I had hoped that Karen’s behavioral problems were beginning to improve, at least at kindergarten, if not at home. Her teachers told me that she has been behaving well, at least she’s not hitting anyone. This morning I ran into one of her friends’ moms. While making conversation, I asked her if things had improved and whether her daughter had complained about Karen. I was aware that Karen had pulled her daughter’s hair about a week ago. Imagine my surprise when the mother tells me that her daughter has almost daily complaints about Karen saying bad things, hitting and punching her!

All of last year, Karen was seeing a social worker who specializes in the problems of adopted children. Over the summer we experienced a worsening of Karen’s behavior and I got a referral to a senior clinical psychologist who specializes in children with oppositional behavior. I understand from my reading that it is normal for Karen to have delayed emotional development because the theory is that a child adopted from an institutional setting usually only begins their emotional development once they are placed with their family. Karen has been with us 3.5 years, which would mean her emotional development is similar to a 3-4 year old. But this still doesn’t explain why she has anger so volcanic that when it comes out, it is inevitably hurtful, whether it is a verbal or a physical assault.

We believe her overwhelming anger stems from her first two years in the orphanage. Her experience was very different from Matan’s. We could clearly see that he was in a warm and caring environment, even if the physical setting was terrible. With Karen, the physical environment was slightly better (she had a bigger living space), but she received no affection and probably much of the opposite. My guess is that being a girl, and not ethnically Ukrainian, she was treated as an outsider by the caretakers who tended to ascribe only the worst to her. She also had breathing problems which meant that she may have spent a lot of time in a cold, medical environment when she had asthma attacks which were common when she was younger. She was already aggressive when we first met her, but she was our first child and we expected that her behavior was fairly normal for an orphanage child. Only once we brought Matan home did we begin to see the huge difference in their ability to receive and give affection. Of course today Karen is very affectionate with us, but has trouble showing affection to any of her more extended family.

We are doing everything we can to help her get ready for first grade so she can start over with improved behavior. I’m terribly afraid that if we don’t manage to get this thing under control this year, she will have more and more serious social problems and problems in school. As it is, she has alienated many girls who were her friends. She is very lucky that she has one very close friend at gan whose mother knows Karen since the adoption. The friend never complains about Karen and her mother has no problem sending her daughter to our home, or taking Karen into her own.

Karen has a poor self image. I was surprised to discover this during one of our discussions with her therapist. We make so much effort to give her positive reinforcement for good behavior and showing loving attention to her brother or others, etc. Even when she hits or engages in other antisocial behavior I tell her the behavior is bad, but she’s not. I always try to make this very clear, no matter what she’s done.

Today a mother asked me whether I thought there was anything that would eventually help Karen, or would she “stay this way”. My mood took an instant tumble as I made a mental note to ask our therapist at our next parent meeting on Friday. Can therapy improve Karen’s behavior in the long term, or is it just a temporary patch that will require ongoing treatment to find a positive way to help her get the negative energy out? In other words, is she ruined for life. I can’t let myself think that way, it’s just too heavy for me, and I feel the tears stuck in my chest.

Post title is taken from my friend and fellow blogger, Dana, who writes about her challenges in raising a daughter with autism spectrum. We both suffer the pain of not knowing whether our children will improve with treatment and whether the we are doing the most that is possible. Meanwhile, our children struggle day to day and moment to moment to feel “normal” and fit in with their peers.