7 Things You Must Know About Bonding with Your Internationally Adopted Child

The following tips include some basic day-to-day situations to help you to better understand where your child is coming from.

Susan Kuligowski January 01, 2018
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Bonding with your internationally adopted child can be a complicated process, especially if you don’t know what to expect. The following tips include some basic day-to-day situations to help you to better understand where your child is coming from in order to develop attachment and trust as you move forward together.

Take it slow.

You’re home. Great! Don’t expect him to easily fall into your regular routine just like that. Most likely he experienced quite a different routine when he lived in an orphanage or with a foster family. If possible, ask his caregivers for a written description of what he normally would’ve experienced in a day from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to sleep. Bathtime, playtime, mealtimes – everything he knows is about to change. Be prepared for some pushback and tantrums and be patient while he takes in his new environment. Understand that his defiance may actually be an expression of anxiety or confusion. Learning your child’s routine will not only help to put him at ease in his new surroundings, but help him to adapt to his new home.

Limit visits. 

Most experts agree that once you arrive home, it’s best to limit visits from well meaning family and friends – at least in the early stages. Although all parents are tempted to share their newfound joy with the world, resist the urge to invite over too many new faces. Allow your child this time to become comfortable in and familiar with her immediate family members in the place she will call her home. More than auntie/niece selfies, she needs an opportunity to build up a sense of safety and trust in he primary caregivers – much like a newborn baby. It’s okay to be selfish at this point – spend as much time getting to know her as you can, while you can. Before you know it, the stresses and obligations of everyday life will come a-knockin’ and auntie will be on speed dial for babysitting duty.

Maximize mealtimes.

Same as with your child’s routine – if possible, request list of foods your child eats and drinks, including favorites. Does she have any dietary restrictions? Allergies? Bad reactions? The flavors and ingredients she may be used to may not be available in your home or even your local grocery. She may not love pizza like you thought she would. She may exhibit disordered eating patterns, such as hoarding food. She may be too anxious to eat very much. In addition to your regularly scheduled meal plan, consider learning to make dishes she may be used to or look forward to. Experiment by slowly introducing her to small portions of food rather than large portions at a time. Mealtime can be a wonderful bonding time around the family dinner table with children from infancy on up.

Play, play, play. 

You’ve got a license to play as much as possible! Playtime is a natural and wonderful way to get to know each other. Outdoor activities, playing with blocks and board games, getting messy with fingerpaints, tossing a ball, building a fort, blowing bubbles, having dance offs, taking trips to the park, exploring the world around you – you name it – it’s a great way to encourage your child to let loose, be silly, and release some tension, while also learning to trust, share, and express himself in a fun and silly way.

Foster good sleep.

Sleep is important to a healthy lifestyle. Maybe your new child shared a room with several other children or maybe she is accustomed to a noisy room full of crying infants. Perhaps her foster home was located in a busy city center, whereas your house in the suburbs is the definition of a silent night. In some orphanages, children are accustomed to having lights on all night – others pipe through soothing music. While it’s important to establish bedtime rituals and a schedule that works for your family in your home, consider the reasons she may not find it easy to fall asleep or sleep through the night. Snuggle, read a bedtime story, sing songs, or consider playing soft music – it’s okay to experiment what works best for your family until you are able to develop a new bedtime ritual that works.

Start communicating.  

It’s only natural that most children coming from another country will experience a language barrier – if they have been exposed to English at all, it most likely will have been limited at best. Through play and other activities such as reading together, you can help him to learn the language without too much pressure at a time when he has so many other things going on. Don’t expect him to pick it up “just like that.” Some internationally adopted children go through a period of not speaking at all – English or any other language for that matter. If you’re adopting a school-aged child, contact your local district ahead of time to set up a meeting to discuss available options and resources, including English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and/or speech therapy to help him find his voice.

Have reasonable expectations.

Do not try to gauge your adopted child’s behaviors or milestones based on the standard parenting books or what your friends’ children are doing. Her early beginnings were not that of a typical child and therefore your expectations must coincide with the fact that she may not develop on the same timetable as a typical child. This is not an indication of a problem, just the reality that is a previously institutionalized child adjusting to life in a family environment. Most children adapt and catch up to (or even exceed) their counterparts with just the right amount of love and encouragement.

Overall, know that while bonding with your internationally adopted child may require a little more patience, perseverance, and hands-on from all parties concerned, the joys and rewards are immeasurable.

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Susan Kuligowski

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she's not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.


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