Last week, we shared the story of Katia’s family and the struggles they’ve faced. Katia’s parents experienced frustration, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear. They were trying to survive – day by day – and focused solely on keeping their family safe and together.
Then, they learned to address Katia’s behavior in a different way.
After years of watching traditional strategies fail, Katia’s parents found alternative ways of helping their child that were actually effective. They let go of suggestions by friends, family members, and even professionals they had worked with prior to meeting Sarah. They let go of many of their own beliefs about parenting and how they felt things “should” be done. It wasn’t easy – but it worked.
So many families have experiences like Katia’s parents – not knowing what to do, whose advice to take, and how to help their child. We’ve seen firsthand the confusion and frustration that comes with parenting an adopted child with challenging behaviors in the face of (ineffective) advice from well-meaning, but minimally knowledgeable, professionals. We’ve seen parents who were willing to do anything to help their child, but just couldn’t find what worked.
Traditional parenting methods don’t work.
This is news, I know. They should work. They probably worked on you. And me. But, we aren’t facing the unique challenges our adopted kiddos are facing.
ONE | The Tough Love Approach. This includes yelling, spanking, planned ignoring, and withholding time together as a consequence. The belief is if we show our child their behavior is unacceptable and don’t “give in,” regardless of how they react, they will submit to our requests and change their actions. The reality? Confrontational strategies, such as yelling, tend to trigger big reactions in our kids. It escalates their sense of fear and kick-starts their fight-or-flight response. Physical punishment, such as spanking or hitting, elicits the same reaction – only stronger. It can even trigger flashbacks if your child has a trauma history. Withholding attention or conversation as a consequence for our child acting out is likely to escalate behavior as well. You may see her yell, throw things, or even become physically aggressive in an attempt to obtain feedback. Check out this video from Dr. Edward Tronick to learn about our innate need for connection.
TWO | The Rewards/Consequences Approach. This would involve any behavior modification plans, sticker charts, and, of course, rewards and consequences. These are probably the most frequently promoted strategies by professionals working with our kids and their families. With certain children, this approach is effective. Our kiddos, however, do not respond well. Have you seen your child agree to stop [cursing, yelling, lying about homework] in exchange for a desired reward, only to have them sabotage their success on the last day? Our children do not believe they are capable of meeting expectations and, rather than face disappointment and shame, they will take the opportunity off the table themselves. It’s safer that way. Even worse, each time they do not meet the standards of the behavior plan – even by their own choice – they feel worse about themselves and their capabilities. This approach escalates feelings of defensiveness and a drive to self-protect, which often results in oppositional or aggressive behavior.
THREE | The Laid-Back Approach. This approach involves limited boundary-setting and waiting for our kids to “grow up” or learn to do things differently in their own time. It gives them the space to do and say what they want or need to in the moment. Unfortunately, the message they receive is “we don’t care what you do.” As much as our children fight against limits and rules, they also crave structure and a strong parental figure. When there are no limits, our kids acting out behavior will increase – in an attempt to trigger a reaction, even a negative one. They’re not confident they can keep themselves safe and make healthy decisions and they need to know you can.
So, what does work?
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Until then, have you tried the approaches above? Let us know your experiences in the comments below along with what you’re struggling with right now.