The following list of often-experienced behaviors of traumatized adopted children was developed by Dr. Arthur Becker Weidman, Ph.d. He has studied attachment and complex trauma especially in children who were adopted after the age of 18 months. If you are an adoptive parent and you can check off more than a few of the characteristics on this list, you may have a child with attachment and/or complex trauma issues.
1. My child acts cute or charms others to get others to do what my child wants.
2. My child often does not make eye contact when adults want to make eye contact with my child.
3. My child is overly friendly with strangers.
4. My child pushes me away or becomes stiff when I try to hug, unless my child wants something from me.
5. My child argues for long periods of time, often about ridiculous things.
6. My child has a tremendous need to have control over everything, becoming very upset if things don't go my child's way.
7. My child acts amazingly innocent, or pretends that things aren't that bad when caught doing something wrong.
8. My child does very dangerous things, ignoring that my child may be hurt.
9. My child deliberately breaks or ruins things.
10. My child doesn't seem to feel age-appropriate guilt when my child does something wrong.
11. My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to other children.
12. My child seems unable to stop from doing things on impulse.
13. My child steals, or shows up with things that belong to others with unusual or suspicious reasons for how my child got these things.
14. My child demands things, instead of asking for them.
15. My child doesn't seem to learn from mistakes and misbehavior (no matter what the consequence, the child continues the behavior).
16. My child tries to get sympathy from others by telling them that I abuse, don't feed, or don't provide the basic life necessities.
17. My child "shakes off" pain when hurt, refusing to let anyone provide comfort.
18. My child likes to sneak things without permission, even though my child could have had these things if my child had asked.
19. My child lies, often about obvious or ridiculous things, or when it would have been easier to tell the truth.
20. My child is very bossy with other children and adults.
21. My child hoards or sneaks food, or has other unusual eating habits (eats paper, raw flour, package mixes, baker's chocolate, etc. )
22. My child can't keep friends for more than a week.
23. My child throws temper tantrums that last for hours.
24. My child chatters non-stop, asks repeated questions about things that make no sense, mutters, or is hard to understand when talking.
25. My child is accident-prone (gets hurt a lot), or complains a lot about every little ache and pain (needs constant band aids).
26. My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to animals.
27. My child doesn't do as well in school as my child could with even a little more effort.
28. My child has set fires, or is preoccupied with fire.
29. My child prefers to watch violent cartoons and/or TV shows or horror movie (regardless of whether or not you allow your child to do this).
30. My child was abused/neglected during the first year of life, or had several changes of primary caretaker during the first several years of life.
31. My child was in an orphanage for more than the first year of life.
32. My child was adopted after the age of eighteen months.
My own children have exhibited most every one of the behaviors listed above, including #28. (Yes, that was a scary, scary time.) Depending upon which of my two traumatized children we’re talking about, they continue to exhibit many of these even after being home for nearly six years. It is exhausting for all family members and most of all for the children affected by trauma and their mama. The behaviors that are most pervasive for my kids seem to be those that are also pervasive in other families with traumatized older adopted children. Numbers 1-7 are pretty much a given, no matter what family I know. Likewise, #15-19 dominate the life of many traumatized children/teens. In fact, many of us parenting trauma have learned to EXPECT lies and demands and while we’ve learned to redirect our children, we are very weary from having to do so all the time. Another behavior I have seen in nearly all the traumatized children/teens I know is #29. My kids love blood, gore and violence. They love dark stories with depraved characters, evil and black magic. It doesn’t matter that these are things we avoid in our Christian home. Even though they profess to be Christians themselves, they are still drawn like a moth to the flame. It is NOT a spiritual deficiency. It is how their brains have been wired by trauma. It’s what makes them feel “normal” and not anxious. Yet, it is also what makes them act out in big ways with big feelings. They will sneak around to read books and view YouTube videos as well as watch movies we don’t allow whenever they get the chance.
Now, please understand, I am NOT saying that all adopted children exhibit all the behaviors listed. Please remember, too, that I have parented four neuro-typical children prior to adopting my two from hurt backgrounds. I know any child can exhibit any of these behaviors. However, I also know neuro-typical (NT) kids don’t exhibit them on a regular basis, nor do they exhibit multiple behaviors at the same time on a regular basis. This is NOT “normal” kid stuff. (Most parents of traumatized kids that I know are especially tired of hearing from those not walking this road that it is.)
I am saying, however, that ALL children I know who were adopted after the age of 18 months or so do indeed deal with trauma. They deal with attachment issues. They may not have full-blown RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), but they struggle with attachment on some level due to trauma. That may make a reader or two bristle, but I stick by my experience. Getting adopted is traumatic and it does not happen without profound loss.
However, I am also not saying that adoption is a negative thing. It is not! It is wonderful and it is a blessing, even as it is a challenge. I am saying you’d better make darned sure you are called to adopt before you do it. It is HARD to knit a child to your heart who has experienced the loss that is involved in adoption. Do not expect your child to love you back or be grateful for the time, love and things you give him or her. Ask tough questions from people who live this life before you ever fill out an agency application. Make sure those people are brutally honest with you. Pray hard. Learn more than the social workers require of you. Read everything you can about trauma and attachment before you ever complete your home study.
If you're already an adoptive parent dealing with this kind of stuff and you need some connection with people who "get it, let me know. I know some people and I have some resources to share with you. If you're anyone else, thanks for reading! If you want to know more because you want to help a family you care about, let me know that, too. I also have some resources to share with you.