Your adopted child lays curled up on the couch. She fell asleep while watching her favorite movie this evening. You gently pick her up and carry her to her bed. She wakes briefly, but once you tuck her in, she falls right back to sleep. You gaze lovingly at your child of adoption; she looks so angelic while she sleeps.
Parenthood is full of rewarding moments such as these. However, as any parent will attest, parenthood is also challenging and downright frustrating at times. You understand that when your adopted child throws tantrums, kicking and screaming on the floor, purposely breaks rules, or lies to you that it is likely a result of his or her past experiences, but you might wonder if he or she will ever adjust to your family. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help children of adoption adjust to your home.
Understand That Adoption Is Complicated for Children
Most people think of adoption as a happy occasion, but older children who were adopted may have mixed emotions about it.
Older children will likely experience grief and loss when they are adopted. They may grieve the loss of their birth parents and extended families. If they spent time in a foster home, they may grieve the loss of their foster family, friends, neighbors, and school. Don’t be surprised if your adopted child is angry with you. He or she may feel as if you are taking him or her away from his or her birth family or his or her foster family.
Your adopted child may also struggle with guilt. He or she may feel guilty for grieving his or her birth or foster family. Alternatively, he or she may feel guilty if he or she begins to accept you as his or her family because he or she feels like he or she is being disloyal to his or her birth or foster family.
Fear and anxiety are also common emotions for children of adoption to have. Children may fear that you will abandon them, especially if they spent time in multiple foster homes while waiting to be adopted.
Children who spent time in an orphanage waiting to be adopted might be downright overwhelmed when you bring them home. Oftentimes, children in orphanages do not receive the physical and mental stimulation they need, so being loved and receiving physical affection from you may be overstimulating for them.
Create a Lifebook
A lifebook is a book that connects an adopted child’s past to his or her present. You can include photos, stories, and keepsakes in your adopted child’s lifebook. For instance, you can include stories you heard from your adopted child’s foster or birth family when you met them. You can include any photos the birth or foster family has of your adopted child. Keepsakes you can put in the book include your child’s hospital bracelet, maps of where he or she came from, postcards of his or her hometown, and photos you took when you visited him or her before you brought him or her home.
Remember that the lifebook is for your adopted child–it is not for you. The focus of the lifebook should be on your child’s history and how he or she came to live with you.
A lifebook can be very comforting for your adopted child while he or she adjusts to your home. His or her lifebook can help her grieve her losses and remember the good times he or she shared with his or her birth family or foster family. Photos of his or her birth or foster family, as well as his or her friends, can bring him or her comfort in his or her new surroundings.
Looking at his or her lifebook together gives you and your adopted child a chance to bond and communicate. This is a wonderful time for him or her to ask you any questions or talk about any concerns he or she has. It also provides an opportunity for you to get to know your adopted child better by asking him or her to tell you stories about the things and people in his or her lifebook.
You may feel overwhelmed trying to put together a lifebook for your adopted child. Some parents choose to work alongside other adoptive parents when putting together a lifebook. This gives you an opportunity to brainstorm ideas and practice handling the tough questions your child may have when you’re looking through the lifebook together. There are many support groups and workshops you can join that are centered around creating lifebooks.
Explain Family Rules
Explain family rules to your adopted child in age-appropriate terms. You might want to start with two or three things and build on those as time goes on. Giving too many rules all at once can be overwhelming. Additionally, children who have been in tough family situations or multiple foster homes may have developed some undesirable habits; it will take time to replace those habits with new, desirable ones.
When you explain the rules to your adopted child, it’s important to tell him or her what the consequences will be for breaking each rule. For instance, tell your adopted child that if he or she throws a toy at someone in your family, he or she will receive a time-out. It is vital that you enforce the consequences when rules are broken. Being consistent with rules and consequences will help build trust; your adopted child needs to know that you mean what you say.
Establish a Routine After the Adoption
Establish a basic routine to help your adopted child adjust to your family. Routines help children feel safe and secure. With a routine, a child knows what is going to happen and when. This is especially important for children who have had uncertain pasts. A routine can help your adopted child begin to trust you and his or her new environment.
Put a schedule on the wall where your adopted child can see it. If your adopted child is too young to read or doesn’t know English yet, you can use pictures to represent the daily routine. For instance, you can use pictures of food to show when it’s mealtime, a picture of a toothbrush to represent teeth-brushing time, a picture of a bathtub to represent bath time, and a picture of a bed to represent bedtime. Place a face clock next to each picture with the hands of the clock set to the appropriate time for that activity, such as 8 a.m. for breakfast, 3 p.m. for snack time, and 8 p.m. for bedtime. You can easily make clock faces using paper plates.
