Helping Your Adopted Child Make the Transition

Kerry Hill, a mother from Oklahoma, saw firsthand how challenging adoption can be when her sister welcomed two young girls — ages three and 18 months — into her home after a two-year-long process. “When the girls were first placed with them, it was emotionally trying for all parties involved,” Kerry said.

Fortunately, Kerry learned that there are ways to help an adopted child transition to a new life and bond with their new family.

Practice Patience and Understanding

Kerry’s nieces had not been raised in a healthy atmosphere and, like many adopted children, developed emotional barriers in an effort to protect themselves. Although court regulations prevented Kerry’s sister from discussing details of the children’s past, Kerry knew that the girls had been exposed to abuse, neglect, drugs, and alcohol.

“At first, their biological mom was still allowed weekly supervised visitation, but when she would fail to show (which was nearly always), the girls would act out for days afterward. The youngest even had night terrors,” Kerry said. “Eventually, it was deemed no longer in the children’s best interest for visitation from their mother to continue, and things started to look up.”

Build Familial Connections

Therapists and adoption professionals often refer to a measurement called the permanency continuum, which examines the readiness of both the child and family to accept the adoption as permanent. To get a good idea of where your adopted child rests on this scale, try discussing their feelings when they seem comfortable.

Kerry’s own pregnancy underlined the importance of showing adopted children the same amount of love: “I was pregnant with my daughter as they were going through the process of making the girls our family,” she explained. “Any unnecessary comparison of our children was handled swiftly and sternly, though, because we never wanted them to feel as though they are less or unequal.”

Create a Family Culture

Think for a moment how important your own past and culture is to you, then remember that the same is true of your child. Avoid dismissing your adopted child’s past or the culture they may have known. Instead, meld your way of life with your child’s past experiences to create something unique to your family. This will help them feel respected and act as a bonding agent to draw you closer together.

Kerry’s sister succeeded in this area. “They go to church, are involved in theater, and go to cultural celebrations through their Indian tribe. In general, it doesn’t even occur to us that they are adopted unless someone else brings it up,” she said.

Ultimately, you can achieve a happy outcome, just as Kerry’s sister has.

“The girls are now three and five,” Kerry explains. “They are smart and kind and seem so well-adjusted; you’d have never imagined where they came from. Don’t get me wrong: They have their days, as all children do. But I am overwhelmingly proud and relieved that being in a loving, stable home has provided them with a chance at a brighter future.”

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