Grade School: Seeking Help for Mental Health Concerns

This information was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway


Adoptive families, like other families, sometimes need help to address mental health concerns. Sadness, anger, and behavior challenges are normal as children in grade school learn more about their family histories and come to terms with adoption. Some children may need a professional to help them grieve and move on. This need for extra assistance may occur even in children who previously adjusted well, as they grapple with developmentally appropriate issues such as identity formation. Do not allow difficulties with peers to go unaddressed. A child with poor interpersonal skills may be picked on or excluded, leading to more social and emotional problems down the road.

Signs and Symptoms

It is a good idea to seek professional help if your child or other family members show any of the following signs:

  • Extreme emotions and behaviors. The child:
    • Is sad, angry, or depressed much of the time
    • Shows rapid changes in behaviors or moods
    • In withdrawn, apathetic, extremely fearful, or has a poor appetite
    • Is prone to screaming or other aggressive behaviors
    • Starts to challenge authority at school
  • A difficult family relationship. The child or other family members:
    • Interact poorly and are stressful or angry
    • Avoid each other while at home
    • Feel unsafe while at home
    • Threaten to run away
  • Difficult peer relationships. The child:
    • Shows extreme anger or aggression with peers
    • Has no friends (is a “loner”)
    • Is bullied at school
    • Starts avoiding social activities and school events
  • Substance abuse. The child:
    • Shows sudden and unexplained changes in physical appearance (red or watery eyes, change in weight)
    • Experiences unexplained physical symptoms (changes in appetite, vomiting, tremors)
    • Has unexplained changes in behavior, mood, attitude, or personality traits
    • Loses interest in hobbies or friends he or she once enjoyed
    • Shows unexplained changes in school performance

Finding the Person Who Can Help

Postadoption programs, adoption support groups, and other adoptive parents are good sources of information about adoption-competent mental health professionals. Look for a therapist or counselor who:

  • Has experience working with children and families
  • Knows about adoption
  • Includes the entire family in at least some of the therapy sessions
  • Makes clear to the child that he or she is not the problem

For more information and resources about connecting with adoption-competent providers on the Information Gateway website


Parenting an adopted child during the elementary school years, as he or she ventures further into the outside world, is both challenging and enriching. Chances are that you will learn as much from your child as he or she will learn from you. With sensitivity to adoption issues, honest communication, and effective discipline, parents can support their child’s healthy development during these exciting years.

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Child Welfare Information Gateway. Available online at