Friday, April 16, 2010

As we hear of disrupted adoption situations, most recently in the Russian adoption program, we find ourselves feeling strong emotions and having definite opinions. And as with almost any news story audible and visible to children, the recent news of challenges in Russian adoptions can be unsettling and unnerving to children - especially adopted children. They may find themselves wondering if they are secure in their home and family. They may even ask questions. I believe questions are always a good thing. But we have to be prepared to answer thoughtfully, truthfully, and lovingly.

Early discussions regarding adoption are always the best foundation. The first goal is to create an atmosphere of trust and openness. Every single detail is not necessary - especially with young children. Children will understand some information, and misunderstand some information, but the feelings they are left with will remain. It is perfectly ok for a parent to say "It is uncomfortable for me to talk about this, but I am so glad you asked." Try to identify and label your feelings rather than let your child infer them, which can lead to inaccurate and upsetting conclusions. You're also modeling great coping skills!

Now do your best to answer - and tell your child that. Do not worry if you answer perfectly the first time a question about adoption arises. You'll have many more opportunities to answer - and if you don't like the way you answered the first time, do it better the next time!

Once you've explored your own feelings, make sure you explore the feelings and concepts your child possesses. Sometimes we make a mistake in thinking children understand a concept just because we used all the "right words". Children take information and draw very different conclusions than adults - or other children for that matter. Children think and develop and process at very different levels.

Remember that no matter how you answer the question, what will remain is how the child felt during the conversation. Be responsive. Be empathetic. Be loving. And my favorite...be "dialed in". Turn off the phone, turn off the computer, and focus on that child! This is not the time to multi task. The more you validate the child's feelings in times of concern or misunderstanding, the better they will incorporate the new concepts you introduce. Statements like, "I can see how you would think that." or "I understand why that would make you feel worried." Ask them what they think happened. Encourage them to problem solve and process their interpretation of events. Don't feel like you have to tell the whole story, but do answer the questions they have asked. Ask them what they remember from similiar conversations you've had in the past, and make sure you ask if there's anything more they want to discuss before the conversation is over. This is also a healthy way to process and be comfortable in our own feelings, both happy and sad.

Remember, this is a lifetime dialogue, and one you'll want to both remember with love and even laughter. Children need reassurance that they are loved, safe, and secure. And if you think about it...adults do, too...

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