Ask Dr. Gregory Keck Your Adoption Parenting Questions Here!

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"I am terrified to go to sleep at night. My child is so violent, I'm afraid she'll kill me. What should I do?:

“I am terrified to go to sleep at night. My child is so violent, I’m afraid she’ll kill me. What should I do?:

Have a great time with Dr. Keck this week!
I hope you gain many new insights.
By the way, the photo is not of Dr. Keck.



  • We have a 6 year old son who was adopted a year ago. He spent the first 5 years in orphanage care. He struggles with a strong need for control and cycles of outbursts, or rages, that involve physical aggression (hitting, biting, scratching, etc.) and threats of future aggression. He can also be very affectionate and comes into our bed every night for snuggles and reassurance. Right now he is going through one of his outburst cycles, and seems to be upping the ante on aggression and threats. We are working with a therapist who has emphasized empathizing with his underlying emotions and deemphasizing his behavior. She has told us that as he becomes more connected to us the outbursts with resolve themselves. We are concerned that the outbursts are becoming part of a pattern, we have been empathizing and talking about feelings since he came home, but he is still having these cycles of aggression and is completely unresponsive to all of the “calm down” techniques (using a calm voice, mirroring his feelings, deep breathing) when he is in one of these moods. Any suggestions would be appreciated!


    • Just to clarify, we are looking for suggestions about creating boundaries. How do we create boundaries around the defiance & aggressive behaviors & still let our son know that he is loved & safe. This pattern is beginning to wear on the whole family. Thank you!


      • The cycle needs to be interrupted and just waiting for these episodes to cease will probably result in their increasing in both frequency and intensity. If physically and safely possible, holding him through the process may expedite the process he starts. If you can comfort him during the ‘tantrums’ by holding him, when he does calm down you will be right there with him when he re-regulates and is ready for your comforting him. Active nurturing is much more important than empathy and breathing-which probably activate him more than not intervening at all.


  • Shelly Burns How can you control/curb lying? My 6 yr old lies even when he’s not the one being questioned
    Yesterday at 9:25am · Unlike · 1

    Shelly Burns What can be done about 3 year old tantrums?
    Yesterday at 9:25am · Unlike · 1

    Maureen Roberts Say Hello to Greg for me . I can highly recommend him he really understand children and what adoptive parents face in parenting children that have experienced trauma.
    Yesterday at 9:29am · Unlike · 1

    Pam Raab Miltenberger My 13 and 15 year old lie first, think second. It’s quite exhausting and gets so hard not to be syndical about everything they say. (Bio sisters adopted at 5, 6 yrs)
    Yesterday at 9:35am · Edited · Unlike · 1

    Lilli Hazard How do you keep a 9 yr old who is harder on herself than anyone could be (she is a perfectionist) enthused about school and not give up on homework when it doesn’t come out perfect the first time? She lacks in persistence. She also has adhd and is in the gifted and talented program.
    Yesterday at 10:12am · Unlike · 1


    • Hi, Shelly. Lying is one of the most commonly seen things in children who have had early trauma which caused attachment issues. It is called primary process lying; it is the kind of lying which occurs prior to child’s being able to understand that the person he/she is lying to is able to evaluate what is being said. When parents ask the child, ” Do you think I am stupid?”-the internal answer for the child is yes! They don’t have the developmental capacity to understand that the receiver of the lie can also evaluate the truthfulness of what the child is saying.

      We typically suggest that if you have a child who lies almost all of the time, reduce the number of questions you ask since people who lie will continue to lie. An example of how to handle something might go as this.

      Parent: Would you please clean up the cookie crumbs on the counter?
      By not asking the child if he/she left the crumbs on the counter, the chance for a lie is avoided.
      Child: I didn’t leave the crumbs there!
      Parent: Oh, it really doesn’t matter to me who left the crumbs there, I would just like your help in cleaning them up.

      Any opportunity to avoid a lying opportunity reduces conflict. Lying is extremely difficult to curb, though, if the parent does not insist on getting to the truth, they are more likely to avoid a ‘show-down’. People often pursue getting the child to tell the truth even when the parent KNOWS the truth. It is more effective to say something like, ” I know what the truth is, and that is what is important to me.”


    • Hi, again, Shelly. Three year old tantrums are fairly typical. The goal should be to reduce both the frequency and intensity of them until they are eliminated. After parents have tried what they describe as everything, we suggest a couple of things.

      The first is what we call prescribing the symptom-that means, asking the child to have a tantrum. It might like this:

      Parent: Honey I would like you to pick up your toys before we go get a snack. I know you need to have a tantrum, so go ahead and do that now and make a lot of noise!

      This kind of invitation to tantrum will almost always result in the child’s not having a tantrum. They don’t want to cooperate, there they don’t want to have the tantrum. If they do have a tantrum, then the parent can thank the child for doing such a good and loud tantrum.

      This may sound a little weird, though, it is often effective. Some parents find that if they if they have a parallel tantrum, the child’s tantrum ends quickly.


    • Hi, Pam. you might take a look at my other comments about lying. We all want our children to tell the truth, and when they don’t, they get into a power struggle-which they are destined to lose-especially with adolescents. We often suggest that parents do not get investigative about getting to the truth. A simple blanket statement sometime helps-” You know, I know that you have been lying for a long time and it is a very hard habit to break. I just want to make my life easier, so I have just decided to ask you very few questions, and I will always assume that your first answer will not be the truth. Hopefully, I will start ‘catching’ you in the truth, and that will make me very happy!” End of discussion.

      Parents can not control lying so whatever strategy makes your life easier, I would take that course.


    • Hi, Lilli. I would suggest that you discuss with her the fact that she does not to always be the best, do the best, nor be perfect. She needs to know that most of the time we should try to do what we can as well as we can, however, all people fall short of perfection. Kids are not supposed to be perfect, and often the kids in gifted classes see themselves as needing to be better than everyone else and develop an obsessive approach to everything they do. Limiting the amount of time she can spend on homework might help. She needs to be more interactive with family at home than she is with her homework.


  • We adopted our son at 4 months old from South Korea and we believe he experienced some type of trauma….possibly something happened in-utero, while in foster care or he was simply (actually nothing simple about it) traumatized by adoption. He is now 13 years old. Our family has been through many crises. We are on a better path now….after an alphabet soup of diagnoses, he was finally diagnosed with ADHD and OCD about 1.5 years ago and ADHD meds helped quite a bit. Also, he has been seeing a trauma therapist for about a year and that has helped also. My question is… do we help him get over feelings of abandonment and how do we help him put forth effort in life? He has so much to offer and so many gifts but he won’t take chances and lives life in fear….of failure or getting hurt. His anxiety is so high that he lives life wound very tight. We would love to hear your thoughts! Thank you!


    • Jewell,
      I apologize for the delay!
      Greg and I are still trying to figure out the technicalities of getting his answer to you.
      Thanks for your patience!


    • I’m not sure that you can help him ‘get over’ his feelings of abandonment; by allowing him discuss a wide array of feelings related to loss, grief, rejection, etc., he may be less vulnerable to the impact of his feelings on his behavior. We have an adolescent boys group, and at each session, individuals discuss their on-going issues of loss and trauma. They all love the group, and each time we meet someone usually mentions how nice it is to be with other adoptees-“because we understand each other.” My younger son and Daniel Solomon co-lead this group, and their perspectives about their pre and post adoption experiences seems to help the participants. You can listen to Daniel’s story in the NPR piece-UNCONDITIONAL LOVE-which can be found on my Click on presentations/interviews at the top of the site.


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