Study Finds Adopted Children “Get Into More Conflicts” And More

I have to admit to an immediate defensive reaction to this study.

Denalee Chapman March 14, 2017
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As I began reading psychologist and survey researcher, Nicholas Zill’s study The Paradox of Adoption, I have to admit to an immediate defensive reaction. As an adoptive parent, I wasn’t happy at all to read, “[Adopted children] get into more conflicts with their classmates at school, display relative little interest and enthusiasm about learning tasks, and register only middling academic performance.”

What a way to introduce your research! Dang! (I thought) This guy doesn’t like adoptive parents or adopted kids. And he certainly must not have gathered correct information.

After my initial reaction, I read with a critical mind, examining his charts and slowly accepting some of what he shared. Perhaps, I thought, this information contains some truth. Considering, though, that the information collected didn’t break down the sampling of adopted children according to age at adoption, trauma endured before adoption, special needs, etc …. I guessed I could accept what he was sharing. But I had to wonder, throughout the report, what if they surveyed the teachers of these same students in ten or fifteen years? With more time with their adoptive parents, would the results swing the other way? Is it really fair to lump adopted kids into the “little interest … about learning … more conflicts with classmates … middling academic performance” category? The non-scientific study that took place in my brain shouts an enthusiastic NO!

How about comparing adopted kids with biological kids in the same family? Sure – the parents might be highly educated and a little more affluent than families with no adopted children. But take a look at the kids with the same parents and see how their adopted siblings rank. It seems to me that would be a more accurate study and could give a more correct picture of adopted children.

Or consider this: Some of these kids studied had just joined their adoptive families straight from foster care; some were intellectually and mentally challenged kids who were chosen by their adoptive families specifically because of their special needs; and others were making exponential progress in all three areas studied, but hadn’t been in their families long enough to shoot ahead of their peers in those ways. And so this author (and adoptive mama) wants a follow up report. Either that, or tone down the opening statement lumping adoptive kids into low achievers. It’s simply not true – when the complete picture is examined.

Here’s anecdotal support of my case: We adopted our son when he was 5 weeks old. He’d suffered 5 weeks of neglect and trauma. Elementary school was OK, middle school was awful. But by the time he reached high school, he seemed to have overcome much of the effects of his early trauma. The child who, in kindergarten and first grade (like those in the study referred to) got into a few scrapes, couldn’t look people in the eye, and was a mediocre student at best, graduated with high honors, getting an advanced honors diploma and was a favorite of peers and teachers.

So although this report from Nicholas Zill points at a paradox, I’d ask him to go back and get a clearer picture of adoption. Who knows? He may find the picture so appealing that he’d like to become an adoptive parent himself!

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Denalee Chapman

Denalee is an adoptive mother, a motivational speaker, a writer, and a lover of life. She and her husband have adventured through the hills and valleys of life to find that the highest highs and the lowest lows are equally fulfilling. Book Denalee to speak to your group, or find Denalee's writings, including her books on her website at

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