If you’re an adoptive parent, I know you want to do everything you can to help your adoptive child thrive in life. But it can be difficult to know what your adoptee needs, especially if they are too young to tell you what their needs are. And even if a child is old enough to identify their feelings, they may not be able to identify and express what they need.
Read on to learn about what your adoptee needs.
Adoptees Need Time and Space to Grieve
This may sound odd to some people. Why would an adoptee be grieving when they find a family to love them?
Adopted children, especially older children, grieve the loss of their birth families. This is completely normal and healthy. Don’t be afraid to talk about your adoptive child’s birth family. Let them know that you’re there to listen to them whenever they want to talk about their birth family and what happened to them.
If you adopted with an open adoption, having the child’s birth family remain involved in their life can help them cope with their grief. An open adoption also allows a birth mother to talk to the child directly about herself, their extended family, and why they placed the child for adoption. All of these things will help a child heal and go on to form other healthy relationships in their life.
It’s important to realize that the love your adoptive child has for you is in no way diminished by their grief over losing their birth family. If you need guidance in helping your child deal with their grief, you can reach out to your adoption agency or a therapist.
If your child has photos of their birth family, you could help them create a scrapbook to look at whenever they want. Doing things to honor their culture might also help with the grieving process.
Adoptees Need Time to Adjust
Your adoptive child needs plenty of time to adjust. Try to avoid overwhelming them. It may be tempting to put a bunch of new toys and stuffed animals into a brightly colored bedroom for your child, but they may actually find this to be too overwhelming during the adjustment period. Instead, decorate your child’s bedroom in neutral colors and introduce new toys and stuffed animals over time. You can always redecorate your child’s room after they’ve adjusted.
Likewise, you might want to introduce your newly adopted child to all of your family and friends, but too many new people at once can be incredibly overwhelming to a child. Try introducing a couple of people at a time instead. After your child has had some time to get to know some of your family and friends and has had sufficient time to adjust to your home, you might want to throw your child an adoption party.
You may want to stay at home as much as you can during the first month or two after bringing your child home. A child may find going out overwhelming, especially if other people are interacting with them.
Adoptees Need Validation
Your adopted child will need their feelings and experiences validated. This is especially true if your adopted child is older.
As an adoptive parent, it will be difficult to watch your adopted child struggle with their past pain and grief over the loss of their birth family. Many children have experienced trauma in their past, such as abuse or neglect. The loss of the child’s birth family is also a traumatic experience.
Your adoptive child needs to be able to express their feelings, doubts, and concerns about their adoption, their past experiences, and their birth family. Always be willing to listen to your adopted child talk about whatever they need to and validate their feelings and experiences.
Adoptees Need Reassurance
Adoptees may fear they’ll be sent back to the foster system if they aren’t good enough. This may be especially true if your adopted child lived in several foster homes before being adopted. Your child may also fear that their behavior was the reason they were placed for adoption in the first place.
It is vital that your child knows that they had nothing to do with their being placed or the situation at hand. They also need to know they have a permanent home with you, no matter what happens. Some adoptees may actually try to test your resolve by misbehaving or acting out. Be patient. Continue to reassure your adopted child that nothing they can do will cause you to send them away. It may take months or even years for your adopted child to trust that your home is their permanent home. Keep reassuring them, and let them know that you are always there to talk to them about their feelings.
Adoptees Need Consistency and Routine
Routine and consistency are important for all children, but they are especially important for adoptees. Your child may have lived in an abusive or neglectful environment before you adopted them. They may have wondered whether or not they were going to school or not, the next time they would eat, whether they would be hurt, or where they’d be sleeping from day to day.
Consistency and routine help children know what to expect, which helps build trust with you as their primary caregiver. Set a daily routine and stick to it as much as possible, keeping meal, snack, and bedtime the same from one day to another.
It might be helpful for you to put a daily schedule on the wall where your child can see it. If your child is too young to read or is still learning English, you can use images to represent daily activities. For instance, you can use an image of eggs to represent breakfast, a picture of a bed to represent bedtime, and an image of a bathtub to represent bath time. If you know something will change in your daily or weekly routine, tell your child about the change as soon as possible.
This isn’t to say that you can never do anything spontaneous, but keeping a consistent routine is especially important when your adopted child first comes home with you. They will need time to learn that you can be trusted and that their needs will always be met.
Consistency is also important in your words and actions. You need to be consistent and follow through when you tell your child you will do something. Think before you speak. If you promise your adopted child you’ll take them to the park over the weekend, take them to the park. Likewise, if you need to discipline your child, tell them the consequences of their behavior and follow through with them.
