Challenging behavior from adopted children

A dad was recently telling me about his 9-year-old son Luke’s extremely difficult behavior. His behavior was so intense that he was expelled from public school. After that they enrolled Luke in a private school where the class sizes were much smaller. He lasted a few months there before those teachers couldn’t handle his behavior. He’s now being homeschooled.

The dad went on to explain that they had adopted Luke when he was just over a year old from a Russian orphanage. When I asked about the conditions in the orphanage, he explained that there were about 30 cribs in one room but the adults in charge were very loving. Sadly we know this is a recipe for problems. Babies need lots of one-on-one loving interactions to develop appropriately and Luke did not have this.

Unfortunately, many children in orphanages share Luke’s experience and later problems. A survey by the Eastern European Adoption Coalition in 2005 found that almost 50% of the 293 children adopted from Eastern Europe had emotional problems and developmental delays.

In his book, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Dr. Bruce Perry discusses the case of Peter who was adopted from a Russian orphanage. “From the outside, Peter looked like a seven-year-old boy, but in some ways he was only a three-year-old. In terms of other skills and capabilities, he was eighteen months old, and he was eight or nine years old in still other respects.” No wonder Peter’s parents, teachers and classmates were having difficulty relating to him.

Dr. Perry goes onto explain the effects of the early deprivation on Peter’s brain. He even goes to Peter’s 1st grade classroom to help his classmates better understand Peter. Armed with this new perspective, the kids went from rejecting Peter to protecting and helping him.

Parenting any child is filled with challenges. Parenting children who spent their early months in an orphanage requires an even greater set of skills plus often outside expertise.

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