Monday, March 9, 2009

Post Adoption Adjusting

The following is some helpful advise given by our agency when adjusting your new child to your home and family. I am passing this along to our friends and family also so you can understand more the process that will be taking place. If you ever have any questions, feel free to ask them. We are still trying to figure out what kind of expectations and boundaries to have when Jonathan and David come home. It's hard because we already have two girls and we can't bring their lives to a halt too. So, pray for us that the Lord will give us wisdom in helping balance all this when we bring them home. I am already thinking a lot about this. I don't know if it will be smart to go without deodorant in Louisiana in the summer!
A friend and colleague in adoption, Jackie Semar of International Child Foundation in Arizona, writes a weekly newsletter regarding adoption issues.
This past week I had an educational webinar travel and post adoption issues related to an Ethiopian adoption. (Well, I could never get the screen to show on the families' computers, but we did have a great discussion on travel to Ethiopia. and the post adoption adjustment for children.) The information below can be applied to almost any child adopted internationally. Jackie is a a great writer with a keen sense of humor, and I thought you may find this information useful.
Let's review five cushions you can provide:
1) Low level stimulation from the start -- this includes not having balloons and twenty family members and friends welcoming your child with zest and laughter and enthusiasm. Explain to family and friends that children from institutions are easily alarmed by too much unfamiliar activity around them, and, that the way to act around a new child in a home is to be soft spoken and gentle, as if you were visiting a fragile newborn in a hospital.
2) Lots of private family nesting time -- if you (or you and spouse) can arrange for several weeks off when your child comes home, do it. If it is at all an option, do it. This is critical time. The is the time to become parents to your child, for your child to learn what parents are. Mixing yourselves up with nannies and day care is counterproductive. Your child just landed in a strange land. Become the people he or she learns to trust. Don't share that opportunity, except with Grandma and Grandpa and siblings. The way children attach to parents is through their dependency and vulnerability. You've kind of recreated a birth scenario by taking your child out of a familiar place and into a strange one. It is extremely stressful for a child to go through this. It is your window of opportunity to be there as a caring and reliable and present and trustworthy and consistent adult, who will make the world right and safe. That is being a parent.
3) Make bridges -- take the time before the adoption to learn the foods, spices, scents, colors, and simple language of your child's birth country. Your child may not be eating curry or onion soup or whatever -- but he or she will smell it in the air and on the breath of the adults who provide care at the orphanage. Cook foods that are recipes from the country of origin. This might sound a little strange, but skip the deodorant for a few weeks. Let your child get to know your smell. (I'm not kidding -- people in foreign countries are not as body odor phobic as we are -- one way children identify parents is through smell.)
4) Recreate patterns -- while in the foreign country, learn about your child's routines. Duplicate them if possible. Waking time, meals, napping, changing times, potty times, food or formula used, music, bed time, care-giving styles. Simply learn what you can to do what you can to make the transition less abrupt. Find out whether the nannies rocked or sang to the children, what toys they used, if any. Generally, it is not easy to learn the particulars before you travel. It is something you can talk to the caregivers about; they are the ones who know your child's routine.
5) Be flexible -- your child may benefit from things beyond your expectations. One of the most discussed topics in post-adoption circles is co-sleeping. One of the more difficult things your child may have to adjust to is sleeping alone in a room. Orphanages often have two to a crib and ten cribs in a room. If you child cries at night, don't ignore him or her. Again, you are becoming the parent in the child's mind -- you are the one the child must rely on for help when distressed. If having your child sleep in the same room or bed with you is helpful, don't rule it out. For married couples, talk about this before your child comes home. Get that door open to the idea that you may be giving up some privacy for a few months. Gradually as your child builds up trust, you can encourage and reward sleeping along. One other thing that is common in many orphanages is massage. Baby massage is a skill set that adoptive parents can utilize, one that enhances trust through gentle touch. Children, as you know, are very physical creatures. Gentle touch is a powerful way to send the message that "I will care for you, I will not hurt you, I will be gentle with you, you can depend on me."

Okay, so let's say you've done all this -- trained the extended family and friends, stopped using deodorant and taken a baby massage class. You child is home, you gently employ all your knowledge and skills, and your child still avoids eye contact and screams a lot and has nightmares. You may be encountering the child's grief, or, you may need more help. Some children are more resilient than others; they have more go with the flow temperament and are open to new things. Other children are more fearful or anxious, are less flexible and have more difficulty adjusting to new circumstances and connecting to new people. If your child had a really good caregiver who she or he was very bonded to, which is a good!!! thing, then your child may have more difficulty making the initial transition to a relationship with you. But, on a positive note, the fact that your child had a deep bond with another adult will give the child more capacity to have a deep relationship with you, even though the first few months may be a little rough.

Laura Beauvais-Godwin, MPH
Carolina Hope Christian Adoption Agency
1527 Wade Hampton Boulevard
Greenville, SC 29609

1 comment:

Paula said...

I'm pretty sure we're not going to go the "no deodorant" route here... unless all else fails. :)