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FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: Grieving friend needs your presence, and a listening ear

Q: My son is 6 years old; we recently adopted him from overseas. He's an amazing kid -- charming, smart, fun and cheerful. My only concern is that he's very impulsive. When he's under supervision he does very well. When he's on his own he does whatever he wants and doesn't think through the consequences. Do you have any suggestions on what would help us with his impulsiveness?

Juli: Congratulations on your new addition. What a wonderful opportunity to change a life!

Kids who are adopted, domestically or internationally, have been through the traumatic experiences of abandonment and a drastic change in their environment. This is particularly true when kids are adopted after infancy. Behavior problems, developmental delays and bonding difficulties are very typical and vary in severity based on a number of factors, including what life was like before the adoption.

So, the fact that your primary concern is your son's impulsivity is a very good sign that he is adjusting well to his new home.

It might help you to think of your son as a much younger child when it comes to his impulsivity. For example, how long would you leave a 2- or 3-year-old unattended without expecting him to get into trouble?

Don't set your expectations of him based on age, but rather on maturity. Until your son matures, you may need to have boundaries that are more consistent with a toddler or a preschooler.

For example, he may not be mature enough to be left alone in a room with sharp scissors. In other areas, he may be even more mature than a 6-year-old, so treat him accordingly.

Children who are adopted generally need more consistency and structure than the average child. However, they can also be easily over-disciplined because of their sensitivity to rejection. Work together with teachers and other adults in his life to consistently teach that every choice has consequences.

If his impulsivity continues over time or if he is at risk for harming himself or others, it would be wise to consult with his pediatrician.

Q: A dear friend of ours lost her husband over the holidays. We want to support her in any way we can, but don't really know where to begin.

Jim: Your friendship could well be a lifeline to her during this critical time. The post-holiday period can be depressing for many people anyway. Add to that the loss and grief associated with the death of your friend's husband, and the picture becomes very bleak indeed.

In a general sense, it's important that you simply make yourself available to your friend whenever she may need you. No matter how busy your life gets, bend over backward to make time for her. By all means, don't avoid her for fear that you don't know how to help or what to say.

Many people feel pressure to make a profound speech or say something eloquent that will "fix" their friend's grief. But in situations such as these, explanations seldom console and advice is rarely helpful. It's likely that your friend simply needs your presence and your listening ear as she works through the emotions associated with her loss. Let her know you care without trying to redirect the grieving process. It needs to run its course.

On a more practical level, you can make yourself available to help with daily chores and necessities, such as yard work, housework or washing the car. If you're running an errand, call and ask her if there's anything you can pick up for her while you're out.

Finally, keep a watchful eye on your friend and make sure that she's working through her grief in a healthy way. Watch for negative warning signs, such as excessive sleeping or drug and alcohol abuse. If you think she needs grief counseling, don't hesitate to suggest it.

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, host of the Focus on the Family radio program, and a husband and father of two. Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.