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Parenting Tips: “My Kid Can’t Sit Still–Why??”

Parenting Tips
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Adoption Coaching & Training (ACT) - America World Adoption
a ministry of America World Adoption
“…taking hold of the hope set before us…”Hebrews 6:18 

My Kid Can’t Sit Still — Why??

In my counseling work over the years, and now as I help adoptive families better understand and parent their children, I often hear concerns from parents about their child’s hyperactivity, disorganization, difficulty with listening, and similar issues.  In the middle of the last century, these types of behaviors were addressed with punitive measures in an effort to get a kid to “straighten up.”  In the later part of the 1900’s, the diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) came on the scene in full force, and new medications and behavioral measures were found to be helpful for some children, though ineffective for many others.  Later, more practitioners began to recognize the role of emotions as an influencer of behavior, and diagnoses related to anxiety and bipolar disorder became more prevalent.  More recent research has found that past trauma, even unremembered trauma, can have a profound effect on a child’s behavior, and cause a cluster of symptoms including poor concentration, restlessness, sleep issues, and more, that often mimic what was seen in the “bad kids” of the 50’s, the “ADHD” kids of the 80’s, the “bipolar” kids of the early 2000’s, and even more recently, “sensory-sensitive” kids.  While ADHD, anxiety, sensory issues, and other diagnoses retain their validity for some adults and children, it is important that parents and practitioners alike recognize how a history of trauma can play a significant role in a child’s current thoughts, feelings, and actions.  Sometimes, there can a combination of these things underlying the outward actions of a child.

While all of this can be confusing, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network released a publication last summer that does a fantastic job delineating some of the similarities, differences, and overlap between ADHD and Child Traumatic Stress, which is “a psychological reaction that some children have to a traumatic experience in which they are involved or have witnessed.”  For more information, you can see this article at THIS LINK.

As adoptive parents, it is important that you recognize that ALL adopted children have experienced some type of trauma.  It may be a single event as this child is separated from a birthmother, but more likely it is multiple traumatic events.  Every child has a different history and a unique response to those historical experiences.  If your child is struggling with symptoms such as hyperactivity, restlessness, disorganization, etc., and you are seeking professional help, be sure your provider (doctor, counselor, psychologist, teacher, etc.) is educated on your child’s history and does not just look at the outward symptoms.  Your child may truly have ADHD, anxiety, sensory issues, or another disorder, and medication and behavioral/environmental modifications might work; but it is also possible that Child Traumatic Stress is influencing your child’s behavior.  It is important that you advocate for your child to get the issues (outward and inward) defined appropriately so that the actions you take to help your child will be the most efficient and effective.  

There are treatments and interventions that will help a child with Child Traumatic Stress, such as rituals and routines that create a sense of safety, relaxation skills and stress management, self-regulation, and processing the trauma through talk therapy or play therapy.  Many of the concepts within Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI) are aimed at helping a child with trauma reactions, and you can see more about TBRI at THIS LINK.  If a child is experiencing Child Traumatic Stress, these are the types of things that will help this child to eventually calm down and focus, and no longer appear to have ADHD.

We are more than happy to talk with your about your adopted child if he or she seems hyperactive, disorganized, unable to listen, restless, etc.  We will help you sort out, and find local experts to help as well, to determine if your child might be impacted by Child Traumatic Stress, ADHD, sensory issues, anxiety, or other possible conditions.   If you have questions or want more information, feel free to reach out to me at

Amber Lewis, America World AdoptionThis article was written by Amber Lewis, Clinical Supervisor with America World Adoption, and the Director of Social Services in our Oklahoma office.  Amber has more than 20 years experience as a professional counselor and over 12 years in the adoption field.  She is a parent by birth and by adoption.  

ACT (Adoption Coaching and Training) is a ministry of America World Adoption designed to support families through training, support groups, and individualized coaching.  Explore ACT services on our website here, and reach out to us today for a free consultation to make a plan to meet your needs.

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