Q: Before I adopted my 9-year-old daughter last year, she had spent five years in an orphanage. Recently, she’s been raging: screaming, throwing things, and hitting me.
She talks about the abuse that she endured at her orphanage, and says she misses her birth mom (though she spent little time with her). What can I do?
A: The set of behaviors you describe is common in children coming out of orphanage settings. Feelings of grief and loss are obvious, and I doubt that any explanation would totally resolve them. Punishing her when she acts out in this manner won’t do more than heighten her anger.
Think about enrolling the family in group therapy (find a mental health professional familiar with adoption and attachment issues at http://www.attach.org), so that she can see you’re on her side. Parenting the Hurt Child (Keck and Kupecky) has ideas for enhancing family attachments.
A painful aspect of adoption is parents’ perceived impotence in healing hurts that may last for a long time. Once you’ve identified some things you can do, you’ll feel less helpless about things you cannot control.