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.




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.





Why Groups For Parents Of Adopted Teens?

I’ve presented at a number of organizations and have had the pleasure of meeting and knowing hundreds of adoptive parents in a range of settings, including in my own family.  Along the way, I’ve seen that there is a gap in services.  Many adoptive parents have found good therapists for themselves and/or their adopted teen, but continue not to have the answers and insights that they need to get back on track.  This is scary, because, they know better than anyone, the stakes just got higher.  Now, it’s about safety, career, serious relationships, and adulthood, which is just around the corner.  It’s not the best time to “wing it” yet, adoptive parents often find themselves doing just that.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Why groups for adoptive parents?  What about the adopted teens?  In order for adopted teens to feel empowered, adoptive parents also need to feel empowered.  And, with so many questions, so few answers, and not many people to talk with, it can be difficult to get there.

These groups are a chance to talk about what’s important right now – creating the empathic conversation, setting limits and expectations that are reasonable and enforceable, and facilitating an empowered stance that can serve as protective for adopted teens as they venture into adulthood, which will happen, whether they leave home or not.

I also know that adoptive parents have had a range of experiences in talking with other adoptive parents.  Many have felt burned, criticized and attacked.  This group is different.  It’s safe and supportive, with opportunities to learn and to listen.  It’s amazing what four weeks can do.  Small changes can shift things in a whole new direction.

Groups start Friday!



Introducing My “Parenting-Well” Group For Adoptive Parents (past group)

(please see website for current group info!)

Calling all local adoptive parents who are currently parenting teens!

I know what it’s like for many of you now – you’re feeling overwhelmed, helpless and alone in parenting your adopted teen. Sometimes it seems too hard and often it seems like it’s getting worse! You end up fighting with them, getting into power struggles with them, where you lose, and if you win, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Imagine, as a parent, if you could go from feeling

helpless and overwhelmed

to empowered and focused.

What a relief that would be, right?

I’ve wanted to offer this group for a long time. It’s a group that I’ve designed for adoptive parents of teens who are struggling with their teen about limits, consequences and accountability.

As parents, you often know what you’re “supposed” to do, but can’t seem to do it.  Sometimes books and well-meaning friends and family can’t provide the solutions and guidance that you really need.  And, parenting teens is no picnic.

But, things can get better, a lot better.

How do I know?

I’ve experienced it with my clients, I’ve witnessed it happen in families.  Things start to get better, more clear, easier, manageable.

But, parents are often not getting the kind of help they really need.  I want to give each parent the opportunity to focus in on the specific issues that are getting in the way of having the relationship that they want with their teen.  I know what you’re thinking.  And, yes, it’s possible, and I know it because I’ve had the privilege of helping parents and families get there, again and again.  I’d like to help you to help your family get there, too.

This is not a support group or a therapy group. It’s a “parenting-well” group. The topic that we’ll be focusing on is how to take the sting out of setting limits with adopted teens.  Doesn’t that sound nice? I’ll present and and the rest of the time will be discussion. I’ve purposely kept the group small so the discussion can address the needs of each parent.

Aren’t you tired of feeling so alone?

The details:

Five Meetings
Eight members
Thursdays 10:15-11:30, beginning on Nov 7.
Meetings are held at my office at 17 Lincoln St., Third Floor, Suite B, #3, in Newton, MA.

One-time fee of $250, payable online.

Is this the group you’ve been waiting for?  Don’t procrastinate.  Just do it.  There are only eight openings.

Register here:


Also, if you know anyone who might be interested, please pass this info along to them!

PS – If you’re interested in the group but your child is not a teen, the time doesn’t work, etc., e-mail me at katiejae@comcast.net and let me know.  Thanks.


Parenting Within Your Means

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-family-002-image2245080I’ve been struck lately by the promises that are made these days –

Change Your Life In 30 Days!

Never Work Again!

Make Your Child’s Tantrums Disappear Forever

etc, etc.

Who knows, maybe there are claims that come true, but in general, life doesn’t work that way.  And, yet, I know how impatient we are these days, I know how much input we’re wading through, and more and more, people want results.  And, I can’t do that.  I can’t say with certainty that your family will turn over a new leaf after coming in to see me, or everything in life will just fall into place, after being troubled for so long.  And, I can’t guarantee that your relationship with your child or teen, or parent, or boyfriend will be closer than ever, but I what I can tell you is that if you put in effort, time and are open to being helped, the ways that people and families can change, can be inspiring!

This was how the idea of “parenting within your means” developed for me.  Just as “living within your means” refers to living within your budget, parenting within your means refers to thriving within who you are as a parent.  The job is so hard and so never-ending, with unbelievable responsibilities.  It can leave us feeling scared and wrestling with pangs of inadequacy.  We often wish that we were a different kind of parent.

But, when I work with parents, I am very interested in the strengths they have and how that distinguishes their identity as parents.  Parents bring so much history, wisdom, knowledge and insight to the table, and I know that it’s possible not just to get through the day, but to thrive.  I know this because I’ve had the privilege of helping families to get there, again and again.

