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Adopting a "Problem Child": A Journey of Patience and Love

Adoption can be a huge life event for children and parents both. Often, children entering into adoptive relationships from broken homes or the foster care system have behavioral issues, and these may range from mild to severe. They may resolve quickly once the adopted child is placed in a stable, loving environment, or the child may require professional help or counseling. As new adoptive parents, many adults are overwhelmed by the behaviors they witness.


The first step to addressing problematic behavior is understanding the child's background. Many adoptive children have come from neglectful or abusive homes. As a result, they may be emotional, angry, or depressed. They may also be aggressive and disregard authority. Understand that in these situations, the child is likely exhibiting behaviors that they learned from their birth parents or previous caregivers.

The child is probably not inherently problematic. They could be suffering from emotional trauma due to their lack of stability during the formative years of their lives. Problematic behaviors are often indicative of previous trauma, but by providing a safe, consistent, and loving environment, you can have a profoundly positive impact on their life.

Making Changes

There are many ways you can help your adopted child change his or her behavior. Start by making sure the child feels safe and loved in the home, or at least that this atmosphere exists. If they come from a place where neglect or abuse was common, your child may not feel like he or she can trust adults. If behavior issues in the past have caused foster families to "return" the child, they may worry that you will do the same.

Start by setting clear rules. Boundaries are very important for kids and teens, but they may be even more important for children who are adopted out of a difficult situation. Set up a framework and a structure for dealing with broken rules. Decide ahead of time what kinds of punishments will be used. It's often a good idea to include the child in these discussions, as some punishments may seem overly-harsh or trigger a severely negative response in the child. Avoid negative reinforcement, physical punishments, and raised voices whenever possible. Your child will benefit from your restraint. Once your rules are set, enforce them consistently and follow through every time.

The journey of adopting a child or a teen is a beautiful one, but it can also be very difficult. Often, adoptive children are suffering in ways that we cannot understand. Addressing the negative behaviors associated with these difficult upbringings is a complex, long-term process. Regardless of how difficult or problematic your child's actions may be, maintaining consistency and providing a loving environment for that child has the potential to make all the difference.

If your adopted child or foster child is suffering from emotional trauma or behavioral issues, check out this book on Amazon.


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