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The Latest Word


“WILL YOU PLEASE ACT YOUR AGE?!!” – Help for parents . . .Part 2

Maria is 12 years old. She was recently adopted from Colombia by a loving family in the U.S. Prior to that she was in an orphanage for 8 long years after both her parents died. Maria’s adoptive parents already have three biological children, ages 17, 15 and 8. It didn’t take long for the “honeymoon” period to end with Maria, as just a few weeks into living with her new family, her behavior problems began to escalate. Hour-long screaming fits of rage, which started out with incessant whining, quickly turned into profanity-laced tirades, breaking items in her room, and punching the walls before finally collapsing into a sobbing heap of exhaustion was the typical answer—sometimes over the simplest of issues.


On the other hand, Maria can be very charming—especially when she is lying about something.“She will lie about anything!” exclaims her mom—“Even about things that d om continues, “My 8-year-old daughter is so far beyond Maria in her maturity—sometimes it baffles me! We try so hard to give her love and discipline, but she just throws it back in our faces. It’s really beginning to affect our kids.”

So, why doesn’t Maria “act her age”? She’s very bright, gets good grades in school and makes friends easily. It seems that Maria wants to be oppositional only to those closest to her—her adoptive parents. As with Joey, child described in my previous blog, Maria likely has the “street smarts” of someone twice her age, but on emotional level she is far beneath her chronological age.


Along with the important parental responses I shared in my last post, I want to add the

following in connection with Maria—with kids like Maria, traditional discipline approaches do not work. “No time-outs, no restriction of privileges, no explanations?” you might say. That’s right. It takes a complete “parenting paradigm shift” to address Maria’s behavior. What Maria’s parents need to understand is the following:


  • As with Joey in my previous blog, Maria’s negative behavior is motivated by FEAR.

That’s right. Maria’s fear of losing control (which has already happened in her life, due

to her parents’ death and her life in the orphanage) “fuels” her need for control—even

over the small things.


  • The “discipline” for Maria’s behavior must come in the form of compassion for a

suffering child. When her outburst is over, her parents must address her fear by

responding wth “We know you’re afraid a lot, and we understand. We are here to help

you and let you know that you are safe with us.” Only by this consistent message can

Maria’s parents gain her trust. She needs to know she is safe, especially when she has a

meltdown. This may sound really counterintuitive, but it is a critically important initial

step in helping Maria to learn age-appropriate behavior.


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