Lying and Stealing in Adopted Children

Q&A with the Experts


lying and stealing in adopted childrenQ: How can you tell if your child’s lying or stealing is related to adoption or a normal developmental stage?

A: According to Rebecca Rozema, an adoption social worker with Bethany Christian Services, every child expresses needs through their behavior, regardless of whether or not they are adopted. If a child is lying or stealing, are they fearful of the response from adults, even if the response from the current adults has always been supportive? Are they trying to be independent and meet their own needs, because they haven’t been able to trust adults to meet their needs in the past, or because they want to exert their independence? Are they trying to get attention in a negative way because they don’t feel they are getting enough attention from their parents and are willing to get it in any way possible? Do they believe that they are a bad kid at their core and are therefore proving this to themselves and others by bringing on punishment and shaming to reinforce that belief? Does the child’s lying or stealing behavior increase in times of high stress or after experiencing some change or loss in their world? These are important questions to ask in trying to figure out the underlying reasons for the behavior.

What’s more important is to look at how the adults in the child’s life (parents, neighbors, teachers) are addressing any lying or stealing behavior. Whether the behavior is related to trauma, adoption, or normal development, the response is the same. No matter what is going on with your child, it is important to come to them with love and acceptance of who they are as a person and clear boundaries that these behaviors are not acceptable. Isolating and loss-related consequences will not deter them from engaging in the negative behaviors, but will make them feel less connected to you. Their healthy and positive connection to you is what will help them make appropriate choices in the future as they integrate your belief system into their lives.

How do you build that positive connection when the lying and stealing is already happening? Find ways to involve them in positive activities with you, regardless of their behavior. Not every reward needs to be earned, sometimes we need to show our kids grace and extra love when they seem to be acting their worst. Bring them closer to you during times of stress and increased negative behaviors. Make sure you are showing them that you love them regardless of their actions, but that you appreciate the positive choices they are making when they do make them.

Rebecca Rozema is an adoption social worker with Bethany Christian Services and their National ADOPTS Program Director. She is also a mom of 5 sons, 2 of which are foster sons. For more information on this topic, listen to the Creating a Family radio show: “Effective Discipline for Lying, Stealing, and Other Challenging Behaviors” and visit our blog: “8 Tried & True Tips for Handling Lying, Stealing, & Cheating.”

Image credit: mdanys

09/11/2015 | by Q&A with the Experts | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Q&A with the Experts | 2 Comments

2 Responses to Lying and Stealing in Adopted Children

  1. Avatar Carol Steigentrout says:

    I’m dealing with this to an extreme so I again re enforced how we love you but we need to know their are boundaries. All of my clothing is leaving. The state of Michigan lies about kids backgrounds. We wanted zero mental illness and we have one with severe schitzoprenia. As did every generation ahead of them. We were informed an awful lie that the biological mother was raped by her adoptive parents. Since we have met all families involved and every generation has same mental disorder. I didn’t want to deal with this even remotely. Now who pays as she is lifelong problems and mental illness. I will not we sign off at 18. The state should have made better choices.

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      I’m so sorry, Carol. That sounds very painful and stressful… Have you considered therapy for yourself and/or for your child? We have plenty of resources to help you find a therapist that can support your family through these hard issues, and help you get the help you need. Our Adoption Therapy Resource Page is a great starting point:

      Best wishes to you. I hope you guys find the support you need to heal and to get your child the help she needs.

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