Does My Child Need to Meet With a Therapist?

There's no cut-and-dried answer to this question, but here is some food for thought.

Karen White January 06, 2016
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Is my daughter’s behavior normal? Is my son more hyper than most boys his age?

All parents ask these questions. (Even if they don’t admit it out loud.) Then you throw adoption into the mix and even more questions can arise. Especially when you have unknown or questionable medical histories, potential prenatal exposure to drugs, and other environmental factors or abuse and neglect early in life. Truthfully, even in the most open of adoptions, where you have a full family history, you will as a parent sometimes question whether behaviors are related to adoption.

If you dare Google adoption and behavior issues, for example, you will receive a bevy of articles documenting adoption related attachment and behavior issues. If you continue to obsessively Google (which I may or may not have done on multiple occasions) you will find articles claiming all adopted children are traumatized, describing cases of severe Attachment Disorders, and providing statistics on the ratio of adoptee versus non-adoptees in the penal system. Basically stuff every adoptive parent’s worst nightmares are made of.

If you know if in your heart there is a real issue, don’t stop until you get answers. Your child deserves that from you.

So how do you know if your child needs to see a therapist?

Your first step is to step away from Google. It will only serve to scare you. And despite popular belief, everything you read on the internet isn’t actually true.

By no means do I mean to downplay some of the very distressing and significant issues some adopted children have. If your child is displaying any truly concerning behaviors related to attachment, behavior, sleep, whatever, then address it with his/her pediatrician. A doctor can refer you to a therapist who can guide your entire family through the murky waters of adoption issues. Seek whatever help and therapy you need. And if you know if in your heart there is a real issue, don’t stop until you get answers. Your child deserves that from you.

But if you aren’t sure if the issue is adoption-related, then take a deep breath and relax. Raising both biological and adopted children, I can assure you from my personal experience that no child always behaves the way we would like them to. Sure, biological children tend to share some traits similar to you and your partner. And in some ways, they can be easier to parent because you can almost foresee their next moves because they probably act just like their father. (Sorry dads, us moms always blame you for the undesirable flaws first!) But even biological children have personalities of their own. Ask any parent of a biological kid and they will tell you they don’t know where certain behaviors came from.

As adoptive parents, we have been groomed from the start to look for issues. During the home study process we are asked what situations we think we can handle, about mental illness in family histories, about children conceived by rape or incest. We begin parenting knowing we are parenting someone else’s child. We love our children from the moment we meet them, not knowing if we will be their parents forever or just a short time. So we do everything we can to be the best parents we can be. We question every behavior, every action our child makes, and scrutinize it for “what ifs” because we want the best for them.

There is no right or wrong answer as to if or when you should take your child to see a therapist. There is no quiz you can take that will tell you whether an issue is adoption-related or not. If a behavior is concerning and you have tried to change it unsuccessfully, then seek help. But whatever you do, don’t be afraid to ask. Don’t worry about the stigma attached to seeing a therapist. Look at the bigger picture and do what you need to help your child and your family now. Even if your child turns out to not have any issues, it never hurts to seek reassurance if you are concerned.

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Karen White

Karen White is the self-proclaimed leading authority on being "that mom." You know the one. The PTO Vice President, room mom, baseball team mom, AND leader of well-behaved kids (OK, the well-behaved part may be stretching it . . . like really stretching . . .) When she isn’t threatening to tackle one of her boys on the ball field if they don’t run faster, or convincing her 4-year-old daughter that everything doesn’t HAVE to sparkle, she is also a wife and stay-at-home mom of three. One of the three happens to have been adopted, but good luck figuring out which one it is, since they all have pasty white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes.

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