You’ve applied to adopt a child and completed a home study. Congratulations! After a long, anticipated wait, you’re finally going to meet the child being placed with you. You might have mixed feelings about meeting your adoptive child for the first time. It is natural to feel anxious, hopeful, excited, and fearful regarding your first pre-placement meeting. Here are some things you can do to help you prepare for meeting your adoptive child for the first time.
What to Expect from the Adoptive Child
It is difficult to know how your adoptive child will react to meeting you, so you will need to mentally prepare yourself for any reaction they might have. It is normal for a child to feel a range of emotions when first meeting you. Your child may be very nervous and skittish. On the other hand, he or she may be overly affectionate toward you upon meeting you for the first time.
Know that if your child runs to you and hugs you excitedly, this is completely normal. The adoptive child may even be a little clingy. Clinginess tends to be seen in children who are living in orphanages and, sometimes, in those who are living in foster homes.
Your adoptive child might also be very nervous and skittish at the first meeting. This reaction to a first meeting is also completely normal. If your child initially seems apprehensive or scared, this may be a good thing. Most children are a little nervous around strangers; it is a healthy fear.
If your child is scared, he or she may cling to the current caregiver. This is normal behavior for a child to display when meeting a stranger. In fact, you can find hope in this behavior. This behavior shows that your child has bonded with a caregiver already. Chances are that, with time, he or she will bond to you as well.
Your child may channel his of her nervous energy into chaotic or even destructive behavior, such as throwing toys or running around.
If you are adopting a child with a partner of the opposite gender, you may also notice that your child prefers one of you over the other upon meeting. Your child may be interested in a male adult because he or she hasn’t had many male caregivers in his or her life. If your child is used to female caregivers, he or she may be especially interested in connecting with a female adult.
It’s important to have patience with your adoptive child. Know that your child’s behavior during your first meeting or even your first few meetings is not necessarily indicative of what he or she will be like when going home with you and settles in.
It is important to note that many factors can affect a child’s response at your first meeting. A child’s age and maturity level will have an influence. Additionally, whether the child is hungry, thirsty, just woke up, has to use the restroom, and understands what is happening will affect how he or she reacts to you.
It is also important to remember that your child may not fully understand what is going on. His or her caregiver may have tried to prepare him for your meeting, but it is safe to assume that a young child doesn’t fully grasp what is happening.
Your child may not understand what family is. He or she may have been in an orphanage from the time of birth. Other children may have come from abusive and neglectful backgrounds and may not trust caregivers as a result. Older children may have been expected to care for younger siblings, and they may not feel comfortable giving up this role. Meet your child where he or she is instead of where you think he or she should be.
Prepare Yourself for Your Own Reaction
You need to prepare yourself for the possibility that you won’t fall in love with your adoptive child at first sight. It is wonderful when this happens, but the reality is that it often takes time before you will feel love and affection for your adoptive child.
It might be helpful to think of your budding relationship with your child similar to a dating relationship. It sounds odd, but there are parallels between the two relationships that can help you mentally prepare for your first meeting.
Think about a first date. It is often exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. It is often awkward initially as you struggle to make small talk and find common interests with your date. The same may be true when you initially meet your adoptive child. You both may feel awkward as you get to know one another better. This awkwardness can be intensified during the first meeting with your adoptive child, given that other people will likely be watching.
Have patience with yourself and your adoptive child. Emotional bonds usually take time to develop. It is normal not to feel an instant connection with your adoptive child, so don’t beat yourself up if that happens to be the case for you.
Tips for a Good First Meeting with Your Adoptive Child
You cannot predict how the first meeting with your adoptive child will go. However, there are several things you can do to help ensure your first encounter with your child is a positive one.
Set Expectations Low: Of course you want the first meeting with your adoptive child to go well. Maybe you imagine you and your child having an instantaneous connection. Maybe you imagine your child running into your arms for a hug the minute you meet himor her. You want everything to go perfectly.
The reality is, though, that this may not happen. First meetings are often awkward. Your child may not want to show you any affection. He or she may even be angry at your first meeting.
You cannot predict how your child will react. Expect and prepare for a number of emotional responses. Accept that your child may not show you any affection right away. Know that whatever emotional response your child has is normal.
Be Honest: Answer any questions your child has, honestly. If you don’t know the answer to something, that’s okay. Just say that you don’t know, and tell your adoptive child you will figure out the answer to the question for him or her.
