Katie Naftzger, LICSW

family therapist, author, adoption specialist, consultant


Local and Online Groups for Adoptive Parents Start Next Week!

It’s been an quite a summer! I’ve loved meeting and connecting with adoptive parents around the country. Adoptive parents have told me how much my book has impacted them. Families are complicated and in the teen years, the stakes can feel high.  It can be helpful to get more input on how to apply the concepts I described in the book (unrescuing, setting adoption-sensitive limits, having connecting conversations and envisioning the future) to one’s daily life.

I want to offer adoptive parents the opportunity to not only receive guidance and support from me, but also from one another. Groups are so powerful that way! Adoptive parents feel less alone and more understood.

I know the fall is around the corner, but I want to make the most of these final three weeks! I’m offering three local group meetings and three online group meetings. I know that summer schedules are often in flux so you do not have to register for all three. You can just register for one, or as many as your schedule will allow!

Dates/times are as follows –

Online group – Monday, August 14th, 21, 28th from 2:30-3:45 pm, EST.

Local group – Tuesday August 15th, 22nd, 29th from 10:15-11:30 am, EST.




On Being Savvy, Not Sneaky

(page 78 Parenting in the Eye of the Storm: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Navigating the Teen Years)

10. Be savvy, not sneaky. Sometimes parents think that their teen is up to something but can’t put their finger on exactly what it is. Or they know but they can’t prove it. In my experience you should trust your intuition because it’s usually correct. When you don’t address it, your adopted teen may perceive you as clueless and will respect you less. But you could bring it up in a respectful, but direct way, by saying something like, “I think you’ve been taking money out of my wallet. I can’t prove it, but that’s what I believe.” Or, “It just seems like there’s something you’re not telling me. I don’t know for sure but if there is something, you need to tell me right now.” When they deny it, which they probably will, you could just say, “I could be wrong.” Knowing that you’re onto them may result in a change in their behavior.

Being savvy is different than being sneaky, though. Parents tell me that they monitor their teen’s texts or Facebook profile or secretly search their room. Or parents ask their teen something to catch them in a lie. “I just wanted to see whether he would tell me,” they’ll say. But sneakiness is faulty role modeling. Your teen respects you less because you’re not being above board. Like you, they can also tell when you’re up to something. Being more upfront will prioritize integrity. For example, you could just tell them that their bedroom is fair game and will be searched periodically, or that there will be random checks of their cell phone to make sure everything is appropriate and within guidelines. Your teen may not love it, but they will appreciate it.


What I’ve Learned From Adopted Teens

The teen years can wreak havoc on families. Understandably, so. There’s so much packed in — the emotional turmoil, surging hormones, academic pressures, expectations  — I could go on and on. The stakes are high, the future looms and every decision counts. It’s a critical juncture for adoptive parents and adopted teens.

As a psychotherapist, I’ve seen and known hundreds of adopted teens and have had the privilege of learning more about them than they usually share in their everyday life. And, as an adoptee, I’ve lived it. It’s an incredibly vulnerable time!

What I’ve learned from them:

  1. Whether they are “attractive” or not is critical. As parents, I think we forget how gut-wrenching appearance is during teen hood. It matters a lot. Parents often come to me saying, “I think she’s gorgeous, but it doesn’t matter how many times I say it,” or “he looks fine, but he doesn’t think he measures up.” That’s true. What you think is not as important as what they think. It will take more than encouragement to help them through that. It will take rewinding back to the feelings that many adoptees face – fear of rejection, low self-worth and difficulty trusting others.
  2. Contemplating adulthood feels like jumping off a cliff. There’s a moment in this documentary film, “Winged Migration,” in the Arctic, a mother bird was pushing her baby bird off of a cliff with the water way way down below. A moment later, you see the little bird bobbing along contentedly. That’s what it feels like for adopted teens except that we’re not naturally equipped to bounce back from such a drastic situation. For many adopted teens, the idea of being an adult is unfathomable. Why? Well, a few reasons. One is that they don’t have the information that their non-adopted peers do about who they could become. Another reason is that they’re not prepared to handle the stresses of adulthood because they never had any practice! Developing a sense of responsibility and being accountable takes time. It doesn’t just happen.
  3. Their peers are hugely impactful, for better or worse! While adoptive parents are talking about their teen’s school failure and anger outbursts at home, what do you think the teen is talking about in therapy? Yes, that’s right, their peers. There are so many stories that accrue throughout the day, once I’ve established a rapport, all I have to ask is, “What happened?” and we’re on our way. Also, don’t be too critical of their peers in their presence, because deep-down, they worry that you feel the same way about them. They’re not just defending their peers actions, they’re defending their own. That’s why they get so stirred up.

