Ask AF: Grief — or Personality?

When adopted children exhibit tantrums and other disruptive behaviors, it may be connected to their grieving process — or it might not.

Q: Our eight-year-old daughter, whom we adopted as a newborn, is oversensitive and prone to tantrums. At times, her behavior almost seems like grieving. We have been to one session of family therapy, but she refuses to go back. Now she’s reluctant to talk about her birth family and her story. Is this behavior connected to adoption? Is it normal for kids this age?


A: You are right to wonder whether your daughter is grieving for her birth family. Between the ages of six and eight, adoptees understand that something profound has happened to them that doesn’t happen to most children; they were born into one family and adopted into another family. They also begin to understand that their birth mother made a choice to have them adopted and raised by another family.

Being oversensitive and prone to tantrums may indeed be signs of grieving, but it can also be her temperament. If your daughter tends to be oversensitive and have tantrums about many things, you may be witnessing a temperamental style. If she is oversensitive only in relation to adoption and her birth family, however, she might be grieving. Most children don’t like going to therapy, and I think that is normal, especially if they think the family is going because of them. Tell your daughter that the therapy is intended to help your entire family get along better, and then make a deal with her. If she attends another session, you’ll take her on a special date to see a movie or do something else she’d enjoy.


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