Adoptees Need the Freedom to be Themselves
As a parent, you undoubtedly have hopes and dreams for your child. However, it is important to give your adopted child the freedom to be who they are. If you’ve always wanted a child who participates in sports, but your adopted child prefers dance, don’t force them to join a sports team. Instead, enroll them in dance classes so that they can do what they love.
Provide your child with a wide variety of opportunities to try new things. If you have a local recreation center that offers classes for kids, allow your child to choose one to take. If your child seems interested in music, offer them the opportunity to take music lessons to learn to play an instrument or singing lessons to learn to sing.
As your adopted child grows up, they will undoubtedly have questions about their identity. If you adopted with an open adoption, you might be able to have your child’s birth family talk to them about where they come from. If you adopt with a closed adoption or from another country, you may have limited information about your child’s past. Share what you know about your child’s past with them. Encourage your child to ask questions whenever they have them and do your best to answer them with the information you have.
If your child grows up and decides to search for their birth parents or extended family, recognize that this is in no way a rejection of you or your family. Part of a person’s identity is knowing where they came from. Your child needs you to assure them that you support them and their decision to search for their birth family if that is what they choose to do.
Adoptees Need Safety and Security
An adopted child needs to feel safe and secure. They need their basic needs met consistently – food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and protection. As I discussed earlier, some kids were not able to rely on their basic needs being met, so it may take a while for your adopted child to trust that you will consistently meet their needs.
Adoptees Need Quality Time
Your adopted child needs you to spend quality time with them, especially in the months following their arrival in your home. Depending on your adopted child’s age, you could watch movies or television shows, color, do some arts and crafts, listen to music, dance, play catch in the yard, play board games, play dress-up, go for a walk, go to the park, and cook together. You could carve out a special time just for your adopted child before they go to bed where you can talk about their day and how they are feeling. This may help your child wind down and get any concerns off their chest before they go to sleep.
You may need to say no to or step away from some of your obligations to ensure you can spend quality time with your adopted child. Don’t feel guilty about this. Spending quality time with your child is essential to helping you build a strong parent-child bond.
Adoptees Need Emotional Support
An adoptee needs emotional support. Initially, your adopted child may feel a mix of emotions, including gratitude, happiness, relief, sadness, grief, and confusion. Your adopted child may feel grateful, happy, and relieved that they have a permanent home. However, they might also feel sadness and grief over the loss of their birth family. If they have lived in more than one foster home, they may also feel anxious and wonder when you will send them away. Your child needs to know that you are there for them whenever they need you. They need to be able to express themselves freely without fear that you will get upset with them about how they are feeling.
After the initial adjustment period is over, your adopted child will continue to need emotional support. Adoption affects a child for a lifetime. Reassure your child that they can always come to you with any concerns or questions regarding their adoption and birth family.
Be emotionally available to your child no matter what is going on. Be happy for them when they get a good grade, get a part in the school play, or score a goal in a soccer game. Be there to comfort them when they have a bad dream. Acknowledge and validate their feelings when they express them to you.
Adoptees Need Unconditional Love
Above all else, an adoptee needs your unconditional love. It’s easy to love your adopted child when they’re in a good mood, behaving well, and doing as you ask. It may not be as easy to show your adopted child love when they are throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of Walmart, pulling your dog’s tail, fighting with their sister, or blatantly disobeying you. Still, your child needs to know that you love them no matter what they are doing and even when you aren’t happy with their behavior.
There are so many ways to show your child love. Here are just a few:
- Listen to your child.
- Make their favorite meal.
- Read to them before bed.
- Sing to them.
- Give them a small gift occasionally just because.
- Do fun things with your child.
- Hug them.
- Tell them you love them.
- Give them compliments. Tell them you are proud of them. Encourage them.
- Write your child notes and put them in their lunchbox.
- Provide them with structure and routine.
- Spend one-on-one time with them regularly.
As an adoptive parent, you want to give your child the best of everything. While you may not always be able to provide them with the most expensive toys or the most up-to-date technology, you can certainly provide them with what they need the most – your love.Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.
Sierra Koester is an award-winning freelance writer and professional blogger. She earned her BA in Psychology in 2004 and has worked with several nonprofit agencies. She began her writing career in 2006 and has written extensively in the areas of health, psychology, and pets. Sierra advocates for the adoption of children as well as homeless animals. When she isn’t writing, you can find Sierra with her nose in a book or hanging out with her two kitties, Carmine, a wise old orange tabby Sierra adopted when he was a kitten, and Tylan, a cat whom Sierra adopted after he was rescued from a hoarding situation in Thailand. You can learn more about Sierra by visiting http://www.sierrakoester.blogspot.com.