I don’t know what thriving looks and feels like for you, as a parent.  But, I am confident that things can get better, maybe even much better, in ways that you couldn’t have imagined.  Change that seems miraculous isn’t always the kind that stands the test of time.  I prefer the non-miracle variety, the kind that takes time.  You can still see it, but it feel so real that you can barely remember how bad it was before.



Two Mistakes Adoptive Parents Make When Talking About Bullying And Teasing

Bullying and teasing in the community of adoption is an incredibly important topic, particularly in the situation of international adoption where there are racial and/or cultural differences inside of the adoptive family.  It can be such a helpless experience to know that your child, teen or young adult is dealing with the inaccurate and inappropriate assumptions and beliefs that others hold.

Each situation is different, of course, but here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind:

Your first response should always be something like, “I’m glad you came to me about this,” or “I’m glad you told me so we can think about it together.”

One emphasis is that parents often end up focusing on is how to respond to the person who is doing the bullying.  While this is important, it is 50/50 that the child will actually implement what you come up with.  They might say, “I could try that,” or “I guess that would work,” which often translates as, “That’s not going to happen.”  It can potentially break down the connection that you’re building with them because if and when something happens again, which it often does, they may anticipate that if they talk with you, you’ll just give them the same suggestions and ideas, and they may even worry that you’ll be upset that they didn’t follow your plan in the first place.

It’s better to emphasize that what they did was inappropriate, wrong and they shouldn’t have done that.  Emphasize that they do not really know your child and their assumptions are wrong and your child deserves to have people in their life who take the time to know him or her.

The second mistake involves the instinct of parents to take up the cause and rush in to get involved.  I know as a parent how much our blood churns when a child mistreats or is mean to or excluding of our child.  And, there are times when it’s a good idea to intervene.  But, proceed with caution!  Every child wants to be protected and attended to but most don’t want to be the subject of a cause.  When parents crusade in, sometimes they can leave their child behind in the process, without realizing it.  Remember that more than anything else, you want your child to have a strong sense of worth and to feel empowered to take on the next bozo who comes their way.

I’m glad you told me.

You don’t deserve that.  They should not have done that.  That was wrong.

I’m here for you and I’d like to help.  Let’s take some time to think through it together.




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.



How I Talked With My Daughter About Racism

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-diversity-series-image1528047Early one morning a few years ago, my daughter, four at the time, and I were out early dropping off the dry cleaning.  The area was pretty quiet and we just pulled up outside and I just out to throw it into the outside slot.  As I went around to get back into the driver’s seat, a car went by and a guy yelled out, “Asian woman!”

The insides of me, boiled, for so many reasons.

Not just because of what he had said, but because my daughter in the car.  This was the first time that she had been exposed to blatant rudeness.  I realize that it could have been worse, I realize that what he said was comparatively mild, but still!  Being Asian should not be an insult and it’s amazing how much it is used that way!

The other thing about it that made me see red was that he was such a coward.  He did it while my back was turned to him and they sped away, just guessing that he wasn’t alone.  They often aren’t.  What a coward!  At least have the decency to say it to my face and take responsibility for it.  That often seems like too much to ask!

I got back in the car and wasn’t sure if my daughter had actually heard it, and if she had, how it affected her.  Certainly, I knew that the impact on her was very different than the impact that it had had on me as her mom.

I said, “Did you just hear that guy?”  she said, “No,” and even if she hadn’t heard the words, I still told her what he had said, and said,” There are a few people, not many, but a few that think that being White is best thing to be, and think that being Asian is not as good.  That is very wrong and we know that’s not true.  So, even if people say something to us, we can know that they’re wrong.”  She nodded.  My daughter was always someone who understood more than I would expect from kids her age.  I said, again, “Most people aren’t like that though.”

Sort of like sexual education, I wanted to talk with her before it was needed, and I got it in, just under the wire.  I wanted her first experience with racism to be with me, and, for her to hear from me first.




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.


Keeping Adoption In Mind

Is this about adoption?

This is such a sticky wicket, isn’t it?  Adoptive parents will come in to see me, and that is the question they ask themselves, and me.  And, of course, I can’t really know for sure, no one can.  I can’t find the answer in a book, like a math problem.  It’s subjective, so in a way, there is no right or wrong.  You could easily justify it both ways, right?

Let’s take “abandonment” issues, for example.  A parent brings in their child or teen and asks me if this is about abandonment issues, or if this is about something else.  And, as their story unfolds, I listen and sift.  And, as I’m doing this, that is not the only question that I hold – is this about adoption.  The other question that isn’t always part of the discussion, but that is always a part of me, is this:

Where is the most potential for change?  There is some truth to framing an issue, but much of it is narrative.  And, which vantage point of their narrative has the most potential for change in the family?  Change through understanding, or learning, or accountability, or expectations?

Example:  child is having rages and parents wonder if this is about her fear of abandonment.  In their story, their narrative, I can see, yes, it probably exacerbated by her fear of abandonment.  But, if I were to focus on that with these parents, the problem wouldn’t change, and may even get worse!  What they needed was to expect more of her, to set clear limits and boundaries and to toughen their resolve.  Interestingly, as we worked on accountability, etc., her fears of abandonment lessened.

Where does change begin?