8 Ways to Prepare When Adopting a Toddler

We were very not prepared for a 3-year-old, but we're coming through to the other side now.

Chelse Schults February 27, 2018

I am pretty much in the thick of this right now. We did not know the age of the child we would adopting. Our foster care license is for ages 0-2. That includes 2 years 11 months, which is pretty much 3. We were blessed to accept.

We were very much prepared for potentially adopting a 6- or 18-month-old. We were very not prepared for a 3-year-old, but we’re coming through to the other side now. And these are the things that I really wish we had done, and a few things we are glad that we do, when adopting our toddler.

Ask the child's previous caregiver or social worker as many questions as you can.
1. Ask the child's previous caregiver or social worker as many questions as you can.

When you are first meeting the toddler you are about to adopt, ask as many questions as you can. We had the opportunity to meet the person who was caring for our little girl before us. The answers to these question made the first few days so much easier for us and her. Some ideas,

Are they typically in daycare?

What do they like to eat? What do they really not like to eat?

Do they have any food allergies?

Ever been stung by a bee?

Favorite toys/things to do/anything they are really scared of?

What size do they wear?

Fear of animals? Or used to pets?

What routines are they familiar with? aka bedtime routine tips, tricks etc.

Create a parenting plan/strategy to promote attachment.
2. Create a parenting plan/strategy to promote attachment.

This is one that my husband and I really really agree on. You have to have some type of plan. With our first child, we chose to be the only people who would feed him or change his diaper for the first 3 to 6 months. With our second child, beginning nearly 3, we had to come up with some other attachment plan. We again set out a length of time and committed to being her only caregivers for the first 6 months. We take turns staying/working from home to full time parent her for the first year. We were the only ones to give her meals, snacks, snuggles and all her other needs. This is our attachment style. I think it is incredibly important to remember to give yourself breaks and that you won't necessarily be the only person to give them a cup of milk, when you are introducing them to your extended family at Christmas, but you have to have some type of plan to show them that you are their parents, you belong to them, and can be trusted.

This also means figuring out how and when you will be introducing them to new people (their new family). Always error on the side of caution. Let your people know that you will be taking time to bond as a family. There is no set timeline, but listen and observe your new child and take things at their pace.

Ask your child's previous caregiver lots of questions.
3. Ask your child's previous caregiver lots of questions.

When you are first meeting the toddler you are about to adopt, ask as many questions as you can. We had the opportunity to meet the person who was caring for our little girl before us. The answers to these question made the first few days so much easier for us and her. Some ideas:

Are they typically in daycare?

What do they like to eat? What do they really not like to eat?

Do they have any food allergies?

Ever been stung by a bee?

Favorite toys/things to do/Anything they are really scared of?

What size do they wear?

Fear of animals? Or used to pets?

What routines are they familiar with? (aka bedtime routine tips, tricks etc.)

Make a parenting/attachment plan.
4. Make a parenting/attachment plan.

This is one that my husband and I really really agree on. You have to have some type of plan. With our first child, we chose to be the only people who would feed him or change his diaper for the first 3 to 6 months. With our second child, beginning at nearly age 3, we had to come up with some other attachment plan. We again set out a length of time and committed to being her only caregivers for the first 6 months. We take turns staying/working from home to full-time parent her for the first year. We were the only ones to give her meals, snacks, snuggles and all her other needs. This is our attachment style. I think it is incredibly important to remember to give yourself breaks and that you won't necessarily be the only person to give them a cup of milk, and they'll probably get lots of snuggles from other people when you are introducing them to your extended family at Christmas, but you have to have some type of plan to show them that you are their parents, you belong to them, and you can be trusted.

This also means figuring out how and when you will be introducing them to new people (their new family). Always err on the side of caution. Let your people know that you will be taking time to bond as a family. There is no set timeline, but listen and observe your new child and take things at their pace.

Gather lots of positive discipline ideas.
5. Gather lots of positive discipline ideas.

Toddlers are tough. Toddlers are unreasonable by nature. Pair that with being taken away from everything you have ever known and matched up with strangers who are now Mommy and Daddy, and you are going to be in for some really epic meltdowns. Know this and have a plan. For us, being relatively new parents to our 2-year-old, we had no idea what a 3-year-old would need to feel safe and supported in her new home, or what 3-year-old-behavior is like in general.

Also, keep in mind that what works for most toddlers may not be what is best for you and your child's situation. We like "time ins" vs. time outs. It's more of a cooling-off period for the child with a parent present so they don't feel abandoned.

Use lots and lots of positive reinforcement.

Prepare for bedtime.
6. Prepare for bedtime.

Like I said before, we were more prepared for the just-turned-2-2-year-old, not the about-to-be-3-2-year-old.

We had planned to have our new toddler sleep in a crib converted toddler bed or crib in our room for the first little bit. When our child came, she was already used to sleeping in a big girl bed. Cue the rush to buy all new bedding, a bed, bed frame, bed rails, and all the things for a proper big girl bed.

Find a routine and stick to it.
7. Find a routine and stick to it.

Every child does well with structure. A toddler is starting to develop their independence. A toddler in transition is trying to also feel safe. Lay out the daily routine and follow it. The structure will make the child feel safe.

Here is a little piece of our daily routine: Dinner is always together. Afterward, we bathe, read a book, and then tuck her in bed. We even stick to as much of our routine as possible during holidays and while traveling.

Find toddler groups, classes, and activities.
9. Find toddler groups, classes, and activities.

Doing new things with your toddler will also help to create new memories and bonding. There are tons and tons of free or really affordable toddler-aged things to do if you look a little. Our school district has preschool and toddler soccer, art, and music classes. Many local libraries also have free toddler activities weekly.

Consider a food strategy.
10. Consider a food strategy.

Toddlers can be picky eaters. Families all have different philosophies about feeding their children. Before our daughter came, our son had never had a chicken nugget or french fry. His favorite foods now only come with golden arches. Eating healthy is very important to me. Eating practically is also important. Teaching my kids how to enjoy food and eat with moderation trumps all of that. Watching my little girl smile pulling through the drive-through during the first couple really hard days was the break we all needed. Your new toddler will likely have different eating habits than you. Remember that as you're planning those first few meals.

Another thing that really helped us was to just pass out a snack or drink to everyone instead of asking if she was thirsty or hungry. I found that she would drink if I just handed her a cup.

All the patience. All the coffee. And ALL of the snacks.
11. All the patience. All the coffee. And ALL of the snacks.

Adopting a toddler presents a different set of challenges. It's important to breathe through the crazy moments and remember that this little child is a precious, precious gift who is scared, confused, and in an entirely new environment. Stay positive. You can do this. So can they. And a little sweet treat wont hurt.

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Chelse Schults

Chelse is passionate about empowering herself and other women to live their best life. She does this with her fashion marketing company built with her husband. Fitness goals, running marathons, and circuit training at 4:30am support her love of coffee. Keep up with her on Adopt Mom Style where she shares her stylish adventures about motherhood via adoption and foster care.


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