Guide To Bonding With Your Internationally Adopted Child

You've been waiting for this bond for a while, so how can you make it stronger?

Susan Kuligowski July 24, 2017

The build up to finally meeting your adopted child can be so overwhelming and exciting that considering the next steps can easily slip your not-even-a-fidget spinner-can-focus-me mind–and with good reason. International adoption is a complex journey that leaves many parents reaching for a nonexistent playbook after the dream has become a reality–one that now squirms in your lap, looks into your eyes, and waits for you to make the first move.

Making sure that you’re prepared to bring your child home requires more planning than the layout of his bedroom or what time you’ll sit down for meals or put him to bed each night. While there are books upon books about building strong bonds, a few simple things that you should consider and can plan for now include the following.

Find Support
1. Find Support

There’s that saying about it taking a village to raise a child--similarly, it takes a bunch of caring folks to walk the path of international adoption--not just through pre-adoption, but the forever family part as well. If you’re adopting internationally--don’t attempt to go it alone. Your adoption facilitators or anyone advising you who claims to know a thing or two about adoption should introduce you to others in the adoption community who have walked the walk. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Build relationships. Make sure members of your family and close friends are in the know as well.

2. Learn

Where just about all international adoptions today require training or education, this should be something you seek out from the start. Education will enhance your understanding of the parts of international adoption that may not make it onto a website or the bullet points on a brochure. While a lot of that focus will be toward the process of adoption itself, you’ll want to educate yourself on the process of building a strong family. There should be information available to help you to learn about where your child comes from, what challenges he may face as an adopted child (everything from the transition process from orphanage to home to race issues to culture shock), and how you can best support him along his journey.

3. Understand

Understand your child’s situation. Is he a newborn. Is she a tween? What have her living conditions been like--did she spend time in an orphanage or was she part of the foster system? What was her schedule? Is there a language barrier? Does he have existing medical conditions? So many questions--avoid being thrown for a loop later by taking the time to learn the answers now. When you adopt a child from another culture or another country, you need to take the time to learn about her culture and her country--although she may be young now and it may not seem important, some day she will grow up and possibly show an interest in her roots. It’s your job as a parent to preserve this part of her family history and to make her feel comfortable knowing who she is and where she came from pre-you.

4. Recognize

Recognize the signs of adopting a child who may require additional attention or support. For that matter, recognize the signs of a child struggling to fit into his new family. All kids have their good days and bad even under the best of times, so be ready and open to know when something seems a little off or requires you to think outside the parenting box to do what works for your specific situation--all family situations are unique. Through your interaction with your support system (see above), listen and look for signs that your child may be trying to communicate his needs to you. Recognizing that there are problems and doing something about it is not a sign of failure, but rather what family is all about--we are our children’s safety net. Reach out for help sooner rather than later.

Have a Plan
5. Have a Plan

Aside from the obvious--reaching out to a pediatrician familiar with international adoption and getting in touch with your local school district regarding what resources will be available to your child (especially if they are of school age and will need assistance with English)--there are many other opportunities for you to prepare your child’s new home for her.

Find out ahead of time your child’s schedule and try to build it into whatever parenting plan you have in mind. Research foods he is used to eating and ones he may be open to trying. Consider music and art that may make him feel at home. While this is is new home and his future is with you, think about how you would feel if you were asked to pick up and move to a new country tomorrow leaving everything you know and are familiar with behind.

Reading stories, singing lullabies (or Top 10 countdowns later on), grooming, feeding and sharing meals, playing games, physical contact, doing homework together, taking up a sport, and daily routine/structure interaction with your child are all great ways to build a strong and lasting foundation--one that will bring you closer together as a family. Read, read, read articles and books and check in with your support group for so many great tips on how to best interact with your child on an age appropriate level. More importantly, make time for your child. You’ve worked hard to become a family--now work hard to ensure you’re growing together in a healthy way--to make sure that he is growing in a healthy way.

6. Attachment

Bonding and attachment go hand in hand and are not limited to adoptive families. According to many experts, bonding usually occurs in the first weeks after a baby is born, and is a feeling that originates with the caregiver, whereas attachment usually develops in the first two years of life and is a sense of safety that ebbs from the child.

While you can’t put a timeframe on bonding, it’s one aspect of your relationship with your child that you can bet will be ongoing and change as she grows from a baby through to adulthood. Continue to keep communication open from day one to build trust and to let her know you’re there for her as a first stop resource for anything from goodnight kisses to curiosity about her adoption to questions about her first love.

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Susan Kuligowski

Sue Kuligowski is an author at 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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