Adopted parents know that the rewards of their hard work and sacrifice are priceless. However, adopted children also come with special challenges that can be bewildering to navigate.

These issues can start early. One study found that adopted children can be twice as likely to have behavior and attention issues in Kindergarten and first grade as children who are raised by both birth parents. Academic skills, especially math skills, are also distinctly lower. This difference persists even when compared with non-traditional families like single-parent homes, step-families or foster families.

Special challenges often persist beyond those early years, too. Adopted children are more likely to be diagnosed with mental health disorders. One study reported that 14% of adopted children undergo professional counseling in order to deal with mental or behavioral issues. That’s twice as many as non-adopted children.

While these numbers should by no means deter prospective adoptive parents, it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one struggling to understand and help your adoptive daughter. Why is it that there’s such a high percentage of mental and behavioral issues among adopted children?

Attachment Disorders

When children feel frightened of or disassociated from their first caregivers, we call it “disorganized attachment.” Having an interruption from one caregiver to another can cause a lot of confusion in children. Furthermore, every teen has a hard time figuring out who they are, but it can be even harder for adopted children who don’t have biological parents as a reference point to understand genetic challenges and tendencies.


It’s important to remember that, depending on when you adopt your child, there can be very widely varied experiences pre-adoption. Many children, if not adopted at birth, have a history that can affect their mental and emotional development in severe ways. For example, long-term trauma can impair the development of higher functions in children (such as planning, impulse control, and interpersonal skills). Children who are in institutions, who are passed between unsuitable foster homes, or who come from abroad where standards for child care are different; all of these children may bring with them trouble from early life that sometimes takes a long time to manifest itself.

Individuals who experience trauma are more likely to have developmental problems, addiction behaviors, and dysfunctional relationship patterns. It’s important to understand the history and psychology of your child. Do whatever you can to learn more about their past and the challenges they underwent before they met you.


One important factor that we often discount in adopted children is genetics. Even if they never know their birth parents, they can still inherit traits that make them very like their birth parents, even though the environment they grew up in is very different. Genetics can be a contributing factor in addiction, interpersonal style, learning disorders, mental illness, and risk tolerance. Although many parents who opt to put their children into the adoption system are perfectly functional in society, others have struggles that made them unsuitable parents. These factors can come into play for your child.