We also received a
number of questions from you and selected two of them, as they reflect
rather common concerns. In this Newsletter the BGCenter professionals
give their perspective on these important questions.
adopted our children 20 months ago. One of our boys is still in the
survival mode of behavior. He steals food and money and lies, and has
no remorse when disciplined. He just stares! He doesn't cry, or show
reaction to it. He says he wants to go back! He has started saying that
he hates his family. But when he is not in trouble he thinks everything
is fine. I think he really needs to go back! Any suggestions?
Marina Sud, Psy.D.:
When talking to a therapist, it would be helpful
to provide the following information: how old is the boy, age and gender
of his siblings, any history regarding biological parents, any developmental
disabilities, the condition of the facility he is from, how long he
lived there, as well as the child-to-adult ratio at the orphanage. It
would also be helpful to know who else resides in your home, has this
boy attended school, if so, how did he do academically and behaviorally,
how does he get along with his siblings, any competition for your attention,
jealousy, how are his siblings adjusting, and how does he get along
with other children/adults?
In the orphanage, which are usually understaffed,
behaviorally acting out may have the way your son learned to compete
for attention; negative attention is better then no attention at all.
Stealing and lying are probably what he had to do to survive. In other
words this may be the only way he's known to live/survive. Although
20 months may seem like a "long time" it's important to keep
in mind, when thinking of your time with this child, that the first
three years of a child's life are extremely important. This is when
a child develops physical, psychological and emotional health, these
are the formative years when a child learns about empathy, compassion,
trust and love.
You say he doesn't respond to punishment. It might
be that he doesn't view anything short of physical discipline as punishment.
So he may have a difficult time conceptualizing that he is being punished,
or that he is doing anything wrong. Another possibility is that he understands
he's doing something wrong and feels like "he's getting away with
murder." Just to be clear, I'm not advocating physical discipline,
just trying to shed some light on why he may have "no remorse when
disciplined, just stares, and doesn't cry, or show reaction." However,
staring, not crying or having a reaction may also be indicative of past
trauma and of an ambivalent attachment (i.e., child gets easily angered,
oppositional, good at getting everyone else to feel as miserable as
he does). There is a strong correlation between trauma and attachment
I don't think he needs to return to his orphanage, even if he says that's
what he wants. It's important to keep in mind that he is probably testing
you, to see if you will "survive" and keep him, or send him
back. I imagine this is a very trying time for you and your family.
Unfortunately things will more then likely be difficult for a while.
You must try to "survive." Do whatever is necessary to keep
yourself well and to feel supported. If you haven't done so already,
I would strongly encourage you to join a support group for parents dealing
with similar issues.
I also think he should be in therapy. 'Talk' or 'play' therapies do
not work well with attachment disordered children. These therapies require
children who have the ability to develop a trusting relationship with
the therapist. This is quite a challenge for a child not able to form
bonding relationships. Effective therapy must always include the child's
parents, with focus on helping parents provide structure, nurturing,
and encourage the formation of an attachment. Individual therapy, such
as behavioral modification, would also be helpful.