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Parenting Outside of the Box

Lily, a 2 ½ years old was adopted from a Chinese orphanage at 10 months old. She has been “home” with her adoptive parents for a little over a year and a half. Lily is adorable and engaging with strangers, but at home, her behavior is another thing altogether. Lily has rages that last for up to three hours when she is put down for a nap. Her parents watch The Nanny each week, trying to learn something that will be of help since their agency does not seem to know how to help them. They create a “naughty spot” but if they put Lily there, she simply won’t stay. Lately, Lily has begun biting and hitting her parents and her little playmates hard enough to cause harm. Lily’s Mommy and Daddy are frustrated. The pre-adoptive classes they took helped them to be prepared for some of these behaviors but did not teach them how to effectively teach their daughter to calm down or become a part of the family. Friends and family commiserate but their advice does not help with this little girl. Worse, they are beginning to regret having adopted a child and wish this nightmare would just end.

H.L Menchen said “For every problem, there is a solution which is neat, believable, and wrong”. Parenting children who land somewhere on the attachment disorder spectrum, require skills that may be counterintuitive to what we know about parenting. Let’s look at “time out”, or as The Nanny calls it, “the Naughty Spot”. Children who have experienced neglect, loss, abandonment, or abuse are not capable of calming down on their own. They did not get that consistent comfort from a parent, heart to heart that taught the infant heart to slow down. Their infant brains did not develop the calm down chemicals, serotonin and norepinephrin. So “time out” feels like abandonment, neglect, even death to a child who has experienced inconsistent parenting or many caretakers such as in foster care.

This is where it helps to think outside of the box. Try “Time In”, where you scoop up your child and sit down with him to play “thumb wars” or color together at the kitchen table or just sit together and sing songs, starting with more active ones and ending with softer songs more songs, more like lullabies. If scooping them up in your arms is not feasible. just sit down at the kitchen table and take out clay or colored pencils while playing some music on the radio until your child’s calming hormones allow for conversation. Music, something between theirs and yours can be calming. Action is also a good way to calm by diverting their attention from their heightened emotions. Playing basketball with a preteen or teenage boy or girl, walking, swimming, or another activity will work. You are teaching your child how to self-calm. That is valuable skill for children who did not get that early learning. It will serve them well.

Next week, more on “Parenting Outside Of the Box”.


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