If you’d like to talk more about this, please join our group for parents of adopted teens, online and local!





The teen years are the hidden gem of childhood. Don’t get me wrong. These years can try even the most veteran of adoptive parents. They’re emotionally exhausting, stressful, scary


Why Reassurance Hurts Your Adopted Teen

Adoptive parents might say things such as,

“We’ll always be here for you, no matter what.”

“You don’t have to worry about that anymore. We are your forever family.”

“You can trust us!”

“You can talk to us!”

These statements are variations on a theme in adoptive families. The idea is that if the adoptee hears it enough, at some point, it will start to sink in. It’s meant to be encouraging and stabilizing. And, for the most part, it is! That is, until the teen years. When the teen years hit, those words of encouragement don’t have that same connecting effect. Adoptive parents find that when they are trying to be encouraging and supportive, it can actually make things worse.

Typical scenario:

Let’s say the adopted teen with a learning disability who is struggling with their homework, throws it across the room and says, “This is so stupid! In fact, I’m so stupid!”

At that point, the adoptive parent might say something like, “Sweetie! You’re not stupid. You’re incredibly smart. If you would just apply yourself and put in some more effort then you would do a lot better!”

Adopted teen says, “You were a straight A student, how would you know! You really don’t get it, do you! I can’t do it!”

Adoptive parent says, “That’s because I applied myself! You could be a straight A student if you wanted to!”

Adopted teen storms into their room, homework is strewn all over the living room.

In these interactions, adoptive parents may find themselves disagreeing with their teen in an effort to make them feel better. But, instead, the adopted teen ends up feeling invalidated, misunderstood and even more alone and isolated than they already were.

That response is more appropriate for a younger child, but not for teens. With teens, the role of the parent is to maintain guidelines and expectations in a supportive way, but not try to change their mind or to make life easier for them. And, if possible, to help them to feel a little bit less alone.

How does one do that?

In this situation, less is more. It is better to simply say something like, “I know that it’s been difficult. I need you to go pick up that stuff though.” This way, the adoptive parent is acknowledging the adopted teens pain, but not letting her off the hook, but also not lecturing or abandoning either.

If you’d like to talk more about this, please join us for our parents of adopted teens groups that are starting soon  — one online and one local! We’d love to have you.





What Your Adopted Teen Won’t Ask You

question markWhat Your Adopted Teen Won’t Ask You

Don’t underestimate how important your relationship is with your adopted teen. They notice everything. They see when you don’t uphold a limit. They know when you’re overwhelmed, and at a loss. They care because they want to know whether or not you’ll still be there for them. Unfortunately, using words to reassure them that you’ll never abandon them doesn’t help. Actions speak louder than words. At times, it can seem like you’re being tested, over and over. Adoptees don’t want to be blindsided again, or to be the last to know. They are vigilant and often have developed into savvy readers of people.

Your adopted teen has questions about you.

Have you changed your mind about parenting them? How much wear and tear have you sustained over the years? Are you starting to unravel? No? What about next year when they’ve dropped out of high school? What about when they’re still depressed despite years of many therapists and countless trials of medications? What about when you’ve told them again and again how beautiful they are, and they still hate themselves when they look in the mirror? What about when you don’t know what to do, again? What is your breaking point? Are you strong enough to say “no” to them? Will you do what’s best for them in the long run, even if it means that they hate you for a while? Do you know what’s best for them?



What does your adopted teen need from you?

When you emrainbowpathize with your adopted teen, they feel less alone.

