Having an older adopted child myself, I have always been interested in hearing the perspectives of the children on their adoption, particularly those that were adopted as an older child through international adoption. I have interviewed several children that were adopted at an older age about their experiences when they were first adopted. Below are some ideas for parents adopting an older child internationally that came straight from these young adults.
Changing the child’s name: Often the child will like to keep part of their original name. Older kids also like having a say in their name, perhaps allow them to pick between 2 names. Some children may want to continue to be called by their original name or nickname.
Telling the child about their new family: Send a photo album to your new child to show them their new family, home, pets, and school. Include a short letter explaining your family and how you will come to get them.
Don’t be too strict on your child while still in the country: American ideas of how a child should act and show respect may not be the same as other cultures. Try to get to know you child before working on behaviors that are not harmful. An example is in China the children are expected to take care of their parents. A child might jump ahead of their parents to take care of handling a sales clerk, whereas the US parents might see this behavior as a challenge of their authority.
Bringing new siblings: If the child has new siblings close to their age, it might help for them to be along on the trip so the new child can see how they interact with the parents. If there are much younger siblings along though, the child’s culture might have taught them the need to take care of younger siblings. In this case the child might try to take care of the younger ones when you the parent should be taking care of him/her.
Bringing a piece of the child’s life home with them: do you have a favorite object from your childhood that you’ve kept? Your new child might also want to keep something personal from their homeland such as an article of clothing, a favorite toy or book. One young lady I talked to expressed regret at not having anything she owned from her previous life.
Connecting with friends: your older child may have some strong connections with friends back at the orphanage or foster family. Some adoptive parents want to immediately cut all ties from a child’s past, but this tends to make an already difficult time harder for the child. If you child wants to call a friend of theirs while still in the country, why not help them?
Public displays of affection: We know you can’t wait to hug and smother your new child when you first meet, but this may make your new child feel uncomfortable in the beginning. Some good ideas to start the bonding process slowly would be to hold hands, put your hand on the child’s shoulder, touch the child’s face or comb their hair.
Health care once home: If your child has a medical need, you might want to take them to a physician or a dentist as soon as they get home to begin treatment. Unless there is a pressing urgency to receive treatment right away, consider waiting until the child is feeling more comfortable in your family. A treatment or appointment might seem simple to you but to your child it might trigger deep rooted fears of abandonment or neglect. They might feel like you are trying to change them or fix them by seeking treatments immediately.
Choosing your battles: Once home, your child may misbehave or act out as an indication that they are not feeling safe. Try first holding your child to let them know they are safe instead of immediately trying to correct the behavior. Make sure your child’s needs are first being met so that they will learn to trust you, even if that means letting them slide at first on things like snacking or hygiene.
Raging: Your child might have long periods of raging – let them. Do not minimize these as just ‘throwing a fit’ as your child has many years of pain and anger stored up that can be brought to the surface by the slightest of things (a memory brought on by a scent, a food, etc.).
Give your child plenty of time to learn what it means to live in a family: Your child might have never slept alone and probably hasn’t tried a wide variety of food. Cooking some dishes native to their country and using chop sticks at meals will make him/her feel more comfortable and is a good learning experience for your family as well.
Make their world small: Entering a new home, in a new country with a new culture for a child can be pretty overwhelming. While you might be anxious to take your new child shopping, it is better to try to spend as much time at home until the child feels more comfortable. Once home, show your new child every room in your house. Let them get used to the idea of a kitchen with food that they can choose. Help them to understand your bathroom protocol. They may have never had a bedroom or a bath to themselves! Let them explore the house and get comfortable before venturing out to the neighborhood, and then further (school or mall).
The Barker Adoption Foundation, based just outside Washington, DC, is committed to the idea that all children deserve a safe, loving and permanent home. As the 4th oldest adoption agency in the country, Barker provides life-long adoption-related services and robust educational programs, partnering with all members of the adoption circle in a manner that’s respectful, ethical, and compassionate. In addition to Barker’s Domestic Infant and older child adoption (“Project Wait No Longer”) programs, Barker currently has International Adoption Programs in China, Colombia, India, and Korea. Barker’s China Waiting Children program focuses on finding devoted families across the United States for children who are older, or with known medical needs, ranging from minor, correctable conditions, to more severe and/or permanent conditions. After an adoption is finalized, our department of Family and Post-Adoption Services provides comprehensive guidance and education to birth parents, adoptive parents and adopted persons including counseling, parenting workshops, support groups, an annual conference and more.