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Therapeutic reparenting adopted teens

OK readers!  I have 2 adopted teenagers who were at infants school when they came to me. Now, wow 19 and 16, how did that happen?

Now we are 13 years in and have been through hell, high-waters and more hell and some lovely picnics on the way. Our strength here in the land of POTATO is our stories and here’s a chance to spill!

Parenting therapeutically as I understand it is basically the behaviours of your teen as their language, to go with your grasp of the situation as having their early trauma somewhere in the mix and fundamentally go for the relationship option.

Sounds woolly? Well, it does to me too. Lets do real stuff then put Teenage Dirt Bag on the ipod, & buckle up for the ride.

Doing what I do, I’ve read a bit of Bruce Perry, Margot Sunderland etc and know a fair bit about how brains get knobbled by repeated early trauma but that as parents of teenagers we get a second go at rewiring things. I love this book on teenage parenting in young people who have an established ego, stable enough early start, it’s called “Blame My Brain". This reading and experiences over the years have cherry picked from the great published gurus of Planet Adoption.

Teen slob in the lounge

In real life, my 19 year old has been living in the lounge and instead of walking the 8 feet to the kitchen bin, has stuffed all his rubbish and food waste in a heap behind the sofa. He has yelled grumpily about having to move at all to put it away and argued that it is in fact an art installation and will make him millions of pounds cash. He gets up and stands glowering at you and clenches his fist.

This is normal teenage lazy slobbish behaviour I hear you thinking at the screen, well, yes it would be but with all things adoption it is the intensity, frequency and reasons attached that are just really different. Stand back with me and look at the options.

Normal Range Parenting - Option 1

Mutter that he’s a lazy slob and tell him to put his stuff in the bin without the smart comments.

Normal Range Teen- Mutter that its unfair, stomp about and harrumph then do the bin things. Maybe Tweet your mates that your parents don’t understand your angst and art.

Traumatised Adopted Teen (TAT) Likely response- He hears only word “slob” and reads the whole thing as a personal attack he feels worthless anyway and is terrified you’ve found out and will capitalise on it. All this, because of his past, he will be in immediate protective mode of his very fragile self and go for fight, flight or freeze,  none of which are helpful for you or him or tackling the smelly rubbish in the lounge.

Fed Up Parent Option 2

Having been on the receiving end of your TAT and their responses to you asking them to do things they feel bad about you just pick it up for them.

Normal Range Teen- Thank parents for helping out via the gift of the teenage GRUNT. Try and remember to do it next time as its a bit embarrassing at 19 not to be able to clear up after yourself.

TAT- Parents are LOOSERS and I now know that I can be safe by dictating what they have to do for me. Or feel they are being attacked for who they are and what they are doing and still go into fight, flight freeze.

Therapeutic Parenting Option 3

Try and think that he’s a terrified toddler inside there and pick up the stuff with his help (without having a go at him for leaving it there). Show him some cool stuff on You Tube stacking up cola cans.

teen toddler

Teen=Terrified toddler

Normal Range Teen- likes all the above, fixes smelly mess in lounge issue.

TAT- Is not shamed too painfully to act appropriately and learns how good it is to be beside Parents fixing stuff together. So develops a tiny bit more relationship by degrees.

I think Option 3 is better, actually wondering if most non adopted teens could benefit to some degree from this sort of parenting? Its more exhausting for the parent and so make sure, you have a way of “sniffing the roses” with a cuppa and a break from mr moody pants.

There we are, we are going for option 3, if we fail, please reserve the Tate gallery space for “mouldy mess” installation of our lounge…

If you are an adoptive parent and would like to join our group please visit our membership page


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