We have an adopted child who came to us when he was two years old. He lived in fear, however, during those first couple of years, and we feel sorry for him. That's why my husband and I cannot let ourselves punish him, even when he deserves it. We also feel we don't have the right to discipline him, since we are not his biological parents. Are we doing right?


I'm afraid you are making a mistake commonly committed by the parents of older adopted children. They pity their youngsters too much to confront them. They feel that life has already been too hard on the little ones and believe they must not make things worse by disciplining them. As you indicated, there is often the feeling that they do not have the right to make demands on their adopted children.

These guilt-laden attitudes can lead to unfortunate consequences. Transplanted children have the same needs for guidance and discipline as those remaining with their biological parents. One of the surest ways to make a child feel insecure is to treat him as though he is different, unusual, or brittle. If the parents view him as an unfortunate waif to be shielded, he will see himself that way, too.

Parents of sick and deformed children are also likely to find discipline harder to implement. A child with a withered arm or some nonfatal illness can become a little terror, simply because the usual behavioral boundaries are not established by the parents. It must be remembered that the need to be led and governed is almost universal in childhood. This need is not eliminated by other problems and difficulties in life. In some cases, the desire for boundaries is maximized by other troubles, for it is through loving control that parents express personal worth to a child.

Let me make one further comment about adopted children that should be noted. I would have answered the question differently if the adopted child had been physically abused. In cases where beatings and/or other harm occurred before the permanent home was found, it would be unwise to use corporal punishment. The memory of the early horror would likely make it difficult for a child to understand the corrective nature of the punishment. Other forms of discipline and great expressions of love are then in order for an abused child.