The Great Misunderstanding

I was texting friend Tammy about our upcoming hike:

Tammy: What are you bringing?

Me: Subaru Forester

Tammy: I meant in your backpack.

Me: A car, apparently.


We got a good laugh out it because we are two peas in a pod and we went on to text another short conversation that got misconstrued. Communication is a confusing thing. Often we don’t say exactly what we mean, nor do we phrase things concisely. We expect the listener, or reader to read our mind.

When raising children who have come from traumatic beginnings or ‘hard places’, we must examine our communication skills and teach them some. Often these children who have come from abusive or neglectful situations don’t have voice, that is, they don’t know how to appropriately express their needs. They may behave violently, steal, hoard or shut down instead of ask for things. Giving a child voice is teaching him that he is valued and he can get needs met without all of the above.

We know from research done in the fifties (Infants in Institutions) that if an infants needs are not met in the first thirty to sixty days, the infant stops crying. This is why you can walk into an orphanage full of infants and it is silent. Crying is a child’s voice. It is the way she communicate her needs. If those needs aren’t met, she then believes her voice doesn’t matter.

When a mother is pregnant, her hearing becomes acute so when baby is born she is able to hear every whimper and sound. When parents adopt an older child, they must renew this acute hearing. A child may be using aggression to get his needs met, he is saying something. He is answering “Subaru forester” when we are asking if he is bringing snacks or water in his backpack. He needs the snacks and water. He doesn’t know how to say so. We need to listen behaviors and link them to needs. Listen to his story when he wants to tell it. I have found my adopted kids needed to download a lot of negative junk that weighed them down before they could get to their real need.

“I never get ice cream. You guys always have it when I am gone.”

“You don’t love me. Why don’t you send me back?”

“I don’t care. That’s stupid.”

These are all Subaru comments. They aren’t answering the right question or voicing their needs properly, because they don’t know how. We parents have to coach them. We must first interpret their needs and then help put them into words.

“Oh, do you want me to take you for ice cream? Are you feeling left out?” Then walk the child through asking for what he wants, “please take me for ice cream”.

If you think this sounds ridiculous or like a lot of work. I understand on both counts. It is different. Think of it like a book and you jumped right into the middle of it. You need to go back and read the first bunch of chapters to fill in what’s going on. That’s what these kids need. They need someone to go over their past and help them make sense of it, then they need help finding their voice, even it is asking for a drink.

When you have to say “no” when a child finally finds their voice, make sure you use empathy, not impatience. It’s important that these kids feel heard. I know. It can get tiring to keep it up, but think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. So, when a child asks for the fiftieth time if you can make cookies, jump on the trampoline, ride bikes, watch a movie, if at all possible say ‘yes’ even if that is cloaked in a ‘no’. “Yes, we can jump on the trampoline, after we clean up the kitchen.”

The great misunderstanding we parents often have is believing that our child’s behavior is directed at us, as if they are trying to best to make our lives difficult. That may sometimes be the case, but more often then not, it is not. They don’t know how to communicate correctly because not only do they not know the answer, they don’t know the question.

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I tired?
  • What do I need?
  • What do I want?

We parents have to do the job of interpreting their needs (regulating) for them until they can do it themselves. In terms of communication, this looks something like ordering the day for them. I think you need a snack now. Would you like crackers and peanut butter or an apple and peanut butter? The child then begins to notice at ten am every day, hey it’s snack time and I’m hungry! Next, they add voice to this need. Isn’t it snack time? Before you reach this milestone, you may notice your child melting down, being cranking, arguing with others before they can voice their need for a snack. This is dysregulation. We can avoid dysregualtion by giving our child voice.

This is a short article for a deep and time consuming practice. We parents must remember to practice what our kids don’t know how to. Giving a child voice is giving him value.

I will sharing about giving your child voice at Positive Adoption Support group Saturday, November 5th at Trinity Assembly of God (Fairmont, WV) at 10 am. If you are local, join us!

Linking up with Kristin Hill Taylor for Three Word Wednesday:



Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You (Introduction)

I’m standing in line while reading a magazine.  It’s swimsuit fitting day for my son’s local swim team.  He is standing behind me. I am admiring some beautiful turquoise hardwood floors when I hear a deer snort behind me. It startles me and blows my bobbed hair up. I turn quickly to see the deer who has joined the swim team. No deer. Just my son. He snorts a few more time until we snake our way up to the front of the line.



I was confused. “This wasn’t his first rodeo,” as he likes to say. He has been on the same summer swim team for years. He has done the swimsuit try on for years. Don’t these things get less intimidating and more comfortable the more you do them?


Later that evening at Positive Adoption, the support group, I tell my friend and psychologist what happened. She said he was in sensory overload. Too many stimuli.


I thought about some of the stimuli and how all added together it was overload for him. We were under a concrete porch. Check. Little kids making noise and wrestling all over the place. Check. Strange adults talking. Check. The swimsuit vendor who can tell your size just by glancing at you. Check. Being handed a spandex suit and asked to put it on right there over your old suit. Check. (He refused to do this and hightailed it for the bathroom.)


I probably would have said things like, “I don’t like trying on suits in front of people!” but he said nothing.  He just snorted on my neck.


This got me thinking, how often do we misinterpret communication whether it is verbal or not? I do all the time. Imagine not knowing how to communicate. Imagine feeling overloaded and not knowing how to say, “I hate this, it stinks!” or that you should communicate your anxiety. Many adopted children live in a maze with no exit. In a society that speaks, yet they have no words to express their phobias. What would our adopted children tell us if they could communicate?


Birthed out of that line of thinking, I’m writing a short series on five things your adopted child would like to tell you. I’m starting the series today with an intro and list of the five things. I will delve more deeply into each one  in subsequent posts.


  1. I am in sensory overload. I’m overwhelmed and I am about to blow a gasket.
  2. I’m not always misbehaving to make you mad. Most of the time it is because I do not have the skill to self-regulate and I maintain my control by keeping you out of control.
  3. You are not responsible for the trauma that happened to me before I came into your family, but I will act like it. If you let guilt rule the home, we will both be miserable and neither of us will experience any healing.
  4. If you feel what I feel all the time, we will become codependent and I will rule your emotions like an out-of-control terrorist.
  5. I do want to be loved and accepted. It is my deepest desire, just like anyone else on the planet, but I don’t know how to get there. Will you help me?

Join me for the series and if any of these speak to you, leave a comment, I love to hear people’s stories!   If you are struggling with one of these and you have gotten sucked into a codependent relationship with your child or you are wearing a burden of guilt, you are not alone. This is a journey we can make together, hand in hand, side by side. Two are better than one!

P.S. My son now has a Tangle. tangle_catalogue_Page_11-980x346 He can fiddle with it when he is out in public! I will let you know if it helps relieve some of his stress. You can find more info here.