Your child comes home from school. You notice that he or she has a toy that belongs to the school and your child has brought it home without permission. What are you going to do? You will most likely do an online search, learn that this is common behaviour at a certain age, explain to your child that they cannot take things without permission, and return the toy to school. You may have to do this a few times before the child stops and then you will move on to the next challenge of parenting.
Now what if you are an adoptive parent? Will you repeat the above steps? Or will you go around telling people that your child steals and freak out about his/her values? Well that really depends on you. Do you believe that a child is a child and compassionate parenting is the key? Or do you see your child a bit as the “other” who should be evaluated and judged? It’s not uncommon for any parent to wonder whether a child’s behaviour is a development stage versus a problem. But to take the child’s behaviour and make it out to be something bigger and insidious because the child was adopted, is not just cruel but can hinder how closely the parents feel bonded to the child.
Here are some of the things that the child may do, the hurtful way to interpret it, and how to make your approach non-judgemental and in sync with reality.
Child’s Behaviour: The child seems too mature for her age. She has her own strategies for getting attention and getting things from you
Hurtful Interpretation: The child must be older than the age mentioned by the adoption agency. They must have lied or just guessed the child’s age. (This doesn’t sound hurtful in writing but try hearing someone say it!) The child is too smart. The child is manipulative.
The Reality: The child has had to deal with abandonment or worse, and survive in an institution. Wouldn’t that make the child mature and able to know some survival strategies? Wouldn’t you be the same if you had been through something similar? Give the child a break. Once she gets comfortable with you and trusts you, she will slowly let go of the survival mode. Some of her smartness may be a natural part of her and that’s a good thing.
Child’s Behaviour: The child sometimes takes things that don’t belong to him. He may lie about how he got something or lie to get something he wants.
Hurtful Interpretation: The child’s value system is messed up (I am surprised that people don’t understand that value system is an evolving entity shaped by nurture and not a virus that gets injected into your bloodstream at a certain age).
The Reality: Many children steal and lie. It’s a development stage. Maybe a child does it more or less than other kids because of the circumstances he has been through. Maybe a child who has had nothing doesn’t know how to suddenly handle a world with so many things. Help the child kindly understand the concept of ownership, truth, and trust. Do not call it lying and stealing. Talk to the child privately. Do not make a public spectacle out of it. Do not involve your extended family. Most importantly, please stop freaking out about the value system and give the child some benefit of doubt and respect.
Child’s Behaviour: The child repeats some odd behaviours despite being told to stop multiple times.
Hurtful Interpretation: The child is broken. She does not know how to be well behaved.
The Reality: Irrespective of the age and otherwise apparent smartness, the child has not been taught by anyone how to live and behave in the world. You are now the parent. Teach the child gently. Do not scold. Yes, you will slip up and yell and that’s okay. Try to do better the next time you talk to the child. Do not shame the child. She may be sensitive about how she is perceived — aren’t you? So deal with sensitivity. Take a break if you need and then come back to parent again. To use an overworked cliche: this is a marathon, not a sprint. You would do the same for a biological child, so this is no different.
Child’s Behaviour: The child is constantly in comparison mode with his siblings. Who got what? How much? The child checks that you are providing things equally whenever you give anything to your children.
Hurtful Interpretation: The child doesn’t trust the parents. The child is greedy.
The Reality: A long long time ago, my sibling and I would bring our mom to tears fighting over who got the last drop of Thumbs Up and we were both biological children. It wasn’t about trust or greediness. We were just being awful in the unique way that children can be. A lot of what seems like selfish behaviour may just be childhood. Also, time and parenting can ease the child out of the comparison mode. For starters, try to be as equal as you can. Same candy, same dress, same toys. Simultaneously, explain to the child that sometimes one child gets something, and sometimes the other; children don’t get the same thing all the time. You will have to balance out giving this explanation with providing equal stuff. Be ready to do this a hundred times, not because your child is adopted, because your child is a child.
Blogger: Smriti Gupta