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Posted by Karyn Purvis

We often tell parents that there are six words for adoptive families to live by. Practicing these words have can bring dynamic hope and healing to even the most difficult situation. Founded in the love of God, the six guiding words are Be Compassionate! Be Firm! Be Proactive!

Be Compassionate! Never forget for a moment, the suffering and pain your child experienced before coming to the safety of your home. Childhood traumas remain ever-present for our children influencing their behaviors in dramatic ways. Remembering that most aberrant behavior is driven by fear and pain will temper parental responses. When our children feel understood, they will begin to feel safe enough to connect to us in ways that ultimately bring deep healing and joy. I love remembering the tender passage from the Gospel of John when Jesus stood with Mary and Martha at the opening of their brother’s grave. Even knowing He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus felt the grief of Mary and Martha, and wept with them before revealing God’s plan. Jesus knew what was to happen, but he mourned with them in their time of mourning.

Be Firm! Although we are deeply compassionate about our children’s fear and pain, we still need to provide instruction and direction, guiding them to life skills that are empowering and healing. Clear, firm, achievable expectations for appropriate behavior need to be taught in concrete and tangible ways, so that our children can understand them. Most children who come from “hard places” have survival skills that are driven by the primitive regions of the brain. When we teach them, it is important to demonstrate clearly and simply our expectations. God’s heart about discipline is demonstrated in Scripture, “Fathers provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord.” Clearly, God’s admonition is balanced by equal parts nurture and compassion.

Be Proactive! By keeping a behavioral interactions journal for one week, patterns of behavioral problems become clear. Using this information, we develop proactive strategies to help our children success BEFORE they can fail. If transitions from home to school are a problem, we develop a shared strategy for resolving the difficulty. In being proactive about our children’s behaviors, it becomes clear to them that it is not “them against us”, but rather is a shared journey of helping them learn new life skills. My childhood pastor had a whimsical way of talking about Creation (passage). He reminded us that “God didn’t create fish on Tuesday and tell them to flop around on dry ground until Thursday when we planned to create water, but rather he created water and then the fish. God made a proactive plan for success!”

Appling these six words, for example with a child who is stealing and hording food, may look something like this:

  • Be Compassionate! “Sweetie, I understand that you were hungry many times before you came home to us, but I promise you will never be hungry in our home. We will always have plenty of food for you.
  • Be Firm! “However, it is not okay for you to sneak into the kitchen at night and steal food to hide in your room.”
  • Be Proactive! “So here is our plan, anytime you are hungry you can come to me and ask and I will come to the kitchen with you and we’ll have snacks together until you are full! And you can go with me to the grocery store and help me chose nutritious wrapped snacks to put in a basket in your room that you can eat anytime you feel hungry.”


By using these six words, we touch the hearts of our children, connecting with them and empowering them to trust us and to let us guide and support them as they begin to heal.



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