By: A Mother of a Hidden Pearl
A storm raged within my son. Four months after adopting my daughter, I discovered a gut-wrenching picture one of my biological son’s drew. Fear ripped through me as I examined
it in disbelief.
Before me was a drawing of two guns. One pointed at himself. The other, at his adopted sister. What does this mean? I worried. Does he want to hurt himself? Is he going to hurt his sister? I couldn't wait for my next adoption therapy session.
“No. He doesn't,” explained my therapist when I saw her a few days later. Her answer calmed my frazzled nerves. “The picture represents his anger,” she explained. “But what can I do?” I asked. “Reflect on his feelings,” she replied. This jolted me. I realized I hadn’t done something I thought was second nature.
Now, as a ponder over the 3 years since we adopted our daughter, I’ve become aware that reflecting on emotions hasn’t always been easy. Some strategies that have helped, though, include the following:
• Name the feelings. According to the Clinical Social Worker who helps our family, many children can’t put a name to the emotions they are experiencing, so naming feelings helps to tame them. Most often, my boys act out when they are upset so, I must be a detective. When I think through and then label the underlying feelings, the “storm is calmed” and my children feel valued and respected.
• Have realistic expectations. I naturally have high expectations. I expect my boys to have self-control, be respectful, and have compassion. Not just 75% of the time, ALL the time. So, when our daughter joined our family, and their behaviour regressed to the point of raging jealousy and anger, it baffled me. Today, I still struggle when they react to their sister or push her buttons. However, when I adjust my expectations and realize they are still kids (even though they are young teenagers now), I am better able to reflect on their feelings, show empathy and walk alongside them in this journey.
• Be patient. I like immediate results. Reflecting on feelings often has an instant effect but to varying degrees. Reflecting may be required over, and over, and over again before behaviours and underlying feelings change. This takes patience.
A few weeks after I found the disturbing picture with guns, when I was ready to look at it again, I unfolded the paper, showed it to my son, and asked “Is THIS how mad you are?” His face turned light pink, but he nodded his head. We embraced in a hug and proceeded to have a good discussion about his frustrations.