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Adoption Blog: The Perfect Blend

A Sensitive Way to Address Our Son’s Behavior Problems?

Thank you to those of you who have responded to my last post about the important, agonizing struggles of earning our newly adopted son's trust. I'm pleased to report that, in the past week or two, we've all come a long way. Dylan seems to be thriving, blossoming into a funny—pleasantly quirky, actually—little boy who still complains when I leave the room to take a shower but has fun with his daddy in the meantime and is happy to see me come back.

On to the next challenge.

Dylan's a hitter. He hits when he's mad. He hits when he's frustrated. He hits when he's tired or when he's wound up. He hits me—a lot, actually—when we're snuggling and he's content. He hits me upwards of 30 or 40 times a day. We've spoken to several post-placement social workers who say it's a baby thing or a boy thing.

And maybe it is. But I'm not particularly keen on being beaten by my child.

Although hitting isn't an adoption issue per se, I feel like I want to simultaneously teach my son good behavior and be sensitive to his history and the strides he's made in the methods I use. Since separation has been such an issue, for example, a time-out isn't the answer. But a firm "no" is met with laughter and another hit. Advice anyone? In stubbornly refusing to accept that it's just "natural" behavior for a boy, am I making a mistake? How can we curb this behavior?

Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle


Oh, and a firm “no” did not work for us either.  Our son was extremely reactive to anything but calm.

By lovemykids on Friday, September 09, 2011 at 6:21 pm.

I’m so grateful for all of your comments. This is going to be an ongoing thing for us and I really appreciate your help!

By Meghan on Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm.

To give an effective answer, it would help to know how old your child is. What is acceptable behavior from a toddler often is completely inappropriate for an eight year old.
Kids adopted after trauma and abuse often wrestle with hair-trigger responses that can be unintentionally set off by events that link back to painful past experiences. Things like an unexpected touch, a loud voice, a particular smell or sound—any of these can flip them back into the fear of an old experience.
    What patterns do you notice around the hitting. Track the time,  analyze the circumstances that immediately preceded the behavior. Determine if hunger, thirst or fatigue were contributing factors becasue this are easy to solve. Also these three basics can trigger"survival-mode” stress response that show up as fight/flight or freeze. Once the meltdown begins, reasoning is useless until the adrenalin has burned itself out. Stay calm. Keep them safe while they’re out of control. When the storm has played itself out, help them name the emotions that were overwhelming them and help them find ways to deal with the feelings before they fling them into the statosphere.

Dr. Karen Purvis has writtten an excellent book called THE CONNECTED CHILD. She describes this link between physical need and emotional breakdown.

By Gayle.Swift on Monday, September 12, 2011 at 1:25 am.

Hello everyone,

One of my three adopted children was a hitter and a biter, how special.  He didn’t hit or bite me,  he did this to other children, including his siblings.

You are right, when my first response was to isolate him, from the rest of the family, this unleashed a huge amount of fear in him.

I had sent my husband and the other two children to pick up Chinese food for dinner, and had told my son, he wasn’t going because he couldn’t behave himself.

Despite the fact that I was right there in the kitchen with him, after much talking and crying, he finally said, in this little voice, “Mom, I don’t think I can make it by myself.”

Wow, how badly did I feel?  I explained to him that he would never need make it by himself, and at that point he was ready to listen to why hitting and biting was not a good idea.

I love blogging and find me at http:/


By JaneBallback on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm.

Here’s a quick tip about languaging. When commenting on a child’s inappropriate behavior, phrase it in a way that describes the behavior as a past event.
    For example, “Son, hitting is not acceptable in this house. Because you did not behave (past tense) then you (name the consequence the behavior earned.) This simple distinction in language puts the behavior squarely in the past. 
    An open-ended phrase like “I see you can’t get along with your sister.” carries an implied message that the behavior is permanent and will continue into the future.
  Try this and notice the difference. I believe you’ll be amazed with the positive results.

By Gayle.Swift on Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 2:46 am.

I have struggled with a daughter who has hit me, spat upon me, kicked me, etc., so I would say that no, it is not a “boy thing”.  I agree with you that you do not want a child hitting you, and that little boy will become a big boy, so the problem needs to be addressed.  As I learned about RAD, and what causes RAD, and how to parent a child with RAD, and eventually started working with other children with attachment disorder, I began to understand the thinking behind the behavior. The behavior itself, while difficult to live with, should not be the primary focus.  The important part is teaching your son about feelings, then, when he feels like hitting, helping him to identify what he is feeling that is making him want to hit you. Once a child learns to identify and talk about feelings, the behaviors greatly diminish and usually over time, disappear because they understand themselves, and feel understood. Although this sounds simplistic, it is a lot of work, but is what can ultimately help with your son’s hitting problem, as well as the attachment between the two of you.

By sfull on Tuesday, February 07, 2012 at 5:54 pm.
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