Attachment. Not much more could not be packed into one single word, especially in the adoption world.
We spent all of July focusing on this most-important topic and decided to continue into August – but with a bit of a twist.
This month, we’re answering your attachment questions. Because we all have them – we just don’t always have a safe place to ask.
I’m awaiting LOA for a four year old with significant delays, primarily speech. How best to prepare? Learn Cantonese? Sign? Both? How do I cocoon an almost-five-year-old with three older siblings and their activities and other needs (ages 11, 9, and 7 by then)?
This is a great question and, from what I see in discussion groups, a very common one! I had the very same question before we traveled to adopt our first son from China.
Three China adoptions later and we have picked up a few tips that should ease the transition those first few days, weeks and months as your new child learns English.
1. Use simple signs.
It was amazing to me when we went to adopt our almost-four-year-old son how just a handful of simple signs got us by those first crucial days. I agonized for months over how we would communicate with him and the day we met him, we soon saw how a child his age could pick up little simple signs for water, bathroom, sleep, and eat. We just made up simple signs – like “water” I would pretend to pick up a cup and drink. This was really more of a fly by the seat kind of approach. But hey, it worked for us and worked for our child. You can always check out this post on the top ten ASL signs and learn a few of those before travel. But don’t stress!
Another idea to foster communication is picture cards. A good friend of ours had suggested we take simple picture cards to show our son while saying the English word. So, even before he would know the English word, he could at least point to a picture card depicting what he was trying to communicate. These can be just picture cards with a picture of a child drinking, eating, sleeping or they can also have the English words and even the mandarin translation on them for older children.
Here are some picture cards we sold as a fundraiser, that had been passed down from another China mom. I am including them in this post for anyone to download. Just print them off, laminate at your nearest office supply store, cut, and put on a craft ring for easy storage (craft rings can be purchased in the sewing department of Walmart or any craft store). These cards are wonderful for any age and even for children with delays.
Our second adoption of our daughter brought on more complex issues with communication due to her delays and speech issues. She took more time to pick up on signs and cues, but we just kept it simple, repeated and used a combination of hand gestures and very simple speech.
These kids are going through so much transition at the time of adoption that simple is the best way to go. Overall I think this is one of the things I thought would be our biggest struggle and it turned out to be a lot less complicated than I thought.
Never underestimate the power of just lovingly providing for you newly adopted child’s needs with gentle touch, offering food and playing games with eye contact, and lots of one-on-one attention those first few weeks in country. This loving behavior speaks loudest to your new child. He or she will soon feel safe in your presence and this makes the best foundation on which to grow your relationship.
So with each adoption we did practice cocooning. This did look a little different each time, depending on that child’s needs, but overall we took the same approach.
When doing this with our first son we realized pretty quickly how effective it was and so that gave us the motivation and the dedication to practice with the next two children who came into our family through adoption.
• Keep their world small.
This means immediate family only (mom dad, brothers and sisters). After that initial big airport homecoming where friends and family welcomed our new child home we traveled home and allowed very few visitors that first month. Grandparents were allowed to come by for a short visit, but were instructed that they could not hold, coddle, or feed our newly adopted child. This is so beneficial for those first days and weeks that your child see the structure of a family and learn what a family is!
• Get me out of the house!
Outings were kept to a minimum. We did need to get out after that initial first week so we would take little trips to Target or the grocery store. If you’re like me, I start to get cabin fever and just a little break to the outside world can work wonders! We did not do multiple errand type trips, we kept it to a minimum as to not over stimulate our new child.
Our son had horrible night terrors the first months home. We noticed on days we did too much he would have night terrors the worst. Remember, everything is so very new to them and the way their over-stimulated minds processes a lot of this new can result in fits of rage, crying, night terrors, and just over all shock.
3. Share the load in caring for your other kids.
We found that trading off between my husband and I on duties with our other kids worked best for us. If one child had baseball practice, one of us would take that child and the other would stay at home with the newly adopted child. This cut down on our adopted child being over-stimulated and tired out.
This is a perfect time to call on your “village” of friends and family members and ask for help with carpool and activities for your other children. Don’t let that mama guilt creep in and start to feel bad for not being able to do it all.
You cannot be everywhere and do it all.
Keep your focus on that new child’s needs, and communicate this with your other kids that this is just for a small window of time. Remind them that they are loved and adored. I find that our kids learn a lot about sacrifice and doing for others through adoption. We can certainly never have enough of that in this world today.
Over all, cocooning can look very different for each family. It can look different for each child depending on their needs. Look to your newly adopted child for cues on how they deal with the outside world and new situations.
If you see signs of over stimulation and meltdowns – then you know to pull back. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Try a simple outing, and if it doesn’t go well then you know you need to go back to keeping that child’s world small.
Good luck and happy adoption journey!