Talk to Them on Their Level: Crouch down so that you’re at your child’s level when speaking to him or her. Looking at your child at his or her level will help him or her feel like he or she has your undivided attention. When you stand over a child and talk down to him or her, it’s intimidating. Getting down to your child’s level to talk to him or her can feel less intimidating.
Learn the Language: If your adoptive child doesn’t speak the same language you do, learn a few phrases in his or her language before your initial meeting. Some useful phrases to learn include, “Hi, my name is,” “It’s nice to meet you,” “Are you hungry,” “Do you need to use the bathroom,” and “Good-bye.”
Focus on the Child: Focus all of your attention on your adoptive child. Silence or turn off your phone so that you aren’t distracted during the meeting. Focus on your child’s thoughts and feelings. Know that your feelings are also important, but set them aside to process later.
Bring a Gift: Of course, you don’t want to bribe your adoptive child into liking you, but bringing a small gift for your child will give him or her something to hold onto and remember you by in between pre-placement visits. A small stuffed animal, a book, a coloring book and crayons, or a soft fleece blanket are just a few ideas for a gift you can give your adoptive child.
Bring an Activity: If your child is reserved or afraid, sitting down with him her for a chat might feel intimidating. It might be more comfortable for him or her to talk to you if he’s distracted by an activity. Bring some coloring books and crayons, a book to read together, or a simple board game to play. When your child is immersed in the activity, he or she might be more likely to talk to you.
Learn About Your Child’s Interests: If it is possible, talk to your adoptive child’s current caretaker ahead of time and find out what his or her interests and hobbies are. Do some research on your child’s interests and hobbies if you aren’t familiar with them. That way, you can start a conversation with him or her about one of his or her interests when you meet.
Alternatively, you can also ask your adoptive child to tell you things about his or her interests and hobbies to get him or her to start talking. For instance, if he or she loves cars, ask what a favorite type of car is. If you have been able to do any research ahead of time, you can tell him or her what you like about his of her favorite type of car. If you weren’t able to do any research beforehand, you can ask follow-up questions about the car.
Dress for the Occasion: You might want to look nice for your initial meeting, but you should know that you will likely be crouching, kneeling, or sitting on the floor to interact with your adoptive child during your meeting. For this reason, business attire isn’t necessarily a good idea. In fact, business attire may intimidate your child if he or she isn’t used to interacting regularly with people dressed in it. Instead, wear something a little more casual, such as a nice shirt and jeans or khakis. Try to avoid wearing anything with stains or rips.
Prepare Some Questions: Write down several questions you’d like to ask your adoptive child at your initial visit. Of course, you don’t want him or her to feel like you are bombarding him or her with questions, but having some questions you’d like to ask may make him or her feel like you are interested in him or her as a person. You can ask questions about school, such as his of her most favorite and least favorite subject, who his or her favorite teacher is, who his of her friends are, etc. You could ask him or her questions about what hobbies or activities he or she likes to take part in or the things he or she would like to participate in in the future. You could ask him or her about a favorite color, food, beverage, cartoon, or animal. A lot of people, no matter how old they are, enjoy talking about themselves. These questions could help you break the ice with your adoptive child.
Bring Photos: If your adoptive child is a little older, you can bring some photos to show him or her. He or she might like to see photos of you and your partner when you were his or her age. He or she might also like to see a few members of your extended family, such as his or her grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. If you have pets, he or she might also enjoy seeing photos of them.
Give Choices: Let your adoptive child make choices at the initial meeting whenever it is possible and appropriate to do so. This will give your child a sense of control when everything else in his of her world is changing. For instance, ask him or her if he’d rather sit on the couch, at the table, or on the floor. If he’s hungry or thirsty, ask him of her what he or she would like to eat or drink.
Follow Your Adoptive Child’s Lead: When it comes to physical touch and showing affection, follow your adoptive child’s lead. Some children may have been abused and will need time to develop trust with you before allowing you to hug them. Wait for your adoptive child to show affection. He or she may not hug you at your initial meeting, and while that may disappoint you, know that it is normal. Meet your child where he or she is.
Your first meeting with your adoptive child may stir feelings of excitement, apprehension, and uncertainty in you. While you cannot predict how your adoptive child will react when meeting you, you can use the tips in this article to help you make your first encounter as positive as possible. Remember that this is just the start of your journey together.
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.