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Growing Concerns (02/04/2004)
By Dr. Martha Erickson
A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota

Question: Four months ago we adopted a 2-year-old boy. He often wakes up crying in the middle of the night, his moods are unpredictable, and even when he's not fussing or fighting, he rarely smiles. We have given him a stable, loving home, but it doesn't seem to be enough.

Answer: The arrival of a new family member is a challenge and a big adjustment under any conditions but your situation poses some special issues. You do not mention anything about the circumstances of the adoption. Was he removed from an abusive home? Did he lose his parents through death? Was he in a foster home and now has "lost" those parents as a result of his placement with you? Or was he perhaps moved from place to place without any opportunity to form strong relationships?

Whatever his history and whatever the circumstances of the adoption, this little boy brings that history with him. In the first two years of life, children normally are building a sense of trust through their attachments to the adults who love and care for them. When that does not happen, it can take much time and patience to gradually establish that sense of trust. Four months is really not a very long time to undo what happened during the first two years of life. If his experience tells him that people disappear after a while--or that they cannot be counted on to care for him--then he may be very slow to trust in the love you offer him. His crying in the night is an opportunity for you to reassure him that you are there for him.

Beyond the psychological effects of his life history, it is possible that there are physiological effects as well. Poor nutrition, chemical use by parents prior to or during the pregnancy and the general quality of care he received can have an impact on his behavior. Your pediatrician or family physician can work with you to carefully monitor your son's development, making sure that any problems are identified and addressed as early as possible.

Some of what you are seeing in your son also reflects his stage of development. Most 2-year-olds are moody and unpredictable. They are going through rapid changes in motor skills, language ability and learning what they can and cannot do. They swing from wanting to be big and all-powerful to wanting to just curl up and be little babies. It will take time for your son to learn what is expected of him and to know that you will be there to love and guide him.

All parents need support to see them through the ups and downs of children's development. And adoptive parents need and deserve special support to address their unique issues. I suggest you contact your adoption agency or a mental health agency in your community and ask about resources for adoptive parents. Many communities offer support groups or can link you with national networks that provide information and support specifically for adoptive parents.

Growing Concerns

A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the

University of Minnesota

Question: I am home-schooling my four children, ages 10, 8, 7 and 4. I believe this is the right thing for my family, but I often feel I am not taking any time for myself. My house is a mess, and I often find myself yelling at the kids in frustration. What can I do to make sure that I remain focused on educating my children without losing my mind?

Answer: It sounds as though the teacher is ready for recess! If I were you, I'd begin by taking inventory of potential sources of help and support. First of all, does your spouse share your commitment to home schooling? If so, perhaps you could arrange for him to teach a couple of lessons each week during the evening or on weekends while you take some time for yourself. Even an hour to walk or sleep or read a good book can ease some of the pressure you feel. Maybe it's also time to arrange for your husband to take on more household tasks--or, if financially feasible, hire someone else to clean for a few hours each week.

Are there other extended family members or close friends who are invested in your children's education? If so, maybe they would be willing to take the children on a special outing or introduce them to a new skill or hobby every so often. It's hard to ask for one-sided favors, so try offering something in return--maybe even a casserole and dessert made by you and the kids during home-school time. (Cooking provides great opportunities to practice reading, measuring, fractions, temperature and time concepts.)

Are you affiliated with other home-school families? Perhaps you could work out a weekly exchange with another family as a way of buying yourself some time off. Or maybe there's an interesting after-school program in sports or the arts that would be a good complement to your children's home schooling and would allow you time for yourself. Even hiring a neighborhood teenager to come to the house once or twice a week for educational games or storytime could allow you a much needed break.

If you're like most parents who home-school, you do so to ensure your children a good education in academic subjects and in values and character development. But the bottom line is, if you're exhausted, frustrated and yelling at your children, you probably are defeating your own purpose for home schooling. If you can't find the support and respite you need to sustain you in your effort, it may be time to reconsider enrolling your children in school. If it comes to that, you could become an active partner in your children's education by volunteering in their classrooms and supporting their teachers' best efforts--and still have time to catch your breath and enjoy some of the activities that help you feel calm and fresh. 


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