Confessions & Confusions: Changing Parenting Style Is A Cure
Working Together Is Key To Helping Children With Behavioral Disabilities
While many children with learning and behavioral disabilities are encouraged by schools to be on medication, it may not necessarily be the best solution.
I recently surveyed other foster/adoptive families regarding common things we go through. For this month’s column, I’d like to discuss two themes that arose in the survey in regard to children with learning or behavioral disabilities: parents being accused of not showing enough love for their children and parents being asked to keep their children on medication.
I have been through both in Japan and have found those to be some of the most challenging issues for foster parents.
“You’re not showing enough love”
As I wrote in an earlier article, a teacher at Natsumi’s school initially accused my husband and me of not showing Natsumi enough love and that’s why she was acting out at school. At that time, she was still in the “testing” phase of our relationship, pushing us to see if we were serious about caring for her. She did this by screaming, fighting, throwing things, and stealing. She had troubles at school, too, and was fighting with other children there. We were desperate to show our love for her at that time, but she wouldn’t let us anywhere near her.
Unfortunately, I am not the only foster parent to have had such an unpleasant experience. Through the survey, at least one other parent (out of seven in total) told me that her children’s ADHD and learning disabilities were blamed on the home environment. A different parent was even asked by hospital staff, “What are you doing to her?”
Learning disabilities and ADHD weren’t recognized as categories of disability in Japan until 2006. Before that, children with disabilities were either segregated from other students or sent to special schools for children with disabilities. Parents advocating for inclusion surely had difficulties when coming up against teachers and other seniors in the social hierarchy, who may have disagreed with them. Unfortunately, it is still common for teachers to associate learning and behavior disabilities with parenting and the home environment.
Medication vs. Changing Parenting Methods
Many children who are raised in institutions are likely to suffer from a variety of cognitive, behavioral, and learning disabilities. The list is long: ADHD, neural atrophy, slow language development, autism, violent antisocial behavior, to name the most common ones. Often, these children are put on medications to help them function, and — to be perfectly honest — to make it easier for the staff in care facilities and schools to handle them.
[…] the best way to help traumatized children is to change the way parenting is done.
While children with ADHD and other brain-based disorders do indeed benefit from medication, children who have been traumatized by abuse don’t necessarily do so.
According to Dr. Nitta, a child specialist and parent trainer here in Niigata, the best way to help traumatized children is to change the way parenting is done. We found this out first hand with Natsumi, who was on quite a number of different medications when she first arrived in our home. She didn’t like taking them, though, because they made her feel in her words “strange” and she used to fall asleep very easily. Her teachers at school, however, wanted her to continue taking it because her behavior was not disruptive when she was medicated. We spoke with her psychiatrist and he told us that it was up to her. She stopped taking them, we changed our parenting, by keeping her (and ourselves) calm, listening, and not being pulled into fights, and she hasn’t been on the meds since.
However, some parents I spoke with didn’t quite have the same experience and felt pressured to keep their children on medications at the behest of school teachers.
One parent shared the following story.
Having faced a number of difficulties with their foster child (including an incident at school), the family asked the welfare office for help. An adult psychologist evaluated the child, who was uncomfortable and behaved oddly, so the family was sent to the prefectural children’s hospital where he was evaluated again and put on medication to help with impulse control/explosive behaviors. Meanwhile, however, the family also tried experimenting with better parenting skills for their child. What they discovered is that on or off medications, her son’s behavior did not change. She then advocated for him to be taken off any medication, because she believed they did not help her son. But, the school was reluctant to accept her opinion.
“One social worker tried to stand up for me. [But] one teacher was either mistaken or lied and insisted that the incident happened while [my son] was NOT taking his meds. I found out they were asking him every day at school if he had been taking his medication. I gave in and mostly had him take it. I still don’t believe the medicine has done a thing, but I feel no one trusts my opinion. I don’t know that the teachers would have acted any differently if he were my bio kid, but he would no longer be on meds if it were up to me. When we changed our parenting, his behavior changed completely.”
The Importance of Teamwork
Even children with ADHD can benefit not only from changed parenting, but also from support from teachers working together with them. According to a study published in 2007 by Lisa M. Gatzke-Kopp and Theodore P. Beauchaine in a book titled Human behaviour, learning, and the developing brain, “Children with ADHD should not be expected to be “cured” by the administration of stimulant therapy. By working with parents to modify inappropriate behaviors that may have become entrenched in children’s response repertoires, school personnel are more likely to contribute to the social and academic success of children with ADHD.”
And this is exactly what the seven parents I surveyed are trying to do.
When I asked them how they mitigated problems, they said their strategies included informing teachers about the children’s foster/adoptive status and disabilities beforehand, inviting the child’s social and caseworkers to meetings with teachers, and asking the child’s teachers to communicate with instructors at the next school level (which is what we did before Natsumi started junior high school).
Some parents, however, wished that the school would maintain a file which would have been automatically passed to the next year’s teacher, rather than repeating the process verbally every year.
Everyone needs to work together to ensure that adopted and foster children succeed in school.
In any case, everyone needs to work together to ensure that adopted and foster children succeed in school. This is especially pressing, given that the rate of institutionalized children going on to tertiary education is 9% compared to children raised by birth parents — 50%.
I also believe that it’s essential to replace traditional activities, such as making family trees and other tasks which will only remind adopted and foster children that they are not being raised by their birth parents. But that’s for another time…
“Confessions & Confusions” is Melodie Cook’s regular column on adoption and fostering in Japan. Here, she answers questions from potential adoptive or foster parents, those who have already been through the system or any parents who just need to let off some steam. Got a question? Leave a comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.