I recently was referred to this article by Deborah Gray and found it very helpful as we adjust to life with our newly adopted toddler.
For those who are adopting an older child (2+ years), Susan Ward has also offered ten suggestions to assist you during the adjustment period with your child:
1. Reduce Sensory Overload
Usually, we’re so excited to have our child, our dream fulfilled, that we want to do all the things we’ve imagined. To the park, out to dinner, to visit grandparents, to birthday parties, to the neighborhood barbecue.
Just being in your home is sensory overload for your child. New food, new smells, new rules, and if they’re from another country – new language, new customs. Keep their lives boring for the first few weeks, if not months.
2. Create Structure and Routine
Your child needs to wake up each day and know that certain things happen every day: mom wakes me up with a song, breakfast is at 6:30, we read books before bed. And they need to know that there are weekly regular activities: we have dinner at Grandma’s on Tuesday, we eat pizza and watch a video every Friday night.
3. Assume Your Child is Younger Than They Are
Until you know your child, assume they are several years younger than they are. Limit their choices, restrict their freedoms, play little kid games. Whether they came from foster care or an orphanage, there may be developmental, social, and psychological “steps” that they missed. By treating them a few years younger for a time, you reduce any pressures they’re feeling and allow them to live and learn from the stages they missed.
You and your new child have missed out on the baby and toddler interactions that occur between parent and child. To help facilitate bonding, and to allow your child to enjoy these phases, re-parent your child. Rock them, sing lullabies, read nursery rhymes, feed them baby food, and give them a bottle. Even much older children often have a need to pass through these stages with their new parents.
5. Assume Your Child Has Attachment Issues
Attachment issues can be connected to in-utero issues, disruptions in caregiving, or multiple placements. Until you know otherwise, treat your child as if they have some level of attachment issues. Read Daniel Hughes’ book, Building the Bonds of Attachment, and implement his strategies. In the end, if your child does not have attachment issues, you still will have facilitated a smooth integration into your home, and have secured a tight attachment between the two of you.
6. Give Your Child Chores
Within a few days of being home, give your child appropriate regular chores. This helps them to feel needed, gives you something to compliment them on, helps them to learn that everyone in a family has responsibilities, and adds to the structure in their daily lives.
7. Implement Consequences For Their Actions
Depending on your child’s personality, temperament, and background, they will test you a little or a lot. It’s their way of learning where the boundaries are, as well as confirming that your commitment is real. Teach them the rules and the related consequences, and be consistent about implementation. Whether you use timeout, removal of privileges, or extra chores as consequences, stick to them for each and every infraction.
8. Have Fun
If everything is going smoothly, it’s easy to have fun with your child. If, however, they’re over-stimulated, acting horribly, refusing to follow the rules, and have attachment issues, it’s hard to like your child, let alone have fun with them. Do everything possible to find moments to laugh together, share a giggle, or play a game. It will remind you of your child’s great qualities, and help your child to understand that life is a blending of varying emotions and different activities.
9. Time For You
We forget. We’re excited to spend time with our new child. Their behavior is so horrible we can’t leave them with a babysitter. Remind yourself that you have to have time to yourself. If you’re not rested, positive, and strong, it’s impossible to be a good parent. Take a walk. Soak in the tub. Go out to dinner. Spend the night in a hotel. Just do it!
Your adjustment period with your child may last a month, six months, or a couple of years. Unfortunately, many things relating to becoming a new family just take time. Your child arrived with years of experiences, good and bad, before they entered your life. And you joined your child after years of your own experiences, again good and bad. It takes time to blend and mesh your personalities, interests, and expectations. Be patient!
© 1999, Susan M. Ward