By Megan McQueen
As my sister prepared to adopt her daughter, our family excitedly gathered clothes, books, and toys for her. My sister shared photos and advice that she received from her case workers. She read about how best to transition a child to a new home and planned as much as she could for a new addition to the family. As delighted as we all were, we also wondered about additional considerations my niece would need because of her past experiences.
Welcoming a child to the family through adoption or fostering is exciting! Adoption might come with other feelings as well, including doubt, love, grief, and joy. Each child brings their own personality, needs, and quirks that we as parents and caregivers learn about as we get to know our children. You may have a lot of information about your child’s experience and you may not – and that’s okay. You can still build a trusting, loving attachment relationship and we can help build their resilience. Depending on the age of our child when they join the family and their experiences before adoption, adopted children may have missed important developmental milestones or faced trauma. Of course, you are able to raise a happy, well-adjusted child – especially with extra knowledge about child development.
Whether you are preparing for adoption or have already adopted and welcomed one or more children into your family, try these strategies at home:
Learn about child development. Find reputable resources, such as Just in Time Parenting (which is available in English and Spanish). Learn about different stages of child development – those leading up to your child’s time joining your family as well as your child’s current age and stage. This website shares research, activities, advice, and fun from birth through age five. Some of the tips provided are simple games to build coordination. For example, 25-26 months olds can play with a spoon and pan to copy sounds you make drumming. This builds rhythm, coordination, and builds your relationship.
Focus on building a positive, trusting relationship. At seven months old, Just in Time Parenting reminds readers that babies are learning about different people. They may have developed caring, trusting attachment relationships with their caregivers before coming to your family or they might be developing these relationships for the first time. Even with trusting relationships, children at this age may cry or scream with other people (including family members they know and love!). This is normal and part of the process of learning who they can trust. Again, babies that may not have attached to a loving parent or caregiver before this age may be dealing with trust, attachment, and abandonment issues that will require extra patience, effort, and time to build those healthy relationships.
Value play time together! Children and adults need to play. The time spent together will build your relationship and many skills. Gross-motor (large muscles: leg & arm muscles & balance) and fine-motor (small muscles in fingers) skills are built through running, dancing, skipping, drawing, painting, and building. Children will solve problems, use their imagination, and build a strong connection with their playmates. Play time is also an opportunity to work through issues they may have faced, such as a stressful separation, a long plane ride, or difficult doctor visits.
Join a parenting class. Connect with other families, build confidence, and establish better relationships with your children as well as with families in your community. Learn ways to raise confident, kind, independent children.
Seek out any needed medical support and therapy for your child. This may mean dentist appointments, occupational therapy, play therapy and speech and language support. Ask your pediatrician about Early Intervention services that may be useful. Boost your child with experts to prevent or minimize issues later in childhood.
Advocate for your child. Ask your child care providers to share signs of emotional distress they may see so you can bring them to the attention of your child’s medical team or social workers.Educate the people in your child’s life (daycare providers, grandparents, or teachers) about your child’s specific needs and how best to bolster them so your child is surrounded by people who can care for them in the most meaningful manner. For example, tell caregivers that you are working to build trust with your child. If they refuse to share a toy, use this as an opportunity to build empathy. Talk to your child about how they feel when they want something someone else has. How does it feel when that person shares? How does it feel when that person won’t share? How does it feel when you share with someone? These conversations will boost relationships and build social and emotional skills.
My niece has brought much joy to our family and we have all learned from her. One of my favorite lessons she has shared is unconditional love. We accept her for who she is and do our best to support her. Our utmost goal has always been to meet her needs. She is perfect as she is and our job is to love her; just the same as for all the other children in our family.
Tips for parents and caregivers:
- Parent children based on emotional age.
- Instead of “time out”, take a break together to help build attachment.
- Be consistent and predictable.
- Model and teach desirable behaviors.
- Be patient (with yourself and your child).
- Remain calm and help the child regulate herself before discussing consequences.
- Allow extra time transitioning between activities.
- Create a “safe place” for family members to calm down and take a break.
- Babies Come From Airports by Erin Dealey
- How I Was Adopted by Joanna Cole
- A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O’Leary
- Child Trauma
- Just in Time Parenting
- Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and Guardianship Support and Preservation
For a downloadable tip sheet for parenting educators, see this blog post.
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and puppy.