I’ve met a lot of adoptive families. We worked together for hours each week, in their homes, trying to make things better. I started to notice that with change (of any kind) came tougher behaviors from the kiddos. Something as small as a new kind of toothpaste could trigger a wave of irritability in the teens I worked with. You may have noticed this in your own child and thought, “Seriously? It’s toothpaste. Don’t be a diva.”
Larger transitions, like the start or end of a school year, were tough. There’s something deeply frustrating about your child acting out because they’re being told they have to do something. It feels like they’re choosing to make it harder or trying to push our buttons. Transitions can be harder for adopted kids, as they’ve experienced some major changes in their lives already.
What does she have to worry about? Going to school? I’ve got bigger problems than that… I work 40 hours a week and take care of this whole family. School… big deal. She’s just trying to make things difficult, like always. I’m not giving in to this behavior. She’s going to school and I’m not going to hear another word about it. She’s not going to get what she wants acting this way.
Ever had this inner monologue? You’re not alone. These are automatic thoughts. Our brain helps us process incoming information and understand the meaning behind our experiences without us even realizing. It uses past events as a reference for the present. For example, if your mother had a certain “look” before she’d get angry, you probably assess others with a similar “look” to be mad.
Now, think about going back to school after three months of sweet freedom. Let’s take a peek inside your kiddo’s head:
Oh my gosh, back to school? Already? Ugh… that means I have to sit in that room with 25 other freakin’ kids! They stare at me… I know they do. And the hallways are so loud… I never know who’s coming up behind me. I wish I could do my work at home. And those teachers? Hah! They are the worst! They always yell at me and say I’m not paying attention. Well, they wouldn’t be either if they had to make sure no one was going to jump out and hurt them! I hate going to that stupid place. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go!
Now, think about the behaviors you noticed as August came to a close this year. Was your child more oppositional? Grouchy? Short-tempered? Did he lash out when the topic of school came up? Did he flat out say, “I’m not going,” every chance he got? If so, I’d imagine that was quite nerve-wracking and frustrating for you. Our kids are not always the best communicators, but if we consider their internal experiences these behaviors start to make more sense. Once we understand the behaviors, we are in a better position to make a bring about change.
One of the most powerful ways to have more peaceful transitions is to consider alternate meanings behind your kid’s behavior.
3 Steps to More Peaceful Transitions
ONE | Take A Minute
Your child has done or said something that caused you to feel angry, upset, or frustrated. Before responding, take a minute. Seriously, a full 60 seconds, and breathe. Remind yourself the ideas racing through your head are automatic thoughts and you need to take a second to consider alternative meanings. The first few times this is really tough, but I promise it gets easier.
TWO | Real Talk
When the minute is up, take a breath and ask your child, “what’s up? You seem [angry, upset, pissed off].” If they identified a feeling already, use their language. Allow him the space to speak freely about his feelings, why he’s having them, and what he wants to do about it. Just listen, nod, and act curious. You can say things like, “uh huh… can you tell me more about that?” or “oh wow, I wonder what that was like for you…” The goal here is to help your child express himself in a calmer, more appropriate way, while gaining an understanding of his perspective. You will notice your kiddo gradually go from pacing and yelling to sitting down and speaking conversationally.
THREE | Assume the Best
Now that you’ve gathered more information on your child’s experience of the situation, start to consider alternatives to the automatic thoughts you initially had. Was he feeling left out? Afraid? Unloved? Can you connect his perspective to the actions you saw earlier? Come up with at least two alternative meanings for his behavior and assume the best. This means, instead of going to the worst-case scenario (i.e., my kid wanted to make me freak out because he thinks it’s fun), make a conscious effort to choose the best (i.e., my kid was feeling unimportant because I forgot to buy his favorite toothpaste, wanted to tell me that, but didn’t know how).
By taking these steps with your child, you’ll have a greater understanding of his experience and be able to talk openly about his transition difficulties. He may need reassurance that he can call you throughout the day if needed or that his teachers will give him permission to use the restroom at all times. When you open up this dialogue, you give yourself the opportunity to act on your child’s needs and help make a smoother transition.
Think about the last tough situation you had with your kiddo and the automatic thoughts you had. Share them in the comments below along with two alternative meanings. If you’re having trouble getting started, just share your thoughts and we will help you identify the alternative meanings.
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Find this helpful? You may be interested in our Parenting from the Inside Out Workshop.