Ask Mary Jo: Help friend aim higher when dating & help adopted child who's acting out

Hi Mary Jo, I have a friend who keeps dating guys who are going nowhere, how can I encourage her to do better for herself? Liz

Liz, sometimes there is little you can do to help a friend make better choices. We choose people who we feel are at our level and if she continually chooses people that aren’t good for her that may be reflective of how she feels about herself. These suggestions may help her see herself in a more positive light and although she may not follow your advice she’ll know you care.

  1. Express your true feelings to your friend. Talk to your friend one on one in a private setting. Don’t attack her, but do be honest about what you see.
  2. Validate all of her amazing qualities. She’s your friend for a reason, if you think she deserves better tell her so, and explain why.
  3. Assure her that you’re there no matter what. She needs to know you aren’t trying to manipulate her so reassure her that you love her no matter what.
  4. Don’t judge her, if she chooses to stay with him she obviously sees things in him that you don’t.
  5. Know you’re not in control of who she chooses. As a good friend it’s important to remember, you cannot control who your friend dates or ends up with.
  6. If and when the relationship ends, be present for her. You want your friend to be honest with you and not keep important information from you. Keep the focus on what will best for her, don’t waste energy talking about her ex.

Hi Mary Jo, We recently adopted my niece from my sister who couldn’t keep them. Lately she is acting out. What do you suggest? Tywana

Tywana, if the acting out is acute take her to your pediatrician and have her evaluated. Sometimes medical concerns, such as stomach upset, migraines or sensory problems that may have been overlooked in the past begin to worsen when a child is facing a stressful situation such as this transition. Also, consider these reasons she may be acting out and address them with a mental health counselor.

  1. She may be acting out because she’s afraid. Giving her time to calm down before talking about her behavior will help her feel safer and more connected with you.
  2. She may feel unlovable and try to prove it by acting that way. Sometimes children blame themselves for parent’s reasons for not being able to keep them. Reassure her that she is loved, and express your love in words and actions as much as possible.
  3. She may feel confused and not feel as if she fits in. When a child is taken out of their home they don’t see the same people as they use to on a daily or weekly routine. She may be reacting to that loss as well as feeling lonely. Allowing her to call old friends and relatives can help her feel more accepted.
  4. Flash backs of being neglected or abandoned by adults. Children can’t always express what they saw or how they felt, but their feelings are deep. Be consistent and have a schedule your child can follow. When they see consistency on your part and that you stick with and follow the schedule they learn they can trust you. It helps them work through feelings of abandonment from the past.
  5. If she ever witnessed trauma she may not have all the details, but she will react. If you’re seeing melt downs, anger out bursts or depression make note of what events triggered the behavior. If you can identify what triggers the outbursts you’ll have more ability to eliminate or reduce the negative behavior.

Every child experiences the transition of being adopted differently. Allowing your niece to grieve without feeling rejected will help her adjust and learn what real love looks and feels like.