Ever worry that meeting your child’s needs might be spoiling her? Check out the below question we received by email and read our response to learn more about needs, wants, trust and control.
From Our Inbox:
I was discussing the behavior of my adopted 4 year old with a friend, and she was describing what was going on in her house. It seems we have the same child, she the female version! We realized that each of these children (in addition to coming from the same overseas orphanage) experienced trauma in the first months of life. Now, both children are loving and continuing to show signs of attachment, but are the most strong willed, stubborn, and at times inflexibe children you’ve ever seen. My husband and I say, we all (including his biological adopted sister) go with the flow and our son directs the flow. I have taken your course on power struggle or adoptive behavior, and I either need to take it again, or need some techniques to use and share with my friend. We were thinking maybe their behavior is a result of answering that cycle of need one to many times. Have we created this behavior? Anyway, whatever you can suggest, we are listening and eager to hear. You are always my go-to gals on all things adoption, so thanks for all the work you do.
Eager to Hear
Dear Eager to Hear,
First, let me assure you that you cannot spoil or overindulge a child by meeting their needs. Having needs met over and over again in a timely, consistent, nurturing fashion creates positive brain based skills. You can, however, spoil or overindulge a child by granting them every one of their desires, wishes, or wants. There is a big difference between consistently meeting needs and always granting wants.
The Difference Between Meeting Needs and Granting Wants:
You could never become spoiled just because your partner or significant other interacted with you everyday, smiled at you, helped you fix a problem with a broken appliance, attended your child’s school meeting with you, kissed you and hugged you daily, and remembered that you are allergic to peanuts whenever he or she cooked. That’s because these are just examples of meeting your needs as a spouse or partner.
You could however become “spoiled” if your spouse did all the cooking, cleaning and car and appliance repair with no need for input or help from you, rubbed your feet every single night, routinely brought home lavish gifts , made you breakfast in bed daily, let you choose the menu always, never raised his or her voice or demanded their own way, and basically gave in to anything and everything you ever WANTED.
It’s the same with children. Since I’m not able to see into your home you will have to discern for yourself if you are simply meeting needs (food, comfort, support, boundaries, guidance, etc.) or if you are acquiescing to every want. And remember, choosing to indulge in some of your child’s wants is perfectly fine as long as it is on your own terms and you understand the difference between needs and wants.
Trust and Control:But beyond the needs and wants conversation there lies an even more important topic to consider in your question. That is the topic of controlling behavior and why so many children who waited in orphanages before their adoption exhibit such a strong need to control their environment even after they are safe at home with needs meeting parents. When you say that you have the ability to “go with the flow” but your son “directs the flow” and when you use adjectives like “stubborn, strong willed and inflexible” you describe what I imagine to be a child struggling to remain in control. And given the history it makes a lot of sense.
Remember that even as you meet your child’s many needs over and over again now, you are still battling against the fact that prior to coming to you those needs were likely not met in a timely and nurturing fashion and so it makes sense that skills learned from having one’s needs met, skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, self regulation , empathy and the most important of all ….trust, might be lacking.
You mention that your child shows positive signs of attachment, and that’s great, but remember that attachment is more than just love. It also encompasses all of those brain based skills….especially trust. A child who is still developing healthy levels of trust is much more likely to act in controlling ways. Because of this it isn’t surprising to me at all that both your child and your friend’s child are exhibiting similar controlling behaviors. I’m just more inclined to point to a lack of needs meeting early in life as the culprit.
So what’s a parent to do? More of the same. Keep up that needs meeting parenting and enjoy spending time with your friend who is parenting in the same way. Help each other by chatting about needs and wants and discerning if you are striking a balance on delivering some wants and meeting most needs. You mentioned taking some of our shorter courses but if you haven’t taken Because They Waited we strongly suggest it. It really helps to answer some of the why’s as well as the “what to do’s” in a more comprehensive way than some of our shorter courses.
Hope that helps! Keep us posted on your progress and thoughts.