Tuesday Topic: Working Through Anger

Here is a question I’m sure many of you can answer. Mandy asked:

Our foster son (almost 4 years old) has been with us for 1 year now and we are officially adopting him within the next 6 months!   YAY!  🙂  That said … within the past couple of months, he has become increasingly angry.  Any little thing will set him off to yell or hit or throw things around the house.  He didn’t used to do this, but he is now.  He doesn’t know he is going to be adopted by us yet … and at this point, he still sees his birthmom once a week.

What do you all recommend for working through anger issues with a child?  I realize his anger is rooted in fear and hurt, but we’re not sure how to effectively work through it.  He will be hugging us so intensely and saying “I LOVE YOU” one minute … and then be trying to hit us and saying “I HATE YOU” the next minute.  So exhausting.  It affects our 4 biological children, too.  Is this normal for a child to be with you a year … and then all-of-a-sudden start showing intense anger?

Let’s encourage Mandy and offer some thoughts.  What have you found to be helpful?  How about the other kids?   Yes, we really do want to hear from you.  Please leave a comment!

Encourage one another,



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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. karen johnson
    October 2, 2012

    Hi Mandy,
    I'm wondering if your little guy is confused because of his visitations w/his birth Mom. Also, do you think he may sense something is going on w/upcoming adoption?
    We are in the process of adopting a 10 yr old boy from foster care who has been in our home for 7 months. Whenever he displays behavior like this it's usually rooted in fear. We give our son a chance to "chill" and then we re-visit his anger and try and help him verbalize what he's feeling. I will be praying for you and your family…..adoption is truly wonderful, but as Lisa said we so need to encourage one another!!
    Blessings from an adoptive Mom in NJ

  2. Linda
    October 2, 2012

    Of course there is anger, especially after the honeymoon phase. Think about the losses he's had to go through, losses no child should ever experience. Then add the reminders every time he visits that he isn't with his biological mom, who may not be able to care for him, but still, she's his mom. And you may notice he saves the worst for you, the mom figure. Think about the adjustments to a new culture, because even within the same country you eat different foods, dress differently, have different values, and have different expectations and rules. There is grieving, and anger is a part of grief. Then add the very good possibility of RAD, which makes being attached to anyone very scary. As he finds he's starting to like you, he pushes you away. Who knows if you'll be there tomorrow for him? And in his mind, maybe so deep down he can't put a finger on it, no one and nothing is permanent, and he'd better take care of himself. Then, there is the possibility of FASD, or autism spectrum, or any number of psychological and physical things that the foster system is really good at masking or downplaying. And he might just not know how to express his feelings. A lot of kids have trouble with that!

    There are good reasons for him to be angry, but there are ways to get through the anger. It may take years. After nearly ten years, my two adopted children still have times of anger. This is after years of counseling and hard work. I would say they are less RAD related and more grief related now because of the new contact with the birth family, adolescence, and the continuing influence of FASD and MR. But the times of anger are fewer and the intensity is far less. My twelve year old son will use his words now instead of hitting and kicking me. My daughter still stuffs her anger, but is learning to talk to others. There has been a lot of progress. I am so glad our social worker guided us to a therapist that worked with other kids with attachment issues. I also read tons of books on attachment, play therapy, adoption, etc., and gleaned good information from those. And what was also helpful for me lately is finding blogs like this, written by other parents who have walked the same path. I am not alone. My kids are not unusual. There are reasons for their behavior, and there are things I can do to help. But most of all, I would have to say my faith in God has brought me through some of the most difficult times in my life. Difficult, but good.

  3. MommaMary2Many
    October 2, 2012

    Hi Mandy, oh so familiar…we're experiencing the same thing with one of our little guys. We believe in our son's case it's his way of asking us if we really love him without fearing rejections (as learned through years with his bio family). Our response (when we're not too exhausted to stop and think about what his needs are rather than our own at the moment of the upset) is to say, "we still love YOU!" As he's telling us he hates us. It's best for us to let him express himself – assuming he's not going to hurt himself or someone else – and address his behaviour immediately after his outburst. It's been about 16 months and although we still have a long way to go we have both learned and are oth handling the upsets with more grace and understanding. We end each day with our nighttime routine of hugs, kisses, songs and smiles o matter how difficult it had been. I know God brought us go ether and He hurts when we hurt…so I trust this will improve…if not now, then in heaven…it's worth the wait :).

