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Dr. Bonnie
Dr. Bonnie, Psychologist and RN
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2189
Experience:  35 years experience counseling children and families
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My daughter is 3 1/2. We adopted her from an orphanage at

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My daughter is 3 1/2. We adopted her from an orphanage at 19 months. Ever since we've had her, she has been very destructive. She understands at this point the reasons why we do not want her to rip books, pour the bubbles out of the container, throw all her clothes out of the drawers and pull them off the hangers, stop scraping up the walls with her shoes, books or toys, etc. She has even broken to pieces the 2 blinds we had in her room. Her behavior is exasperating. We will catch her doing something, tell her not to do it, and then she will do it again anyway. When we ask her why she did it, she says, "I don't know", or "I didn't want it anymore". We have done everything from time-outs, to removing everything in her room except her bed, to spankings, to alone time, and all this seems to have no effect. We can never turn our heads away from her, because she seems to always be doing something she shouldn't be. Any suggestions? Thank you!
Being deprived of a relationship with a primary caretaker for 19 months does have effects on a child. It is hypothesized that there is a change in the brain that occurs causing behavioral or developmental problems. Children in foster care or orphanages are left with feelings of anger that they do not understand and cannot verbalize.

You can do 2 things:
1. Accept her unconditionally despite her behavior. (Which I am sure you do)
Boundaries and rules should be set but avoid isolation and physical punishment which may trigger thoughts of earlier treatment.

2. Get professional help from a therapist who has knowledge in Reactive Attachment Disorder. You may be able to get a referral from a agency which places children in foster care because of neglect. She may need this special approach due to being without a primary caretaker for so long. The special therapist will be able to help you find ways to manage her behavior.

Her behavior is not that she does not understand. It is her way of expressing uncomfortable emotions that she cannot verbalize. The child therapist will also work on helping her verbalize her feelings.

In the meantime, when she "acts out" try saying, I can see you are feeling very (angry, mad or upset). Notice her response when you acknowledge her feeling. It is ok to follow up with, I know your mad right now but the rule is "no throwing things". I think you need to go to your calm place for a few minutes. Pick a "calm place" that is nearby and not isolating. Some children who have trouble regulating their emotions really like a small nylon child tent as a calm place. Instead of punishment, you are teaching her self-regulation.

Hope this helps and good luck.
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