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