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When adopting a child internationally parents often struggle in the beginning with how to communicate with their children when they don’t speak their language. The language barrier definitely makes parents think outside the box when it comes to how to communicate with their children, but a language barrier can actually be a positive thing in adoption. When parents are unable to communicate with their children vocally, they are forced to use other ways to communicate such as using physical touch, close proximity, good eye contact, and maybe even a little charades. When parents use these techniques and get down at their children’s level they are better able to develop trust and attachment at a much more intimate level. Parents should continually get down at the children’s level and pay attention to his or her non-verbal cues in order to learn more about them in order to best meet their needs. It’s surprising how effective good body language, positive tone of voice and physical touch can be.
When parents are first trying to get to know their children, it is important that they don’t worry a lot about correcting behavior and focus rather on attachment and establishing a trusting relationship. Try focusing on taking care of the children and providing for their needs rather than providing commands. There will be safety concerns, of course, that parents will need to address but otherwise try to make things fun and playful. Only say “no” during those moments that are absolutely necessary, like when the children are in danger or are doing something where they might hurt themselves or someone else. This may take a little creativity but parents should try to keep their tone of voice and body language positive and uplifting rather than demanding and authoritative. Try not to worry about the little things that can be corrected over time once the children are comfortable with their parents and environment.
There are many different ways for parents to show their children love and start to build trust. In the beginning parents will not know how their children receive and show love so try using different love languages. Sitting with the children and spending time with them helps build a good foundation for attachment and bonding. Parents can communicate love through their actions by providing for their children’s needs through preparing food, helping them get dressed, or giving them a bath. Giving gifts is another way to show love; but remember that children who have had nothing before may struggle with having possessions. Try not to overwhelm them with lots of “stuff.” Gifts can be cheap and simple like a coloring page, a paper airplane, clothes, or a piece of candy.
Learning basic words and phrases in your children’s language will help parents start to establish a connection. In Spanish, for example, using words or phrases like “bravo!” or “buen trabajo!” can communicate praise. Some expressions in English like “woohoo!” or “yay” can be easily understood and recognized as positive and show words of affirmations even with a language barrier. Using these short and easy phrases can assist parents to be a cheerleader for their children. The delivery and tone of voice used when saying these simple words can be crucial; try saying them proudly and excitedly like the child just did the best thing in the world. Using gestures and motions like clapping after minor accomplishments can go a long way in helping a child to feel proud and loved.
The Connected Child encourages adoptive parents to use redos, or allowing a child to practice a behavior the correct way. With a language barrier it is still possible to implement this technique but it requires a bit of improvisation. Physical props can be helpful to demonstrate to a child the correct way to behave. For example, one behavior that may require immediate attention is hitting. To demonstrate what to do instead of hitting, a parent can use key phrases such as “gentle touch.” This should be accompanied by showing what gentle touch looks like by demonstrating the action using a stuffed animal. Using this consistently will teach a child expectations, the English meaning of words, and what that looks like. While language delays and communication challenges are tough in the beginning, most children can communicate using other methods of communication and typically learn a second language fairly quickly.
A language barrier can be frustrating for parents at first but over time they will learn more about their child and learn to recognize the triggers to avoid meltdowns and tantrums. Parenting children that join a family through adoption can be exhausting. These children need a lot of attention in order to build trust. When parents are feeling overwhelmed, they need to recognize it and walk into another room, take a deep breath, and take a break. When parents are super stressed, their child will sense it. When parents feel frustrated and overwhelmed they cannot provide love and nurture and their child won’t be able to receive it. Parents communicate more by their actions, body language and tone of voice than the use of words.
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