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Barbara Ross Ellis? Tips for Older Child Adjustment

Older Child Adoption Family Adoption Stories Bonding & Attachment Guatemala

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  Written by Barbara Ross Ellis on 01 Jan 2006

You may have already read the wonderful adoption story of Reyna (see link at bottom of article), an almost-7-year-old from Guatemala.  Here her mom, Barbara, shares some wonderful tips she has learned in adopting her older child: 

Reyna’s adjustment to our family has been remarkable from the start.  If I had to choose one thing that we did to prepare her for adoption, it would be the trop to meet her while we waited for the adoption to be finalized.

Because she was 6-years-old at that time, I filet that we owed her that much.  This gave her the opportunity to get to know her brother and play with him.  It gave her the chance to know me and feel safe with us.  She adores her brother and playmate, Graham.  They are steadfast buddies.  We didn’t want our initial visit to be overwhelming for her, so just the two of us traveled to meet her.  My husband stayed home with our older sons, as they were in school.  It was tough for him to have to wait to meet Reyna, but we felt this was for the best. 

We kept her homecoming very low-keyed and private, even though family and friends were anxious to meet her.  When Reyna and I flew home, it was late and she was tired.  Fred  (husband) and Graham (son) were the only ones to meet us at the airport.  Reyna already knew Graham, from our previous trip to Guatemala.  She had not met her new Papa yet!  The overnight in Seattle gave her the opportunity to get acquainted with Fred.  It wasn’t until the following day that we got home and she met her two teenage brothers. 

Because Reyna didn’t speak any English when she arrived home, we went slowly with introducing her to folks outside of the family.  Three days later, she said her first work in English, “apple”.  We had many bi-lingual picture books to read at bedtime to Reyna.  Giving her something familiar before bed was helpful for her to keep homesickness and anxiety to a minimum.  We had also purchased a handful of Spanish language children’s videos over the internet.  She enjoyed watching these and being able to relax with her familiar language.  We continue to read books in Spanish to her, and she translates them to us.  This way we hope that she doesn’t lose her birth language!  Reyna was speaking fluent English within three months. 

One of the best things we did for Reyna’s adjustment was finding her a friend/mentor.  We were fortunate to connect with a young social worker that is Guatemalan, and who was also adopted at the age of six.  She is bi-lingual and was willing to meet Reyna when she got home and help Reyna de-brief from her travels.  Reyna was able to call her friend whenever she wanted so she could speak Spanish freely, ask questions, and get clarification on all the new events in her life.  This friend has become a wonderful addition t our extended family.  Reyna lover her dearly, and we even take overnight trops together. 

Making a LifeBook with Reyna has been a great tool in her processing the changes she’s had in joining our family.  Her book starts with her Guatemalan Birth Certificate and the first photo we had of her.  We included pages journaling the story of her birth family, in Guatemala, and photos of her birth mother, older brother and younger sister.  Once she was able to share her memories and tell them to me in English, we began writing her story.  This book helps her see the stages of birth family, foster family and her journey home to our family.  She cherishes this book and I know it will answer questions for her as she grows. 

Reyna has missed her foster family. We speak of them often and she has written to t hem.  We keep a small photo case on hand and add photos to it as we get new ones printed.  Whenever she wants to add one, it is available.  She knows that when the little book is full we will send it to her foster family.  This seems to be a comfort to her, as it’s something she is actively participating in. 

Finding something physical that Reyna loved was a big part of her adjustment.  Her general activity is swimming, and we learned this her first night in the U.S.  The hotel we stayed at had a pool, and we saw at once that we had a little pesca on our hands.  All of the emotional exhaustion of adjustment needs a physical balance.  For Reyna, swimming was the key.  IF we could get this girl in a pool, she totally relaxed, slept better, etc. 

Reyna had never slept in a room alone before coming into our family.  She shares a room with her brother, Graham.  This has really helped her bedtime and sleep routine.  At first, she cried some and couldn’t get settled at bedtime.  On those nights, I would take the extra bunk in their room, grab my little book light and novel, and tuck myself in across from Reyna’s bed.  With the main light off, she could get some sleep while I read for a bit.  She was comforted by my presence and could settle into slumber.  I would slip out of the room once she fell asleep. 

Because we already homeschooled our youngest son, we decided that Reyna could benefit with starting her academics this way, as well.  She had had no formal schooling in Guatemala and her skills were limited.  Because she feels very shy in groups, the homeschooling has been a good choice for her.  She  participates within our homeschool group, but clarely is most comfortable one-on-one with her friends.  We’ve been able to provide so much personal attention to her and she is thriving academically. 

When Reyna had been home about a week, I noticed that she’d been studying the photographs and kids drawings posted on our refrigerator.  She want to the table with her art supplies, drew a great picture of herself and her new house under a colorful rainbow.  She went into the kitchen, mounted her new drawing onto the front door of the fridge, and proudly claimed her space along with everyone else in the family. 

Reyna was truly home, at last!



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