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My Child Is Acting So Differently, What Could Be Going On?

Maggie is 13 years old and was adopted at the age of 5. By all accounts, she has been doing very well in school and at home. However, her parents are becoming increasingly concerned regarding her violent outbursts. Her parents offer these examples: When asked to make her bed, she slams her door and yells at whoever will listen. When asked a general question, she usually will not reply and if she does, it tends to be very disrespectful.

Maggie's parents are not accustomed to seeing their daughter behave in such a manner. They are not able to identify anything in particular that could be causing these recent behaviors. However, someone suggests that these issues may be in direct correlation to the trauma and loss that is part of adoption.

Maggie's parents wonder ‘what happened?’ ‘Maggie has always been such a happy child. She has always had a great relationship with us and being adopted has never been something she has talked about.’

Whether children are placed with their parents at birth or at an older age or whether the transition is smooth or encounters hiccups, children – especially pre-teens and teenagers who are adopted – may struggle with additional losses surrounding their identity and determining where they “fit” in the world. Each developmental stage in a child’s life presents new milestones and a more and more sophisticated view of adoption.

Maggie may experience more struggles than her peers as she works through forming her identity as a young person and planning her future as it relates anything from her personal style to her career, consideration of leaving the family home, making college plans, etc.

We know that during adolescence, the brain is undergoing some big changes while the teen is grappling with big decisions surrounding their place in school, at home and within society. Adopted teens often struggle on a new level with integrating their past with the present. With their new cognitive skills, teens may want detailed answers to questions such as, ‘Why was I adopted?’ ‘Who did I get my curly hair from?’ ‘My adoptive dad taught me to play guitar. I wonder if musical talent runs in my birth family too.’ Whether these answers are known or unknown, the process can evoke some difficult emotions in the adoptee.

See the article by Debbie Riley, MS, a well respected adoption therapist, CEO of the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.), and co-author of ‘Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens.’ Debbie identifies ‘6 stuck spots’ often faced by adopted teens and guidance on supporting your teen through this often challenging life stage. Families do not have to maneuver this time alone, Right Turn Permanency Support Specialists are here to support your family through adolescence and all of the other ages and stages of adoption.

Look for more information regarding talking to your children about adoption in an upcoming newsletter.