Did you choose to avoid diapers and bottles by adopting a preschooler thinking that would make parenting easier? Instead, you had to deal with some undesirable behaviors you just did not expect. Like when your potty-trained darling started having “accidents,” and huge screaming fits that included cussing. Just when you thought you could not stand another day of it, things got better. The following year, just about the same time your preschooler joined the family, those negative behaviors returned. What is going on here–is everyone going crazy? Not exactly. You have witnessed a common phenomenon in older child adoption (older than an infant) known as the anniversary effect.
Try as you might, you cannot reason with your child to just “stop it.” This is not conscious misbehavior. What triggers the anniversary effect is barely perceptible but causes the fight, flight or freeze response. It could be a holiday, a certain smell (good or bad), or a change in the seasons. There is no way for you to know everything that happened to your child before joining your family. Remember this is not your fault, so hard as it is, do not take the behavior personally. The goal is to survive the anniversary without losing your mind instead of trying to fix it.
It may be hard for you to imagine but your preschooler may have been unceremoniously bounced from one placement to another. Often this occurs without any transitional visits. It is common for these new placements to last six months to a year, causing the subconscious cycle to develop. Then around the same time as the last move, regressive behaviors return, forcing a move to the next home. You adopted your child forever but her gut tells her something else. The only thing to convince her is time, love and patience.
What Kinds of Behaviors?
So are you talking about a Picasso in poo or what? Well that has been known to happen, usually on a bedroom or bathroom wall. But fortunately, it’s nothing a scrub brush, soap and vinegar can’t neutralize. Expect children to act much younger, have bathroom accidents, withdraw from activities and refuse attention. In addition, lying, stealing, swearing and breaking of toys are common. Remember, this too shall pass.
Will It Last?
Expecting the anniversary effect each year should make it a little easier for you to handle. The regressive behaviors should begin to diminish each year until they finally disappear. Individual and family counseling sessions can arm you with tools to help your child accept the permanence of adoption. Exploring trigger causes with a qualified therapist can help you develop countermeasures for coping with them.