Questions Adoptive Parents Want You to Ask–If you are a Leader (Part 4)

Quick review of where we’ve been so far:

  • 5 Questions we don’t want you to ask – here.
  • Why it takes more than one post to identify 5 questions we want you to ask. – Here
  • Question #1 – “How’s it going?” – Here
  • Question #2 – “How can we help? – Here

Today’s question that adoptive parents want you to ask applies to people who are leaders.

Leaders of what?  

  • School leaders – principals, teachers, music teachers, PE teachers, coaches, librarians,  pre-school leaders
  • Group leaders – Boy Scouts, Youth Group, Dance Class, Little League, day care directors.

So, what question do we, as adoptive parents, want them to ask and what do we hope to accomplish by it?

First, let me tell you, this is not about getting an IEP at school.   This is not about navigating educational plans.   There are people who are infinitely more qualified for that than I am.   If you need help with those, let me know – I can point you in the right direction.

The question that we want you to ask is a three part question:

Part 1 – “When your child, my student, does something that is typically outside of the realm of acceptable behavior, what can we expect?”

In order for a leader, teacher etc. to ask that kind of question, it requires a couple of things:

  • An awareness by the teacher or leader that children who are have been through the trauma that is involved with adoption won’t always “act out” the same way that a child who has grown up in a trauma free environment.
  • A desire to understand the needs of all of the children in their class or in their group so they can help them achieve their full potential.

My experience has been that virtually every teacher has the desire to understand but very few of them have the awareness before hand.   It would be wonderful if schools would do more to educate their educators on trauma and what it means to kids in school.

Part 2 – “When your child, my student, does THAT (whatever that behavior might be), what does it mean?

One of the things that adoptive parents learn very early on is that not everything is as it seems.    Actually, for many adopted kids, parenting and managing social behaviors in school settings involve thinking and planning and reacting totally differently than what you would expect.

Want an example?   An adopted kid gets out on the playground at recess and suddenly they turn into a bossy, antagonistic bully who is ordering everyone around, yelling at kids who aren’t following his “rules” and attempting to be in charge of everything that’s happening. 

What’s going on there?   Is this child really being a typical bully?

I’d argue probably not.   The child who is doing this is probably scared out of his or her mind.   He’s probably experiencing a huge flashback to his “past life” where he lived in a life of total chaos (orphanage?  poorly managed foster care? absent parents?) and he didn’t feel like anyone was in control.   In those situations, situations where the child felt like no one was in control, they felt like they had to grab control for themselves.   “Someone has to be in charge, I don’t see anyone else being in charge, so I will.” 

So, in that particular case, you have a student acting  like a bully, not because they necessarily wanted to be a bully but because they are scared out of their minds because suddenly they are finding themselves back in a situation where they don’t feel like anyone is in control and anyone is keeping them safe.

So that brings us to part 3 of the question:

Now that we think we know why they are doing what they are doing, how do we deal with the behaviors to help the adopted student and not make things worse?

If you are dealing with a “typical” bully situation, how do you traditionally deal with it?   Detention, suspension, loss of privileges – those are just some of the ways to typically deal with the traditional bully.

If you’re dealing with a student who is behaving like a bully but evidence suggests that he or she is doing it, not because they are bullies and want to boss other kids around, but because they are scared out of their minds and want to feel like someone is keeping them safe, then you’ll approach it totally differently.

Rather than detention, you’ll work with the student to help them understand that there is someone of authority outside at recess.

Rather than restricting privileges, you’ll make sure that this student meets the adult who is on recess duty at the beginning of recess so they can see who is in charge.

Rather than yelling at them for bad behavior, you’ll remind them that behavior isn’t right and also that it isn’t their responsibility – because the teacher, the principal, the recess duty teacher – it’s their job to keep your student feeling safe.

Rather than making the student feel bad for not feeling “safe” and acting out because they don’t “feel safe,” you will acknowledge that perception is reality and if they don’t feel safe then they won’t act like they feel safe.

A three part question.

A long response.

But it’s a question that adoptive parents want you to ask.

And it’s a question that adopted children will benefit from you asking.   Especially if they don’t know you’ve asked it.


P.S. The next post in this series probably won’t be up until next Tuesday.  

P.S.S. The next post will be talking about church and the questions that adoptive families would like churches to ask.   

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