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Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Kids from hard places need soft places to reside

March 31, 2014

An essential book for adopting parents

An essential book for adoptive parents

When kids “act out” you’d better believe strong emotions are the drivers. Parents and teachers usually pay attention to the behavior without taking time and patience to dig deeper and discover the trigger that unleashed the storm. What’s causing such distress in this child that s/he is acting this way? Discovering the answer is key to understanding children and ultimately helping them a) understand themselves better b) effectively manage their destructive emotions c) express themselves in socially responsible ways so that d) they can get their needs met without causing harm to themselves or others.

This truth was illustrated beautifully in a story Dr. Karyn Purvis told me during our interview for my podcast, Family Confidential back in 2010. Dr. Purvis is a Developmental Psychologist and Director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth. For the past decade, she and her colleagues have been developing research-based interventions for at-risk children. Dr. Purvis is also the co-author of The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family, a book that has helped countless adoptive and foster parents better connect with their children who have come from “hard” places.

In our recorded conversation Dr. Purvis tells me about a little girl playing in the kitchen while her mom makes dinner. The girl asks for a candy bar. Mom says, “No, sweetheart. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes.” The girl has a full-fledged meltdown, screaming, crying inconsolably. She throws things and physically and verbally abuses her mother. Mom has no idea what’s going on and feels powerless to help her daughter.

In desperation, Mom turns to Dr. Purvis and comes away with a better understanding of what was going on and how to meet her little girl’s needs without giving her candy every time she asks. Turns out this child was adopted from an orphanage where she often did not get enough to eat. When her mom said “no” to the candy, the girl panicked and remembered feeling powerless as she cried out in hungry, only to be ignored. Dr. Purvis’ compassionate response helped the mom and the child immeasurably. What was the solution?

You need to hear my never-before-published interview with Karyn Purvis, an educator for whom I have the highest respect and admiration. Listen in. 


Who are my real parents?

December 31, 2013

I have no family. I don’t belong anywhere.

Last day of the year and I’m settling in with a bowl of raisin oatmeal and a mug of vanilla black tea (Thank you, Trader Joe’s, and could you please carry this stuff year round?) I’m ready to write a pithy blog about looking back at lessons learned in the old year and setting goals for the new, when I get this email from a 16 year old who just found out he was adopted:

“Everything I knew about my family is a lie. My sisters aren’t my siblings. My mom and dad aren’t my mom and dad. My real mom abandoned me in a public toilet when I was a week old and my real dad was a violent criminal. My real mom didn’t even want me! So where does that leave me? I look at these people I’ve been living with and I just see two adults and two kids. I don’t belong here. I have no family. I don’t belong anywhere. I don’t know what to do.” – What now??

Dear What now?

Woah, this is a terrible shock! You probably feel like your world’s exploded and all the pieces have suddenly vanished. No wonder you’re so upset right now. I totally get it.

Writing to me was a smart move. No way should you try to figure this out on your own. It’s way too much. I’m going to do my best to help you. Here goes:

First please stop everything and breathe. Seriously. Right here at the computer.  Take your hands off the keyboard and rest them lightly on your thighs. Relax your arms, your wrists, your fingers. Now inhale s-l-o-w-l-y and evenly through your nose. Then relax your jaw, let your mouth drop open and exhale s-l-o-w-l-y and evenly. Repeat this 4 or 5 times. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Slowly. (You can close your eyes if you like.) Breathing this way will help calm you down any time you need to de-stress and think more clearly. And right now you especially need it. So breathe.

OK. Ready for next steps?

Please answer this question: Before you found out you were adopted, what was your relationship your parents and your sisters like? If you’re not sure how to describe it, think about all the years you’ve had together and how you’ve felt being part of this family. Breathe while you remember times with your family… birthdays, holidays, school events, vacations, silly times, quiet times, times when you were sick, times when you were scared, times you were filled with excitement or needed comfort, etc. Let yourself remember.

In your email, you say your “real” mom didn’t want you. Sounds like you’re a bit confused between a biological mom and a real mom. They are not always the same thing. On the biological side, pretty much any dude and any woman can produce a baby. But being a real parent takes so much more. A real parent needs a loving and forgiving heart, infinite patience and a life-long unwavering commitment to a child. It’s a forever relationship where the parent’s #1 priority is the health and well-being of his or her child. There is nothing more “real” than that.

You say, “I don’t belong anywhere.” I understand why you’re feeling this way. You’re upset that you were lied to. You feel hurt and angry and you’re very confused about what all this means. But I’ve gotta disagree that you “don’t belong anywhere.” You belong just where you are, with your real parents in your real family. So, who are your “real” parents? The two people who went looking for you, found you, chose you then stepped up, made the commitment and have continued loving you and caring for you for sixteen years. That’s who I think earns the title of “My Real Parents.”

What do you think?

In friendship,


PS This is a really hard time for you and everyone in your family. Please talk to your parents about what you’re thinking and feeling about all of this. You have lots of questions and lots of emotions. There are things you need to know. So talk together and listen to each other. If it feels like you’re stuck, then reach out to a counselor at school or a family therapist in your community. You and your family can get through this. I know you can.

Filed under: Parenting,Teens — Tags: , , — Annie @ 4:43 pm
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