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Behavior Problems in Adopted Brother

Middle School Expert Advice from Connie Collins

Q: I'm married and have a four-year-old. My 11-year-old adopted brother has been living with me because my mom died and my father is elderly and not able to take care of him. My brother has a behavior problem. What I mean is that he is constantly getting into trouble at school, stealing, and lying. I have tried everything I know of to help him, but he is only getting worse. I was thinking of sending him to some type of boot camp because he doesn't seem to have any respect for me as an adult and he is starting to disrupt my home. Do you think that is a good idea? He has been to counseling, but that has only helped temporarily.

A: All 11-year-olds transitioning to middle school have difficulty. Lying and stealing are often expressions of a child's grief and fear of abandonment. They are survival skills that your brother may have acquired to get some kind of control in his life. You don't say when your parents adopted him, but I would ask you to consider that this is a very young child who was given up for adoption by his parent. Then his adoptive mother dies and he has to leave his home and come to yours -- another new place, another new group of people who he probably fears will abandon him, too.

Taking on such a child demands a long-term commitment and is not an easy task. I applaud you for assuming this responsibility. I understand that you don't want your own family life disrupted and it doesn't have to be. You can best help yourself and him by enrolling you and your partner in a parenting skills class, and/or family counseling (that means everyone in the family). I also strongly urge you to get your brother into a grieving group. Check first with the school counselor. Other resources for groups are funeral homes, hospitals, and hospices.

You say that counseling helps temporarily. Counseling is a process and it will take your brother time to learn new behaviors. It will take you and your family time to learn new behaviors also, but the key to changing what your brother does is the changes you make in your responses to his behaviors.

Professionally, I believe a boot camp would be the worst thing for your brother right now. It will only confirm to him that he is worthless and that no one wants him.

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Connie Collins, professional school counselor, worked for 35 years in public education as a teacher and counselor at the middle school and secondary levels. Collins worked daily with the parents of the students in her various schools, and has facilitated several parenting groups.


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