Acting Out

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acting out

Negative behavior such as stealing, lying, constant whining and other behavioral problems. If the child was adopted, often these disciplinary problems can be directly or indirectly tied to unhappy experiences that occurred while the child lived in an abusive or neglectful home, faced many foster care placements or endured other psychological hardships.

Even children as young as two years old who are adopted into a new family can be expected to exhibit behavioral problems because it is difficult for them to adjust to new routines, loss of former security figures and new parents.

Social workers expect most older children will act out to some extent, and parents must learn how to gain the child's trust while at the same time setting appropriate disciplinary limits. Often, spanking and harsh words are the least effective forms of discipline because severe physical or verbal abuse may have been the reason for the initial development of negative behavior. If children receive a response only when they misbehave, they will learn that negative behavior is a good way to gain attention.

Adoptive parents can learn techniques of positive reinforcement, "time out" (sending the child to his or her room) and other methods of discipline from social workers and also from other adoptive parents; for example, one adoptive mother of an older child was dismayed that her daughter kept stealing items from her jewelry box. Other adoptive parents with similar experiences advised the mother to put a lock on her bedroom door. Although she considered this solution to be very radical, everything else she'd tried had failed, so the mother tried this technique, and the stealing stopped. Years later, her daughter thanked her for removing the temptation and making it impossible to steal.

Some adopted children born in other countries may initially gorge themselves or hoard food, dismaying the rest of the family, but such behavior is understandably based on previous circumstances. The child may have experienced starvation or extreme hunger and consequently must gradually learn that food will always be provided and he or she need not stockpile food for hard times ahead.

Many newly adopted older children are not grateful they have been adopted and may evince resentment, anger or distrust of adoptive parents until it becomes clear that the adoption is regarded as permanent by the parents. Until the adopted child feels confident and secure, he or she will test parents. (In fact, even after the child is secure, the normal testing that all children exhibit will continue.)

Acting out may be a temporary serious problem, although all children, adopted or born into their families, have times when they misbehave, especially when they are tired, ill or upset.

If acting out continues and the parents feel unable to cope with the child, they may need to seek professional help. Researchers have discovered that adoptions may actually disrupt if adoptive parents believe the older child's behavior is not improving and the acting out continues without abeyance. (See also DISRUPTION; OLDER CHILD.)

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