I keep thinking about the part about spanking adopted children in chapter 17 in my book. I wish I would have explained it a little better. In my book, I said:
“You cannot spank these kids! …You will trigger their trauma and they will not believe that you are safe.
In these moments, where kids test the adults in their lives, they are asking, “Can I trust you? Will you protect me?” Unfortunately, spanking will convey something completely different from trust, protection, and love to the child who has lived through trauma. One spanking could disrupt the child’s ability to attach to you. Please, do not spank these kids!…”
from adoption: your questions answered, by me, Brenda Scott
I looked for quotes to support this statement when I was writing my rough draft. If you know of any, please share. I wanted to get quotes that confirmed that adopted children shouldn’t be spanked, especially from other believers. It worries me that this may be a sticky point for some people who whole-heartedly believe that God instructs us to spank our children. I am not arguing against that…It is difficult to put into words and reconcile why I explained that adopted children shouldn’t be spanked. Let me try to help you understand:
Sometimes Spanking will Disrupt Attachment
One child I know of was unable to attach to their adoptive mama because the mother had spanked the child. Perhaps, one could argue, that mama spanked in anger and not in a loving way. I don’t know for sure. I only know, this child had faced abuse, and once the mama spanked, all chances of attachment went out the window for that child.
Kids from Hard Places Don’t Connect the Consequence with their Behavior
I also know of several stories of adopted children who did not feel pain, probably because of poor brain development at the pons level. Maybe the child faced an incredible amount of abuse and a mere spanking feels like nothing in comparison to what they went through. Have you ever had a child laugh at you when you spanked him or her? If the child does not feel pain and the “message” does’t seem to be clear enough to the child after a spanking or two, what does a parent do? The two options, really, are: give up or spank harder. Spanking harder in order to get the message across would not be okay. In fact, spanking harder would mean turning a spanking into abuse–in order to teach a lesson to a child who has already faced abuse.
Have all adopted kids faced abuse though? The problem is, we don’t know. If your adopted child lived any amount of time outside of your home and loving care, you don’t know what their history holds.
Think of Adopted Kids Like Children with Learning Disabilities
If you had birthed a child with cerebral palsy or down syndrome or autism, would you spank the child for doing things that kids with these conditions typically do? An autistic child may have an annoying, on-the-edge-of-sinful repetitive behavior. Spanking a child with autism for simply acting autistic is wrong. There are parenting methods, like Applied Behavioral Therapy, to help a child with such a condition. A child with autism may overcome these repetitive behaviors–or not–either way, spanking is not the method to use in this scenario.
Many adopted kids really do have brains that are smaller in one or more areas, connections that aren’t happening, and they struggle like a kiddo with Autism or other conditions. Spanking them isn’t going stop their behaviors. Their “condition” causes their brain to behave differently. By “condition,” I am talking about the trauma they faced. First, their biological mama was either unwilling or unable to care for them. That is trauma layer number one. Being exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb is trauma layer number two. Then, maybe they faced abuse, neglect and multiple caregivers–trauma layers number three, four, five, etc…Their cortisol levels are higher from all of that stress. Like a child with autism needs a different kind of parenting to “meet them where they are at,” an adopted child needs a different kind of parenting, too.
Attachment is SO Important
The number one goal of parenting adopted kids is securing a healthy attachment. I explained the “Need Cycle” in chapter 17 of my book. Most adopted children did not have their “Need Cycle” met as an infant. This means that a primary caregiver did not take care of the child when he cried, soiled his diaper or needed to be fed or held. His brain will be different because of this trauma. He will not trust adults and will, out of fear, try to be his own little boss and pretend he doesn’t need Mom and Dad.
The truth is, he desperately needs to attach to his parents. Spanking your adopted child may lead him to believe even more strongly that he doesn’t need his parents after all, because parents just hurt their children. I know that most parents who spank don’t intend to hurt or abuse their children! And yet, this child, whose brain doesn’t function like a child who was properly cared for from infancy, already struggles to trust adults. Of course, we don’t want to do anything to make it more difficult for the child to trust his parents and ultimately, attach.
Why Attachment is Important
Attachment brings with it so many good things! A child who is attached wants to please his parents and obey. A child who is not attached has no desire to please his parents. Therefore, an unattached adopted child will quite possibly end up being spanked more than an attached child. Do you see the vicious cycle? Best of all, an attached child sees a need for healthy authority in his life and may desire to seek after the God who created him and loves him.
An unattached child sees no need for any authority, even God. Can God reach these kiddos? I believe He has the power to reach these kids–most definitely! And, parenting these unattached kids, while they still believe they don’t need you, or God, or anyone to tell them what to do–it’s difficult. Difficult beyond any words I can express here. This is why I say, learn trauma-informed, attachment style parenting…Don’t do anything that will lead your adopted child to push you away…Don’t spank them…
I don’t know how, theologically, to reconcile this. I only know what I’ve lived out with my adopted kids and what I see in other families and what I hear from the professionals. Ultimately, each family needs to pray about how God would want them to handle discipline–and for each individual child. My gut feeling and my experience tells me that spanking is a bad idea for adopted children. Feel free to leave comments below and let’s dialogue about it.