  4. Theresa
    October 2, 2012

    Although we have only been foster parents for a year I used to work in the field long ago till I got burned out. I like being a FP better as my job is to love on kids! We have had the opportunity to have our first placement during this entire time. When she was first with us she had a lot of behaviors and was in 4 homes before ours.
    My first suggestion would be to PRAY for God to reveal what is going on in this little guy's heart. Being in our home stabilized our girl's behaviors when she was not visiting mom on a regular basis. She actually became quite a delight and went to play therapy to work through some of her past trauma. This seemed to help tremendously as it gave her a voice! It also gave all of the case managers more information about all that happened to her before her removal. I wonder if your case manager might get him a referral for play therapy so that he has a voice outside of those involved with his removal. While you are on the 'good side' of the removal his anger towards you is a result of the twisted allegiances he is being forced to make. He only has the processing ability of only 4 years of age yet he is carrying the weight that an adult would have difficulty processing. His actions are totally normal as things are winding down to permenency. In a child's mind there is just "no place like home". it would only take one visit to bring our girl back to re-enacting drive by shootings and just being angry or insecure. She loved her mom but ONLY when mom was supervised. I remember when mom took her out of court one time and I was no longer in sight she began screaming MOM. She was in her mom's arms but was brought back to me where she just calmed right down. It was more of a trauma bond rather than a parental bond. While the visits must go on it may be helpful to have him go to a play therapist immediately after a visit a couple times. I was amazed at how many things our little one acted out after visits. Each one was a trigger to memories that are easy to forget when you live with people who love and care for you, yet they remain under the surface. With ours it would be like something in her brain was triggered so her only expression was to act out to people she felt safe with. We did not get to adopt her but she did get to go live with a family member who will love and protect her.

  5. monkeyboysmamma
    October 2, 2012

    It was about a year after our son came home, when he got this strong fear that we were going to leave him or take him back to the "baby home" and he did just that, hugged hard, and strong intensity and told us he loved us, then a second later he hated us and was going to leave, or "light a match and watch mama burn"…
    It was less then pleasant and we were quite lost in what to do.
    But we started "lap time", when he got mad, even if he wasn't going to be physical, we picked him up, he laid on our lap, one hand behind the parents back, the other was held if he tried to hit, and legs were stopped from kicking us, if he tried (an in all honesty, it was hard, hard work, a good full-body workout for the parent) and there he could act out all he wanted, we just told him he's a good boy, and it's good that he lets his bad feelings out, what ever he did, it was good (even thanked him for giving me a really good workout).
    Once he calmed down (first try took 45min, and him puking all over the kitchen floor), we cuddled and told him how good he is.
    In addition to this we had at least of 30 min "friendly lap time" a day, where he would lay in our laps and we'd talk or play.

    Don't know if it will work for you, it worked for us, we still do "friendly lap time" every evening with our son, but can't remember when we last had the other one, he seems to trust us more now, and it's going better, not perfect, but better… =D

    Lot's of strength to you all, it's hard when the moods change that fast…

  6. Marissa
    October 2, 2012

    These are just thoughts…..this has to be extremely difficult with him being a toddler and having very little understanding of his feelings and thoughts. My son was like this for the first two years he was home (came home at 8). One minute he loved me so very much, the next minute he wanted to kill me.

    Once he had good conversational English we started validating his anger and large feelings. "You are so mad right now. And why wouldn't you be? You're life has been so hard and you've had so much pain. I'm sorry you are feeling this. Can I help you deal with your feelings?" This started the process of us guiding him to deal with his big feelings in a more appropriate (and less scary!) way. Validating those feelings was so important for him. It helped him trust us and see that we understood. Once he developed strong trust, he was able to come to us for help. It's not perfect and we're going to have many bumps in the road….but it's better.

    Doing this with a preschool aged child presents a lot of challenges for sure!

  7. Mary
    October 2, 2012

    I don't really have anything very practical to offer. I'm new at all of this. But sometimes when I am struggling to make sense of something, if I can think of a story or image that captures what is going on, it helps me see it in a bigger picture. When I get focused on details, I lose my compassion and poise and tend to make things worse because of my own fears. I was just reading and there was a chapter describing a man drowning and I thought of your question. If we are drowning, what do we do? Kick and scream and try to drown the person saving us. The person doing the rescue has to overcome that fear for both the one who is drowning and herself.
    So, not practical, but sometimes a story helps us to find the purpose of what we are doing and having that clear purpose helps us endure all of the very difficult details.
    Will pray for you and your family.

  8. Tym
    October 2, 2012

    I can't pretend to know what is wrong, but I am sorry and I hurt for you. My four year old does the same thing. We got him right at three years of age and his behavior spiraled out of control. I never knew someone so young could have so much hurt and fear in them. I was not prepared and probably made matters worse. Hang in there. God has a plan and purpose. He will certainly equip you. I just found this site and recently went through some training (read a book/ looked at DVDs/went to a conference) by Karyn Purvis. It seems to be working. I will say it is slow going, but we have seen more changes in the past few weeks than in the past year. Like Marissa said, our son did not trust us. I did not do anything to earn his trust. I am sending up a special prayer for you.

  9. sleighs79
    October 2, 2012

    I think that Lisa has a post called "when sad looks like mad" – that has been oh so true in our home. Our son joined our family at almost three, we adopted him at four, and now, at five, we are really seeing some fruit of our years of patient love and consistency. (not that we're always patient. or consistent. but that's our goal, anyway.) There aren't nearly as many changes as we'd like, but we take each small step as a major victory. Bit by bit, piece by piece, you are building trust and attachment in your son. It's exhausting and at times, demoralizing, and sometime all-consuming, but there is joy to come. We knew this whole time that the other kids were being affected, but I feel like we're just seeing some of the fall-out from that as well. I wish I had more encouragement on that front. Our older kids really bore a whole lot of weight and responsibility and pain throughout this process. They did it with such grace for so long that we thought they might have escaped some of the trauma. But as we're finding out now, they felt it too. There's healing for all of us to go through yet. I'm praying for you this evening.


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