Going to China: Orphanage Behaviors

August 20, 2015 Attachment, first year home, hoarding, July/August 2015 Feature - Going to China!, orphanage behaviors 1 Comments

With both of our adoptions, we knew that parenting these children would look a bit different than parenting our biological children. Despite all the trainings and reading prior to the adoption, we ended up desperately re-reading “The Connected Child” on the flight home, trying to piece together some of the strange “orphanage behaviors” our children were exhibiting.

Adoption is without a doubt the hardest type of parenting we have done, but we’ve also found it to be the most rewarding as we watch these once deprived and neglected children blossom in the love of a family.


Charlotte was 2 1/2 when we arrived to bring her home from Suixi. Her “mild intellectual and developmental delays” meant that though her numerical age was 2, she was really more like a one-year-old, newly walking toddler. She had severe large motor delays at first, could only toddle a few steps, and stayed in one place when put down on the floor to play. She had only taken a bottle in the orphanage, so eating solid food was a whole new experience to her and came very slowly. The first few months home, she drank a bottle with rice cereal mixed in, ate baby food mush and wouldn’t touch any food unless it was white. She was timid and afraid. Every experience, from riding in the car and going outside, to hearing the scary sounds of the blender and vacuum was new to her, and even trusting a man (Daddy) to care for her needs took time.

One of the most difficult initial adjustments was her fear of our dog. We literally could not put her down anywhere in the house if the dog was in sight. She was absolutely terrified as she had probably never seen a dog in her life. We all dreaded bedtime since she wouldn’t go to sleep at night unless my husband or I were sitting right next to her crib where she could see us. The initial adjustment was exhausting, but she bonded with us quickly, and having the other children at home helped her to ease into family life almost effortlessly.

We expected bringing home a 5 year old boy with a history of liver cancer would present a new set of challenges. When we showed up at the Civil Affairs office with Ergo in hand so that we could begin bonding with our new son right off the bat like we did with Charlotte, nothing could be further from reality. It was a strange feeling to have a full-grown little person be declared your son. My mama heart wanted to scoop him up and hold him close to me, as we had waited and prepared for many months for him. He; however, wanted no part of cuddling or being held at first. He was a wild-eyed, out-of-control two year old developmentally and behavior-wise (like his sister, Charlotte, acting as if half his age).  

The biggest issue with Carrigan we have had has centered on food. He is like a ravenous beast with absolutely no sense of table manners or self-control whatsoever. Yesterday marked the 3 month home date for us, and mealtimes are still a challenge. He stuffs his mouth as full as he can get it, while asking for “more meat” (He is all carnivore!) at the same time. He rushes to eat as fast as he can, not certain if there will be more food, and wanting to be sure he gets as much as possible. He is the same way with water – he drinks like a camel! The first few weeks he wanted to carry around a water bottle just to be sure he could have a drink whenever he wanted. (We’ve changed more than a fair amount of bed sheets since he’s been home, but it’s a small price to pay for his sense of security.)

He has grown and changed so much already in the short time he has been home, that it already seems a distant memory to think back on the sleep issues he had the first couple of weeks home. He had only slept in a crib his entire life up to this point, so he constantly would fall out of bed at night. Even when we switched him to a trundle bed that was pushed right up to our bed, and was close to the floor, we would get up multiple times at night to put him back in bed when we’d hear his head hit the wood floor. He is such a restless sleeper and is all over the place, so our pillow barriers we put around the bed to protect him barely helped – he was crazy even in his sleep!

He had also mastered the art of fit-throwing to try to get his way and express his frustrations over a life he had no control of, and even in his sleep, he began having night terrors soon after we got home. Thankfully, this was short-lived and we don’t know what it is that made them go away besides many desperate prayers. There was little we could do in the midst of these fits while asleep or awake. The ones in his sleep he was completely incoherent, and the ones in the day, unfortunately happened out in public all over China, so it was a difficult time for us in-country. Being home with him for the “cocooning” period did him so much good – he had a “time in” fit throwing area, and he quickly learned that going there was no fun, didn’t work to get him what he wanted, and soon the fits of rage slowed down and have now stopped.

Many of his orphanage behaviors have resolved, but some are just going to take more time and work, and learning to trust on his part and consistency on ours. He is still learning not to beg for food from strangers. So we  have still found ourselves apologizing to strangers when he taps them on the bottom and points at their drink.

We have had to pry him off of hugging more than one new “friend” he meets at the park. Indiscriminate affection is a common orphanage behavior that both of our adopted children have shown. We are still teaching him that people have personal property that belongs to them and he can’t grab everything in sight. We are still working on calming him down when food appears at the dinner table and he gets in a frantic feeding frenzy.

There is so much I didn’t realize about adoption going into it the first time. I didn’t know it would be so much work. We often find ourselves playing detective to determine if a behavior is a normal part of development, or an orphanage reaction. Despite the struggles, and many failed attempts to modify our “tried and true” parenting techniques to fit the unique demands of parenting an institutionalized child, we wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. The Lord has used these little ones to refine me and make me more like His Son each day. I have to rely on Him for the wisdom needed to parent in a way that goes against my natural instincts many times.


I have to stop and remember the training and reading we did in preparation for this journey and remind myself that this child needs something different than our biological children who were born into a loving family from the beginning. It takes more patience, time, compassion and more lenience and consistency for these little ones to thrive. It’s a daily dying to self and allowing the Lord to use these little ones for my own sanctification.

I find it ironic when I hear the comment that our children are “lucky” or “blessed” that we have adopted them into our family. No, it’s the other way around. Our family is better, and I am getting better as a mom and Christian each day because of them.

– guest post by Carrie


One response to “Going to China: Orphanage Behaviors”

  1. Cathy says:

    Both of your children sound so much like our son! He was adopted at 2 from Inner Mongolia and he is now 10. He was one of the first adoptions from this orphanage. We already had 3 birth children – all girls. So, the energy of a boy was a welcoming shock to our household!! He is extremely attached to myself, still hoards food and toys and, even now, behaves much younger than his actual age. He also has difficulties maintaining friendships. We (and he) still face so many challenges but we would not change a thing. I am curious as to how your children have adapted as time goes on.

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