Maintain Control in Parenting

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Some of our older adopted children come to us with very strong wills. They may be defiant, or manipulative. They may try and surround themselves with chaos and turmoil. They may be too scared to let a grown up be in charge of their life. These demanding behaviors can be caused by neglect, where they feel that even bad attention was better than none. Or by dysfunctional surroundings, meaning that chaos feels normal. Or, by various behavioral and emotional issues i.e. ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), RAD (reactive attachment disorder), bipolar, anxiety, and more.

One of the challenging roles of parents is to stay out of the "ick," to remain detached from our kids controlling behaviors. As one therapist said, "Every time they suck us in (we get mad, or yell, or show our annoyance), they get a zing." Stay out of your kids poor behaviors. Try and show them that their choices impact them, but everyone else's life goes on.

Here are some tips to try. Some are words and phrases to use, some are actions. Mix them up. Keep your child on his or her toes so that they can't anticipate your response. Try these:
    -"That's ok. Take your time on deciding to do that."

    -"Hmmm... interesting..." as you slowly walk away scratching your head.

    -"That's the most amazing thing! I just knew you were going to do/say ***! I am such an amazing mom!"

    -"Oh, dear. I bet you need a hug. "

    -Stand very close and examine her while she does/says whatever. Keep a quizzical look on your face. Then walk away.

    -"Oh, my gosh! I just HAVE to eat a cookie!" And leave the room.

    -(Depending on the age of your child…) Get in the car and drive off for about 5 minutes, or longer if you need it. Don't say a word when you come back.

    -(As you look at your watch in amazement) "Look at you.... 6:03... just like I thought..." and walk away

    -Sit down on the floor, put your head in your hands, smile at the floor, and just sit, no words


    -Turn their annoyance into a song. For example, if your child calls you "stupid," sing an operatic song, "I'm sooooo stupid. We're aaaall so stupid. The mooooon is rising. That muuuust beeeee why…."

    -Gently laugh and say, "I bet you like doing (saying) that…"
All of the phrases and actions must be done without sarcasm (sometimes hard to do), and with love and empathy. Often, one of the most loving things we can do for our children is to teach them that we are in charge of the emotional tone in the family, not them.

Written by: Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan's training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She's also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is Older Child Adoption Support
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