Family traditions are also important; they help a child of adoption to feel connected to and a part of your family. Start incorporating family traditions as soon as you can. Some families, for instance, have a game night or a movie night each week. Doing things together as a family will help everyone feel more connected.
Allow Him or Her to Make Choices
Many times, children who have been in the foster system have not been able to make many of their own choices. Giving your adopted child choices can help him or her feel more confident and in control. You could allow your adopted child to choose what outfit he or she wears, what he or she wants for dinner, and what color he or she wants the walls in his or her room to be.
On the other hand, some children may find too many choices overwhelming. If you find this to be the case with your adopted child, introduce decision-making slowly. For example, you could pick out two or three outfits and have your adopted child choose which one he or she will wear that day.
Chores are an important part of belonging to a family. Give your adopted child a chore or two a few days after he or she comes home with you. Make sure the chores you give are age-appropriate. For example, if you adopted a 5-year-old, you could measure out your dog’s kibble and have your adopted child put the kibble into your dog’s bowl every day. A couple of simple chores will help give your adopted child more stability in his or her daily routine. Teaching your child how to do various chores around the house can also be a bonding experience.
Change is difficult for kids and adults alike. Take things slowly. Going to a new home and being part of a new family is overwhelming, so try to keep things simple for a while. Kids who lived in orphanages might be easily overwhelmed.
Undoubtedly, you’ll want to take your newly adopted child to meet your extended family and friends, out to eat, shopping, to the park, and so forth, but doing so much in a short period of time may simply be too much for your adopted child. For the first few weeks or months, it may be a better idea to stay home and work on building your connection with your child.
Introduce your extended family members and friends slowly over time. Have one or two people over at a time, and space visits several days apart. If you want to throw your adopted child a welcome party, do so several months after you bring him or her home so he or she has a chance to settle in and meet the people in your life. A large gathering may be too overwhelming for your child to deal with too soon after coming home with you.
Try to keep your home a calm and safe space for your adopted child. Try to avoid loud noises and colors initially. You may want to decorate your child’s room in bright, cheery colors, but kids who lived in orphanages may find bright colors overstimulating. Instead, decorate your child’s room in muted colors initially. You can always change the colors in your child’s room later on after he or she settles in.
Have Fun After the Adoption
It’s easy to have fun with your adopted child when things are going smoothly, but if your adopted child is engaging in challenging behaviors, such as purposely breaking rules, you may not feel like planning fun activities. As any parent will attest, however, parenting is a balancing act. You have to balance discipline with affection and fun.
Set aside some time every day to do something fun with your adopted child. Find out what he or she enjoys doing and do those activities regularly. Watch movies, play outdoors, read books, take a walk, play dress-up, or dance together. You can also try some new activities with your adopted child like gardening (most kids like playing in the dirt), cooking an easy meal, doing a craft, or playing a new game.
Going to the movies, out to eat, to museums, to the zoo, or to the aquarium are all great fun things to do with your adopted child, but depending on his or her past, you may want to hold off on doing too many of these things right away. Low-key activities at home are less likely to overwhelm him or her while he or she adjusts to his or her new life.
Take Care of Yourself
It’s easy to forget to take care of yourself when you’ve recently brought your adopted child home. You want to spend as much time with your child as you can. Your child may behave so poorly initially that you feel you can’t leave him or her in the care of a babysitter.
If you have a partner, have him or her watch your child for a little while so you can go get a massage, go to dinner with a friend, go to a movie, or even just take a walk. Don’t forget to return the favor so your partner can take care of himself or herself, too. Have a trusted family member or friend watch your child so that you and your partner can go on a date night. Your relationship is important and should not be neglected.
Don’t feel guilty for taking care of yourself. You won’t be able to be an effective parent if you aren’t rested and at your wit’s end.
It may take anywhere from six months to a couple of years for your adopted child to adjust to his or her new life. Remember that most older children have lived in multiple foster homes or with multiple family members before being placed with you. A child may have a difficult time believing that your home is permanent. Only time will show them that your home is forever.
Ask for Adoption Help
Sometimes children of adoption have problems you can’t work through at home by yourself, and that’s okay. If you feel stuck, seek out the services of an adoption-competent counselor. These counselors are trained to help children of adoption work through issues. There is no shame in asking for help if you need it.
You’ve done a wonderful thing by adopting an older child. While your newly adopted child’s behavior may be challenging, be patient, consistent, and loving. Your adopted child will eventually adjust to your home and family.