We are the parents of an adopted girl who is now 12.

She has several emotional problems. In no particular order:

  • She prefers cakes and biscuits to meat and veg. We suspect a sugar addiction.
  • She has anger outbursts during which she tells us she hates us and wishes us dead. She becomes violent during these episodes and has hit and scratched us lots of times, leaving bruises and scars. The trigger is usually when we ask her to do something.
  • She has very poor hygiene. We cannot get her into a shower more than about once a week, her body odour is a problem, and we have tried to make her brush her teeth without success.

We have asked Social Services to help us solve her problems, but all they seem to want to do is send us on another training course.

Any suggestions gratefully received, particularly with regard to the violence.



  • 1
    How long as she lived with you? Why was she put up for adoptions? Could this be related to something from her earlier youth?
    – Erik
    Sep 15, 2015 at 11:11
  • What does she say when you sit her down and talk to her about her hygiene? Whats her response to "I can smell you and so can your peers at school.."? At 12 this amount of reasoning should be enough when all of the resources (hot water, soap, toothpaste...) are available.
    – user7678
    Sep 15, 2015 at 12:05
  • Just on a side note: as long as she only PREFERS sugary stuff (and does not refuse healthier food on principle), you are fine. Some people may prefer a carrot when given the choice between a carrot and a cookie... but most people I know would go for the cookie unless really hungry.
    – Layna
    Sep 15, 2015 at 13:47
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    Hi, Edward, and welcome to the site. While the questions above might seem a bit invasive, they really do matter. Sometimes more detail can steer people towards better answers. Sep 16, 2015 at 4:33
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    Interesting anecdote: several hours after we took custody of our son (age 4-1/2 in China) we gave him a bath. He screamed and screamed, as if he was terrified. It took us an hour to find someone who spoke his language (it was one of many tiny dialects in the province) who was able to find out that the reason he was crying was that we had taken his clothing and he didn't realize that we would give it back to him after he bathed. Sep 17, 2015 at 20:02

1 Answer 1


In all likelihood, she was exposed to some kind of abuse before she was put up for adoption (unless you adopted her as a newborn?). And even if she was adopted as a baby, as she becomes old enough to comprehend that her birth family "gave her away" she will have issues to deal with.

Because both our children were adopted my husband and I have read a lot of the books and stories that explain how it feels to be an adopted child. All of them eventually have to deal with this basic anger/insecurity. They ask "why didn't they want me?" Sometimes they will react with violence against those who love them, and it may be that in doing so your daughter is asking you to prove that you will love her "no matter what". That "no matter what" expresses a fear that is at the heart of each adopted child's psyche. They were "discarded" once; what is to say that you won't do the same? So they behave badly because if they are going to lose you they want to get it over with. Their anger is fueled by terror.

I'd really recommend that you 1. read some books written by others who have gone through what you and your daughter are going through (do some research on a rated system like Amazon to find books that others found helpful, be sure to read the reviews to find out why they liked it), and 2. find a good counselor. The physical attacks need to be addresses immediately and you may need some support in order to deal with them in a positive and effective way.

Getting back to the subject of abuse (and forgive me if you adopted her as a newborn so this isn't relevant), one thing I know from living through an abusive childhood and spending several years as a counselor for adults from abusive homes, is that all abused children have a huge well of anger in them. It doesn't matter what kind of abuse it was; the anger seems to be a constant. And the degree of anger doesn't necessarily depend on the level of abuse. Different people are more or less disposed to anger. I've had years of therapy and I openly tell people I'd be a terrible human being today if I hadn't had good counseling. Abused children don't have a roadmap which will take them to good destinations. The places theirs take them to are places you don't want your children to end up in. They need to be given a new map and guided down that better path.

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    Don't assume an adopted child is a victim of abuse, or that they will have huge issues dealing with the fact that their birth parents gave them up. It depends on the child how they will react.
    – user14172
    Sep 15, 2015 at 19:42
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    No, I absolutely wouldn't assume there was abuse or issues, but you need to explore the possibility. And I think there's more potential for damage to be done by ignoring abuse or trauma that exists than by addressing issues that don't exist. Sep 17, 2015 at 19:57
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    I wouldn't assume abuse except for the anger issues. Children raised in supportive, safe environments don't develop this kind of anger. Not normally, anyway, I suppose there are some medical or psychological conditions that might cause it. Sep 17, 2015 at 20:05
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    Many kids are, but not all are. She likely feels hurt and anger from her situation - whether or not she also feels it to you. Anger comes when reality and expectations do not line up. It is important to set and keep expectations - but that takes a team approach. Counseling is often widely available and can be effective and helpful. Oct 2, 2015 at 0:49

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