What Are Poor Choices In Behavior Saying?

Sandra Flach, of the Orphans No More Podcast, joins me again this week for the Positive Adoption Podcast series on the book Five Things: A Tiny Handbook for Foster/Adoptive Families. In this episode, we discuss what poor behavior in your child may be trying to tell you. We can fall into the trap of thinking our kiddos are misbehaving just to make us mad. I know. I’ve lived in that trap. When we change our perspective and try to view behavior through another lens, things can change. Read on to find out how. Plus grab a cup of coffee and listen to the podcast. Don’t forget to get your copy of Five Things! You can grab your free copy here.

I’m not behaving to make you mad.

Most of the time, it is because I don’t have self regulation skills. I maintain my control by keeping you out of control.

“I hate you! Why did you adopt me anyway?”

“I can break it I want to, it’s mine! It’s junk anyway!”

“I didn’t eat your candy!”

“That’s stupid!”

This is the voice of a child who cannot self-regulate.

“When a brother broke something that belonged to me and then screamed and yelled and struggled through not knowing how to regulate his own responses or manage his own brokenness or recognize his own sin, a family member asked me, ‘How do you keep forgiving him?'”- Audrey (excerpt from Why You Should Break Your Bio Kids’ Heart)

Adoption is messy. Children who are adopted from hard places have trouble verbalizing their feelings. They struggle with self-regulation and want to control everything and everyone around them. Trouble is, if we parents aren’t careful, we end up focusing on the behavior instead of digging deeper into the root of the problem. It’s quick and easy to think the child is misbehaving to get on our last nerve. We tend to think the child wants to make us angry.

Poor choices in behavior speak what the child is unable to state verbally.

Hurt children have a knack for making us adults feel out of control. They do know how to push our buttons. They seem to own a special button locating radar. Once they find the button, they push it mercilessly. And we adults, like puppets on a string flail around, flopping from hot to cold at their will. Rarely, if ever do these kids apologize. If they do, it is we parents have been steam rolled all day.

If we know our kids can’t self-regulate, how do we parents step out of the ring and become the coach instead of the opponent? 

A. Recognize “the child feels in control because you are out of control” is a recipe for detachment.

The child who is out of control seeks to control his environment. His desire is to be safe, secure. What he usually gets in return for his behavior is pushed away when what he needs is the opposite.

B. Stop letting the child push your buttons

Hurt children can scope out your buttons like a sniper and he is a great shot. The tough job of the parent is to keep those buttons off.Don’t react. Stay calm and give a consequence.

For example, if you watch a video of your child doing flips on the couch,that his sibling recorded, and the child lies and says he didn’t do it (true story gleaned from a friend’s Facebook page), don’t yell because he lied. Maybe jumping on the couch is one of your buttons. Tell him he lied. Don’t ask. Give him a consequence if you think it merits one. Help him put the pillows back on the couch and vacuum the room.

If the offense is more serious, the kid destroyed the baby swing with a machete. Or broke into the neighbor’s house and stole a jar of coins. Or choked, hit, or _______ another human being. The law in my house is people are more important than things so the harming of a person is the most serious offense. The violation of property is second. When a person is harmed, the consequence must be swift, involve an apology and usually some chores the  offended child was responsible for.If the If your teen becomes destructive and violent and things get out of control, call the police. Don’t be ashamed to do it. It is not you that misbehaved. It is him. Wouldn’t you rather a teen who went on a rampage have a stern talking to and some serious consequences when he is fifteen and under your roof, rather than him continuing on the path to self-destruction and seriously hurting someone or ending up in jail at eighteen?

The goal is to connect and redirect. The goal is to teach the child how to connect and therefore distinguish the behavior. You have to treat the sickness, not put band aids over the symptoms.

C. Be an in control parent.

Being a in control parent may seem like a repeat of number two,it isn’t. It is a totally separate job. Not letting your child push your buttons is an inward behavior. Being an in control parent is an outward behavior. Being an in control parent means you are the boss. You make the rules. You set the schedule. You are proactive, which is the opposite of reactive. You don’t wait for things to happen. You make sure they do.

A simple example of proactive parenting is scheduling meals. You fix breakfast. You don’t wake up and think the kids are playing nicely, we won’t have breakfast and then wonder why the kids are having a breakdown an hour later. You set a schedule because the hurt child does not recognize his own body’s signal for hunger and thirst. When you meet those needs by providing food and water every two hours, then you quell some meltdowns. You feed the body, hydrate the body so the brain can function properly.

Schedule play. Make it a point to play with your children on purpose. The parent who waits for this to happen with a hurt child may wait a lifetime. Hurt children need purposeful play to help them connect. Talk therapy usually doesn’t work with children from hard places. They can manipulate and lie to the counselor, plus they don’t want to continually rehash their troubled past.

Parenting a hurt child is no easy task. It is a worthwhile one. These children deserve a chance to attach and we parents can give it to them. We must be the more mature one in these scenarios. Helping these kids heal is a full time job. Dr. Karyn Purvis refers to it as “investment parenting”. The more time you spend sowing seeds the greater the harvest.

Believe me, I totally get it. I have been caught in the control trap. I have engaged when I should have walked away. When I step back and think about what is really going on. Raising a hurt child is like living in opposite world. He pushes away when he needs to connect. He controls when he needs to let someone else be in control so he can feel secure. He destroys because he feels worthless.

Are you an adoptive/foster parent?

Do you often feel alone in your journey? As if NO ONE else knows what’s going on in your home?

Because, which  of us stands on the sidelines of the soccer field and says to the neighboring Moms, “How are you coping with the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in your child?” or “Is your child finally attaching or what?”  “How are those adoption/foster classes going?” No.The truth is most adoptive parents don’t say a word about what they are dealing with on a regular basis. They just try to blend in and look normal. How do I know? I am one of them.This is a great handbook to encourage you and let you know, you are not alone. Plus, it’s full of tips, real-life stories, and some great resources. Grab your free copy today.

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