Friday, October 22, 2010

Tips from the Trenches: Older Child Adoption

At Heart to Heart, we place mostly infants and children under age one.  Occasionally we place older children, which is a difficult situation for everyone involved.  It is a highly emotional time with many dynamics involved.

Once the child is home with his new family, real life begins pretty quick. Sometimes traditional parenting methods aren't effective.  Here are some tips that may help your transition.  And as always - if you're living life with the challenges of an older child adoption - give us your input!

  • Be flexible with expectations - of everyone.    One mother tells that once her 3 year old adopted son was in his new home, he did not seem to understand logical consequences.  He was so used to being uncomfortable; cold, hungry, sick, or even hurt, that she had to help him identify what his body was experiencing.   "I had to tell him 'you're cold, let's get your jacket and put it on..." and then help him physically put it on.  She had to give him the words to help him express what he was feeling.
  • Try looking at the world through your child's eyes.  This is always good, in every adoption situation, whether you adopt an older child, or whether you face certain challenges as your child grows and matures and begins to process adoption.  But when you adopt an older child, imagine being taken from what you know (no matter how good or bad), to a new home with people who are strangers.  When you look at life through their eyes, sometimes behaviors make more sense, and we deal differently with situations as we parent.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff!  Yes, another good life lesson...but especially with older child adoption.  Pick your battles wisely.  A child who is grieving over the loss of familiar people and surroundings may not respond well when you, as the parent, make an issue over mismatched clothing or brushing teeth.
  • Give your child the childhood he never had.   Immediately meeting the need of a child will not "spoil" a child who never knew the joy of being nurtured in infancy.  It may seem strange for a child who seems larger and competent asking to be carried, or being upset when the request for food isn't met promptly, but you don't have to parent the child now - these first few weeks as a new family -  the way you hope to when he's a teenager.
  • Be patient. Be patient.  Be patient.   It will take some time - maybe a lot of time - for your child to really feel part of this new family.  It takes time for him to accept the adoption.  This doesn't always mean years of disruptive behavior, but it may take a long time for him to be secure that he truly belongs.
These are just a few ideas for you amazing families who adopt older children.  Some great books on the subject include:

Our Own: Adopting and Parenting the Older Child  by Trish Maskew
Attaching in Adoption   by Deborah D. Gray
Parenting Your Adopted Older Child  by Brenda McCreight
Parenting the Hurt Child by Gregory Peck and Regina M. Kupecky

Stay the course, hang in there, and take a break now and then.  Parenting an adopted older child is challenging. But worth it. 

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