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When a Child's Behavior Problem Threatens the Adoptive Family


I received an email regarding an adopted child's behavior problems. According to the adoptive dad, the child was a physical threat to his younger brother. This child's behavior problem was, of course, a major concern for the adoptive family who were wanting help for the child as well as ideas on protecting the rest of the family.

Sometimes adoptive families find themselves stuck in such dilemmas. The children that we bring into our homes have sometimes suffered abuse and neglect that impacts behaviors. We need to help these children through the hard times, however, we also need to protect the rest of the family.

The following is part of my reply to this family in crisis:

You asked about my recommended first steps. Please know that this is just opinions as I’m not a therapist or counselor, just someone who has traveled down similar roads.

I also don’t know what state you are in, or country for that matter, and things are different from state to state.

  • Have you sought counseling for the child? If not – you need to. Ask around and find out which therapists come recommended. Look for a therapist that is knowledgeable about adoption and adoption issues. If the therapist is not supportive of you as a parent – get a new therapist.

  • Document all of the child's behavior problems and acting out. If it’s not written it didn’t happen. Get a notebook and start documenting. Go back in time a bit if you can remember. Or put it in your computer and keep a hard copy as well. Record the date of the event, who was involved, what happened, and how it was resolved. Remember to record the actions you took as a parent.

  • Start investigating your child's diagnosis. Learn all you can.

  • Get a medication evaluation. Perhaps medication will help with the child's behaviors.

  • Get any other testing that is recommended by the therapist. Deeper psychological or neurological testing may help in further identifying problems.

  • Put a safety plan in place. Make sure that it is known that you have done this – again – put it in writing and let the therapist know.

  • Get a group of friends and/or family members together who will be there for you in times of stress. Ask them to be there for you and your family when breaks from the child are needed.

  • Take care of the relationship between you and your spouse or partner. Consider a family therapist for you and your spouse. Adoption is stressful and parenting a child with behavior problems can take its toll on your relationship. If you don’t want to do that – make sure that you keep weekly or bi-weekly date nights. (no kids allowed) Keep communication lines open.

  • Look into group homes for your own information and preparation. But know that group homes will probably not take a child younger than 10. Usually, it’s a LONG road to get a child admitted. This is a last resort option for severe cases.

How do you know when a child's behavior problem is too much or when the child has "crossed the line." That is what a professional is for, in my opinion. So, get a therapist on board and start documenting. Do NOT skimp on documentation. Do NOT skimp on support for your child and your family.

Good luck and keep in touch.

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