When you set expectations for your adopted teen, they learn responsibility.

When you empower your adopted teen, they feel their worth.

And, when you do all three, they can envision their future antidepressant bupropion.

This year, I’ve had this conversation with folks at the Vietnamese Culture Camp, at the Korean-American Adoptee Network conference, with group leaders at Adoptive Families Together and with the families who come to see me for help with their adopted teen.  Want to join the conversation?  Fall groups begin soon.  It’s a rare opportunity to
get the answers you need and talk about the issues that matter.  It can make all the difference!  Early bird rate ends 9/6.


Three Tips On How To Set Limits For Parents Of Adopted Teens

There are a few things that I see again and again in my work with parents of adopted teens.  The topic that inevitably comes up is their difficulty setting limits and expectations.  Now, let’s be clear,  teens, in general, are tricky because they are in between childhood and adulthood, and you never know which one you’ll get on any given day or moment.  I just wanted to share a few tips that can make all the difference and minimize the damage that setting limits can often ensue.  Who knows.  You may even gain a little bit of respect from it.  Wouldn’t that be nice!

Tip #1- Take the “why” out of it.  The only thing that matters in the setting limits conversation, is the actual limit, not why you’ve decided to institute this, or asking them why they haven’t been able to do this before, etc.  With setting limits, the “why’s” just muddle the issue.

Tip #2 – Consequences should be short-term, and frequently handed out, not longer-term and less frequent.  Maybe you’ve already been in this situation before – your teen does something totally unacceptable, such as take the car without asking, or totally blow off curfew and you ground them for a month.  Then, what happens?  They do something else wrong and you have nothing else to take away.  Or, it drags on and even you’re starting to get sick of it and so you “negotiate” with your teen to shorten the sentence.  Also, a no-no, but understandably tempting, given the situation!  The other reasons?  The consequences starts to separate itself from the actual thing that happened that led to the consequence in the first place.  Then, it’s power is shot, anyway.  I usually recommend to parents to keep it short and sweet, one to two nights, or a weekend, tops.  Keeps it fresh.

Tip #3 – Consequences should be simple enough for everyone to remember correctly.  If you need a contract, that means it’s too convoluted.  It should not be our goal to control the adolescent.  It is our goal to give them the opportunity to make informed decisions.  Whether they do what they’re supposed to do or not, really is up to them, but you want them to be able to weigh the pros and cons accurately.  It’s important that the consequences are clear upfront, before something goes wrong.  


What To Say To Your Adopted Teen

There are certain nuts and bolts go-to things you can say to your adopted teen that enable them to feel empowered and you to feel more confident as a parent and as an authority figure.

I want to tell you some phrases that have been useful in getting through those rocky times.  Sometimes we can know what we’re generally supposed to be doing or saying, but aren’t sure how to actually say it.

1.  “That’s definitely an option and you may decide to do that.  The downside is…” I advise parents to say this when their teen is considering something that the parent doesn’t agree with, but that isn’t really a safety issue and could provide an important learning experience.  It will convey that you respect their perspective, which helps them to feel empowered and, you still get to share your concerns, without getting into a conversation where you end up arguing.

2.  “What do you think?”  Again, you want your teen to believe that they are smart and have important things to offer.  It seems simple, but we so often don’t actually ask our teen what they think.  What they think is important, unless it’s a restriction that you’re opposing.

3.  “You may be right, but the decision still stands.”  Again, you can still set certain limits and guidelines but you’re acknowledging that you respect their opinion, even though it’s not the deciding factor.

A few tips about what to avoid – 

1.  Trying to convince them that what they’re upset about isn’t as bad as they think.  When you teen says, “I’m never going to get through this (whatever “this”) might be, such as school, a tough break-up, a move, etc, we often end up saying something like, “Sweetie, it’s really not that bad.”  What they want to hear is not that they’re upset over nothing, but that they’re strong for working their way through it.

2.  When you’re trying to reprimand your teen and they say something like, “Who are you to talk, Mom.  You don’t have any friends either!  Maybe you’re the one with the problem with your social skills, not me.”  Many parents respond by saying something like, “We’re not talking about me right now, we’re talking about you.”  And, sometimes that is enough, but the alternative is this, “Well, we should both work on it then, because it’s important!”

