, that’s true.  I stated to Veronica, "Jerry probably knew it would distract you to say that, and he was more likely to get what he wanted if you were feeling bad about yourself.  If Jerry is being manipulative, I suggest you say something like, ‘I am not your birth mother, but that is not what we are discussing right now.  We are talking about your behavior.’  If you act defensive Jerry will probably use this ploy more often."

On the other hand, children don’t often say "You’re not my real mom" only when they are trying to wound or distract their parents.  I stated, "Jerry could be thinking about his birth mother and wondering how her life would have been different with him.  Jerry may be experiencing a lot of angry feelings about the events leading up to his adoption with you for being what his birth mother could not be.  If you think this is the case, you might say something like, ‘Oh, I can see you have been thinking about your birth mom.  We can talk about that later, if you like.  Right now, however, we need to discuss your behavior.’  A calm response is probably the best way to stop Jerry’s taunting exchange."

I explained that it was also possible that Jerry needed permission to love his previous family.  It is often assumed that adopted children know that it’s okay to love both families.  However, I have worked with many families whose children did not believe they would not have to choose until they were told that they wouldn’t.  I stated, "If Jerry keeps throwing, ‘You’re not my real mom!’ at you constantly, or compares you to his birth mother, it may be that he needs to hear, ‘You can love us both.’"

On this track, we have discussed common behaviors and possible solutions.  These have included control battles, temper tantrums, lying and stealing and the phrase, "You’re not my real mom."

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Elam, K. K., Harold, G. T., Neiderhiser, J. M., Reiss, D., Shaw, D. S., Natsuaki, M. N., Gaysina, D., Barrett, D., & Leve, L. D. (2014). Adoptive parent hostility and children’s peer behavior problems: Examining the role of genetically informed child attributes on adoptive parent behavior. Developmental Psychology, 50(5), 1543–1552.

Hornfeck, F., Bovenschen, I., Heene, S., Zimmermann, J., Zwönitzer, A., & Kindler, H. (2019). Emotional and behavior problems in adopted children—The role of early adversities and adoptive parents’ regulation and behavior. Child Abuse & Neglect, 98, Article 104221.

Lawler, J. M., Koss, K. J., & Gunnar, M. R. (2017). Bidirectional effects of parenting and child behavior in internationally adopting families. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(5), 563–573.

Lewis, E. E., Dozier, M., Ackerman, J., & Sepulveda-Kozakowski, S. (2007). The effect of placement instability on adopted children's inhibitory control abilities and oppositional behavior. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1415–1427.

Melançon, F., Cossette, L., Smith, C., Beauvais-Dubois, C., Cyr, C., & Smolla, N. (2019). Parenting stress of adoptive mothers, mother–child conflict, and behavior problems during adolescence among international adoptees. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(8), 988–993.

Tan, T. X. (2018). Model minority of a different kind? Academic competence and behavioral health of Chinese children adopted into White American families. Asian American Journal of Psychology, 9(3), 169–178.

Online Continuing EducationQUESTION 14
What are four common behaviors that frustrate parents? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

This CD set has covered such topics as:   motives for adoption; four factors of parenting; age, race and disabilities in adoption; surviving the wait; techniques for breaking the news; preparing siblings; preparing the new child; trans-religious adoption; sleep adjustments; eating difficulties; toileting problems and three common behaviors and possible solutions.

I hope you have found the information to be both practical and beneficial. We appreciate that you've chosen the Healthcare Training Institute as a means for receiving your continuing education credit.

Other Home Study Courses we offer include: Treating Teen Self Mutilation; Treating Post Holiday Let-Down and Depression; Living with Secrets: Treating Childhood Sexual Trauma; Interventions for Anxiety Disorders with Children and Adults; and Balancing the Power Dynamic in the Therapeutic Relationship. 

I wish you the best of luck in your practice. Thank you.  Please consider us for future home study needs.


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