“Your sons behaved like angels!” the woman said about our adopted children. We were delighted our children didn’t act out in front of other people. But we also knew they were acting out around us, pushing boundaries to see how far they could go. One time they took our keys and drove our car straight into the neighbor’s fence—then got upset because they got caught!
Children test boundaries primarily for two reasons: They’re searching for security and a sense of attachment. Both are special concerns for adoptive parents because our children don’t automatically sense security or our love. That’s why, as our relationship with them grows, they continue to test whether we will provide these essential needs.
How do we get our adopted children to stop acting out? We apply the steps for when your clothing catches fire — stop, drop and roll.
Stop and be a good observer
Discern their motives. Is it typical childish misbehavior or something deeper? Ask questions: “What was going on?” and “What were you thinking and feeling when it was happening?” The age of your children will determine their ability to answer in a meaningful way. Sometimes you’ll need to interview siblings to get a complete picture of what happened.
More than a decade later, our grown sons recall their misbehavior and claim we were clueless. Don’t assume your child is too young to know what they are doing.
Drop to your knees
Look directly into your children’s faces at their eye level and reassure them of your love. Listen to what they have to say. This is also the time to pray. Ask God to teach you what the correct disciplinary response should be. We prayed proactively with our sons, and we also prayed after every disciplinary incident.
Roll on from the incident
Too often we become emotionally tied to the incident, rather than forgiving the child and moving on. Just as God has forgiven us, we must forgive them. They need to know that our love for them is secure even when they misbehave.
What our boys feared most was that we would return them to the orphanage. But we talked openly about forgiveness and showed them unconditional love — helping them understand that we may not accept their behavior, but we always accept them. Gradually they came to realize that, even when they acted out, we would never send them back.