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A Tool to Help Adoptees Resolve Loss
Understanding grief in the adopted child
July 11, 2007/ Sherrie Eldridge

Loss? My child hasn’t experienced loss! This is what many adoptive parents want so badly to believe. However, it is a reality of adoptive family living. Connie Dawson, Ph.D, an adoptee, author and speaker, and attachment specialist says, “Understanding how grief and loss affects adoptive relationships is an inoculation geared to prevent later problems.”

It’s one thing to understand that your child has experienced loss, but it’s another thing to know how to help him grieve it successfully.

An Adoption Project

This tool can be used with children, ages seven and up. It can be used as a family project, as a parent/child project, or a counselor/client project. Here are the steps:

    1. Tell him that you are going to work on an adoption project together.

    2. Find a box that can hold several items—possibly 12 X 16 and 6 inches tall.

    3. Make a “Sad List”---—about his birth family, about the failed reunification, etc.

    4. Select items together that are representative of each loss and put them into the box (You can use small items or photos from magazines and newspapers. Go to the dollar store—it’s a great place to find the items. One teen that I worked with from Romania said that she had tears inside that wouldn’t come out. We found round, blue pieces of glass wrapped in mesh, and those represented her unshed tears). Put the lid on the box.

    5. Have child take items out one at a time and tell you how he feels about each one-- how he felt, where he was, what other people said, the smells, and the sounds. Help him get in touch with his anger. Explain that it is okay to be angry and to "get all the angries out." Assure him he can say anything—things he thinks are unspeakable. “I hate my mommy for not keeping me.” This has to be done to get all the pain out. With truth and confession, there is freedom!

    6. Validate his emotions. To validate means "to say that it's okay to have that feeling."

    ("If I were you, I would feel the same way." "It must really hurt, doesn't it?" Or, "You have a right to be angry!")

    7. Teach him to forgive each person who has hurt him. (I like to use the illustration of having the person who hurt you strapped to your back. Ask him how heavy that would be. Ask him what awful things that person might say. Ask if he wants to grow up with all that happening. Then tell him that to forgive, means to cut that person loose. You might even want to draw pictures with him around this theme.)

    8. Teach him that hurtful things can cause us to grow strong. Have him replace each item and say thank you and ask how he thinks he might grow stronger from each hurt.

    9. Teach him to let go. Tell him that you'll put the box in a special place until he needs to use it again and then at that time, add another item.

Whenever I share my personal grief box, some people say, “Isn’t it depressing to take it down for another loss and look at all the losses you’ve experienced?” I always assure them that the opposite is true—it is a reminder of how much I’ve grown!

Moms, look for changes in your child’s emotional and spiritual health after doing this exercise, after he’s had time to process it. You will be amazed that the grief box has turned into a gift box, and that grief was really a gift in disguise!

© Copyright, Sherrie Eldridge 2006. All rights reserved.

Speaker and author, Sherrie Eldridge, an adoptee herself, is passionate about assuring those touched by adoption that they can grow because of the unique challenges adoptive family living presents. She is the author of the highly-acclaimed books Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew and Twenty Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to Make and FOREVER FINGERPRINTS...An Amazing Discovery for Adopted Children (EMK Press). As President of Jewel Among Jewels Adoption Network, Inc., a non-profit adoption educational organization, she offers extensive online resources, including inspiration, encouragement, projects for parents and kids, newsletters, and free workbooks (www.adoptionjewels.org). For speaking, www.SherrieEldridge.com.

Author of 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Parents Knew and other fine books
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Amazing and informative article.- Anonymous
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