3.  Negotiating.  I used to say don’t negotiate with terrorists, now, that hits a little close to home, given what happened with the Boston Marathon, but anyway, it still stands!  When your teen expects to get something every time they do anything, it’s time to let your word and your authority speak for itself.  When your teen, or child says something like, “What do I get if I do it?”  That’s a sign that the negotiating, bargaining and bribing has gotten out of hand.




How I Connect With Adopted Teens

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-diverse-group-teenage-girls-talking-image26777546It’s not that every session I’ve had with an adopted teen has been easy.  But, I’ve had a lot of practice, a lot of chances to experience what works and what doesn’t.  I know that being a parent is a pretty different role, but if you can adapt these tips to use with your teen, it can really help.

As their therapist, I try to:

In the beginning of our relationship, their story is more important than my perspective on their story.  This doesn’t mean that I agree with their point of view, but more that I make sure they’ve had the air time to allow me to completely understand what happened.  I differentiate my potential opinion with their stated one.  For example, I might say, “So, you’re saying that your teachers don’t understand you and they hate you?  I just want to make sure that I understand what you’re saying, that in your view, that’s what’s happening.”  When I add the “in your view,” I’m reminding them that I’m not corroborating the story, even though I’ve taken the time through it.  I’m not their friend, or their parent, but I am there for them.

It’s important to me to minimize the lying in sessions because, unlike the parent, I’m not giving out consequences.  I don’t usually lead with the ways that what they’re doing is wrong and ruining their life.  I remember, I saw this kid several years ago who had a history of lying to his adoptive parents, after being in multiple foster home placements.  I was pretty sure that this kid had many people telling him that what he was doing was wrong.  He already knew that.  It wouldn’t have helped to say it again.  But, what he hadn’t really done was talk about it, because understandably so, those talks usually lead quickly into lecturing and that shuts the door to communication.  So, what I said was, “You’re pretty experienced at lying.  How many years do you think you’ve been doing it?  How old were you when you started?  Which home were you in?  What did you lie about?”

Another question that I ask adopted teens when they come to see me for therapy is, “Does it bother you?” How much does their narrative about the problem reflect their parent’s narrative of the problem.  “Are you as concerned as your parents are about you getting into college?”And if not, I ask why.

I allow for intermittent quietness to be part of the session.  Teens can get overwhelmed and talking about these issues isn’t easy, so when there is a pause in our conversation, I allow for it.

I frame anxiety as a survival skill.  When a teen worries about separating from their parents or maybe even worrying about something terrible happening to their parents it is painful for them, I know, but it is also a way for them to brace themselves for the worst.  It’s difficult to be that way in an ongoing basis, but adoptees are survivors and why wouldn’t they be scared to take a leap of faith that everything will be fine?  I try to frame it as a source of strength and protection, and help them to recalibrate their anxiety to be appropriate to the given situation.  I talk about the courage it takes to move forward, and into the unknown, and that I respect their courage, knowing that there are no guarantees.

What has helped you when talking with adopted teens, or if you are a teen or young adult, what have folks done that helped you to open up?  Let me know!  I’m interested.



When Happiness Isn’t The (Only) Goal

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image24226940“I just want her to be happy.”

When feeling happy is our goal, it’s easy to get discouraged.  Life can get rough sometimes, relationships can hurt, unexpected things can happen and it’s not rational to strive for happiness during those times that we don’t control.  So, what is the solution, then?  There’s also contentment, but that seems overrated, too.  Some of us are more content than others, temperamentally.  Sometimes contentment isn’t the goal either.  When you’re striving for something, or making a huge developmental leap, you’re not content, you’re ambitious and pushing out of your comfort zone.  You’re uncomfortable, and that’s appropriate.

I’m here at the Amway Grand Hotel, for the Korean-American Adoptee Network Conference, and know that each of us, whether adopted child, adult, adoptive parent, does not have the same capacity to to be “happy” and that’s not the only measure of success.  But, we can all find ways and do things to feel more empowered.