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When I was a young boy, I had countless behavior problems ranging from setting fires, destruction of property, vandalism, stealing, sneaking out at night, fighting, cursing, the list goes on and on from as far back as I can remember all the way into my young adulthood. In fact, I’m still prone to thinking about slipping a nice ink pen in coat pocket. I really love nice ink pens. Notice, I said “thinking about.” I’ve since long ago let the stealing addiction go. It was a behavior I acquired in the first grade when I developed my first crush on Brandi Clark. She sure was pretty. And of course, being a little kid with no money I learned pretty quickly that I could slip a candy bar or a lollipop in my pocket from the local Quick Mart and it would put a big smile on Brandi’s face when I handed it to her the next day at recess. What more reinforcement than that could a boy need?
Truth is, I drove my parents a little bit bonkers with all of my nutty behavior which inevitably they simply did not understand. My adoptive parents (the only parents I ever had. I have since met both biological parents but that’s another story.) were old school. They yelled, hit, whipped, threatened, shamed, isolated, removed privileges, you name it. If it existed on the old school continuum of parenting, then they did it. I’ve probably had more consequences, harsher consequences than any love and logic instructor could come up with. Did it work? Nope. Not for one minute longer than my mind was set on the next thing I intended to do. In fact, only on occasion did I actually plot and plan. That occurred later as a teen when my brain had developed further. As a child, I was just impulsive. Doing what felt good in the moment. Brain research now informs us that a stressed-out brain cannot learn. Thus, punishment will never be an effective teacher. Punishment causes stress which creates a threat between the parent and the child. The only thing that happens as a by-product of punishment is that the child gets sneakier, and the parents get more exhausted. It’s a never-ending cycle of negative feedback. I lived it. I watched my sister live it. And I have since gone on to see it as one of the greatest obstacles I must help parents overcome in their adoptive parenting journey.
What worked for me, many have asked? My parents did three things right that made all the difference. Here they are:
Being an adopted child was not easy for my parents or for me, but we made it through. Oftentimes it will be the simplest approach that will make the biggest difference in your child’s life and in your own home. Learn to breathe, have faith, and choose love.
Bryan Post, an adopted child and former foster child, is the author of the best-selling adoption parenting book From Fear to Love: Parenting challenging adopted and foster children with over 700,000 copies sold. You can receive a free copy by going to www.feartolovebook.com He is also the Clinical Director for Parents in Training, a 501 (c) 3, non-profit that provides wraparound services for adoptive families across Northern California.