Maintain Consistency and Avoid Anger
Most children know just which buttons to push in order to create emotional upset in their parents, and they may seem to get real pleasure from the process. This is especially true of children who were neglected or abused before adoption. In fact, adoption researchers have concluded that adopted children provoke their parents to anger as a form of control and manipulation that comes from feeling helpless.
As a parent, you need to learn to control your own temper and always be conscious of the fact that your behavior provides a role model for your child. If you acknowledge that your child's sadness, fear, and anger underlies his behavior and react calmly and lovingly, you will strengthen his attachment to you. His attachment will allow him to learn better behavior.
Dr. Karyn Purvis's book,
It takes two to tango, and sometimes when a child misbehaves or acts out, the parent has played a role in bringing that behavior to light. That is not to say that you are the cause of your child's problems. However, parents can unintentionally do things that actually ratchet situations up a level. For example, did you push through your preschooler's normal naptime to get some errands done and then he had a meltdown in the middle of the grocery store? No one is perfect, and there may be times when your child's behavior is impacted by the fact that you didn't notice something that was going on or did not respond to it appropriately. It can also be easy to react to your child's behavior with anger, adding fuel to the fire.
Before your child comes home to you, discuss parenting styles and discipline strategies with your spouse or partner. Commit to each other that you will work out any misunderstandings or differences behind closed doors and not in front of your child. You must always present a united front, because your child must know that he can't divide and conquer, something most children attempt at least a few times.
If you adopt a baby, you'll have some time to work out compromises and strategies, but if you adopt a toddler or older child, you must know from day one how your partner will react.
Understand that neither of you can read the other's mind, and what you think is important may not be important to your partner. If you're a single parent, you must still line up a support person who will align himself with you and agree with the kind of parenting required by your situation.
If your adopted child has behavior issues that put other children in the family or school setting at risk, you have an obligation to protect them. You may have to physically remove your child from the setting, and you must take control. How you do so, however, will be critical.
The following are some strategies for disciplining children who are unable to respond normally:
Clarify expectations and offer simple choices. For example, say, “Use your words. You may not kick your sister. Tell her you are angry, then either sit in your mad chair or ask me to help you make a better choice.”
Respond quickly and present consequences. Your child's emotional centers drove him to lash out and he may not remember hitting or pinching after a few minutes. This is why you or your support person must be close enough to intercede and why you must always award an appropriate consequence.
Retrain and redo. Simple punishment doesn't work for some children. Stop the behavior, then help your child go back to the point where he made the wrong choice, and guide him to a better choice.
Offer praise for success. Just as you can't ignore negative behavior, you must reinforce good behavior, over and over again.
In taking control, you must be careful not to yell or even speak loudly; your actions should be calm and immediate. Again, most of all, you must model how caring adults respond to upsetting situations.
If your child is a significant danger to himself or others, get professional advice. He could need in-patient treatment, but usually you can solve the problem with the help of your support system and a good therapist. A child in this situation has probably been ordered around and manipulated by adults who hurt, belittled, or damaged him.
Be sure you understand your child's developmental level when you figure out consequences for misbehavior. For example, if your five-year-old throws a fit at the dinner table, or exhibits some other unacceptable behavior, it's okay to remove him from the scene for a few minutes. Trying to have an in-depth, rational discussion with him about his behavior is not age appropriate and will not be effective.