As the number of adoptions with younger
kids diminishes, when the parents have time for remediation before the
additional stress of school performance and peer pressure arrives, and
the number of adoptions with older and more impaired kids grows, behavior
issues take more and more prominent place in the lives of adoptive families.
Dr. Patty Cogen, the author of the bestseller "Parenting
your internationally adopted child: from your first hours together through
the teen years," keeps rethinking typical approach to these
kids' remediation and offers
a lot of new observations and techniques in her online class
"The first year home: what to expect and how to respond."
Below we publish an introduction to the chapter on working with the
out of control child from the online class that extends the findings
published in the book.
Dr. P. Cogen
A child who has lost a birth mom will have to acquire
strong survival skills. One survival skill is to "expect neglect".
If a child expects care, and care is not forthcoming, the child will
ultimately be in danger. For example, a mother holds an infant's bottle,
but in an orphanage most children have their bottle's propped up and
learn quickly to hold their own bottles. To expect care, to expect a
bottle to be held is to invite starvation.
For an older child in an orphanage setting, the expectation
that food will remain on the plate until the child eats it is foolish.
Children survive by gobbling their food and grabbing the food of others.
These behaviors (eating rapidly, not chewing, stealing other's food,
getting food from any source possible, being sneaky, taking risks) are
all vital for survival. They are the skills a child who expects neglect
will use even when that child has left the orphanage.
Children who feel alone in the world feel that
everything, everyone are out of control. These children become the "Royal
Boss" types because this approach to life helps them feel in control.
They tell others what to do, they become irate if routines are not followed,
they demand perfection of themselves and of others. "You always
make my oatmeal with milk, you can't substitute water today!" A
six, or ten, or twelve year old might shout furiously at mom. The least
change can make a child feel out of control and the fight or flight
syndrome or the shutdown may occur. If mom responds casually, the fight
might go on for an hour; or the child may chose not to eat: "I
won't eat this horrible breakfast, I've starved before and I'll starve
again." Here the child is reliving his or her experience of being neglected in the past and is mobilizing
survival skills to manage the feelings that arise. Denying hunger is
to be in control of it!
Seeing a child out of control, it is easy for a parent
to slip into the same desperate place. Reasoning, consequences and logic
don't help a child who is in fight-or-flight or shutdown state. It may
seem as though the child is in a glass cage where he or she can't be
reached, can't hear or feel the parent's care. At such times, children
also tend to pull in all sorts of unrelated reasons for their anger.
In fact they just can not bring themselves to say, "that little
bit of change scared me to death." To avoid feeling manipulated,
refocus the discussion on the initial trigger for anger and look for
and identify for your child what changed.
But when parents feel out of control they often become
desperate and look for a simple fix for the problem. This can lead to
dangerous choices as ways to "control" the out of control
Some writers have recommended "holding therapies"
in which the parent controls the child's behavior by holding him or
her tightly until the child acquiesces to the parents' rules. Professional
mental health practitioners never engage in or suggest that parents
engage in such activities with their child. Holding therapies and other
coercive therapies have never been evaluated in a professional way,
nor have they been scientifically proven to be effective. Even more
important, a coercive therapy can push a child into a deeper and deeper
fight-or-flight or shutdown experience. These states put dramatic and
drastic strains on the heart, among other organs. When a child shuts
down, breathing and heart rate slow dramatically. At least one child
has died and both a parent and therapist been convicted of causing the
child's death using coercive techniques.
Understanding the physiological roots of survival skills
of your child will enable you as a parent to understand what to do to
help your child, and what not to do.