Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You Part 1

Hi, thanks for joining me for the Series “Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You”. If you missed the introduction, you can find it here. Last month, our focus was PLAY and ways to play or use home therapy for free. We’ll have more posts on that in the future, but the theme for the month of June is “Adoption.”

My mother had a pressure cooker. Remember those? Not the new fancy ones. The old ones that had the small metal cylinder on the top that wobbled and whistled like it was going to blow to kingdom come. My mother had a love-hate relationship with the pressure cooker and often blew before it did. Any child who was in the living room and wandered into the kitchen right before Mr. Pressure Cooker blew his top, got a firm yell from Mom, “Get out of the kitchen! The pressure cooker is on!” as if we kids could read the signs of Mr. Pressure Cooker from another room.

stock-vector-sleek-pressure-cooker-and-tomatoes-92591596Our adopted kids are like a pressure cooker. If we learn to see the precursor to a meltdown, we can help them develop strategies to avoid one! The problem is, many of these kids who were adopted as older children (not at birth) have no self-regulation powers. These hurt children want to be in control, trouble is, they feel out of control. All the time and they don’t know how to tell us parents. What they wish they could say is:

  1. I am in sensory overload. I’m overwhelmed and I am about to blow a gasket.

We parents must first become detectives. We cannot stay in the living room playing a game while the pressure cooker is on in the kitchen, so to speak. We must be present with our kids, watching for signs and symptoms of the meltdown. We have all seen those kids who lose it at the bookstore or the coffee shop or the grocery store. Truth is there were some signs before the meltdown (not that these tantrums can always be avoided). Maybe the kid was too hungry, too tired, too overwhelmed by all the errand running or the strangers pinching their rosy cheeks or engaging them in conversation.

Older kids can say things like, “I want to go home!  When are we going to eat? I’m hungry! How many more errands do we have?”

Hurt children struggle with verbalizing their feelings.

They have other tells (this is just a short list):

  • Clinched fists.
  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Stands in close proximity to mom or dad.
  • Sways back and forth with hands clasped in front of chest.
  • Stands ramrod straight and stands in back of the group.
  • Insists on being carried and clings to mom with a death grip while other children play.

Watch for your child’s tells and keep track of them mentally or on paper. Does your child freak out when you change the schedule at the last-minute? Even if the change benefits him? Such as going out for ice cream? Or going on a picnic or to a movie? Make a note of it. Does your child remember any info from an interesting field trip? If he doesn’t, he was probably hypervigilant the whole trip and could not learn/enjoy the trip. Does your child hate leaving home? Does he rule the roost at home, but is quiet and seemingly, mild-mannered out in public? Public may scare the life out of him and thus present a false front. People may refer to your child as “quiet and mature”. All the while you are thinking, if you only saw him at home!

After getting a handle on what your child’s tells are,  educate your child to recognizing them.

Don’t they know?  No, probably not. I know that getting into an elevator is going to raise my heart rate and make me feel a bit panicky most days. My son has the same reaction, but he doesn’t recognize it. He steps on the elevator clueless to what his body is going to do once the doors close. I watch him. His hands clench. His muscles tighten. His breath shortens. All the while, I may do the same, but I KNOW. I recognize my dislike of tight quarters. He doesn’t.


How do we teach kids to be aware of their sensory overload and potential gasket blow? Talk about it. Help the child recognize his racing heart, clenched fists or shortened breath. Then teach them some strategies to relieve the stress. The Tangle. Deep breathing. Chewing gum. Stepping out of the crowd and getting some air.

images (1) wheat fieldPractice the trip before you take it.

When on a field trip to an art museum, help him hyper focus on the art in a museum instead of thinking, I’m in a strange big city, I cannot get out, there are lots of people here I don’t know. Lean in towards him and the painting. Talk about it. Find the horizon line. Talk about the shape. The imperfect symmetry. Practice with them. Before an outing, talk about it. Show them a map to where you are going. Talk about how many tunnels you will go through. Let them know (if possible) how long you will be there. Make sure the child has food and water and remind him to eat and drink something every two hours. If you are doing something new, explain it in as simple terms as you can. Stay engaged with them. When they begin learning the skill of self-regulation, you can back off little by little and watch them pick up their own body’s signals.

What are your child’s tell? What sort of strategies have helped your child self-regulate?

One thought on “Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You Part 1

  1. this topic always reminds me of “Autoclave” by The Mountain Goats and vice versa.

    I am this great, unstable mass of blood and foam
    And no one in her right mind would make my home her home
    My heart’s an autoclave
    My heart’s an autoclave

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