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Bringing home your newly adopted child: Managing the transition

Jenny and Ron's dream had finally come true. After months and months of waiting, paperwork, roadblocks and emotional ups and downs, their adopted son, Josh, was sitting in the back of their SUV. But Josh seemed uncharacteristically quiet for a boy his age. He sat slumped with his head down for the most part, speaking only when spoken to. While Jenny and Ron had taken great pains to choose a popular, age-appropriate DVD to play during the long trip home, Josh only looked up every once in a while to glance at the DVD.

After a bit of time, the silence in the car began to seem awkward. Jenny and Ron found themselves searching for ways to connect with Josh. Their spirits began to plummet. They had fantasized about a more festive mood for this day, which they considered to be a day of celebration.

Although it is more common for adopted children to be on their best behavior during the early weeks and months of their adoption, children display a wide range of emotions and manifest a myriad of different behaviors. Children can appear quiet and withdrawn like Josh or become boisterous, overly excited, tearful, anxious, rude or angry.

There are several things that parents can do to tackle this difficult transition period, including exhibiting patience, getting to know your child's interests and habits, familiarizing your child with your home and community, blending your child's personal routine with your family's, being affectionate and seeking outside support.


Do

Do learn about your adopted child before bringing him/her home

Pre‑adoption visits can be spent getting to know your child's interests, preferences and habits. For example, does he like baseball? What is her favorite color? What does he like to eat for breakfast? Does she sleep with the lights on or off ? Who is his best friend, favorite action hero or cartoon character?

Do share details about your home life before the adoption

If possible, tell your child as much as you can about your home life and community during the pre‑adoption phase. In the event of an international adoption, you may wish to send pictures and letters describing your family, neighborhood and community.

Do integrate your child's personal routine into your daily household schedule

No matter how difficult the child's background may have been, following a certain schedule or routine that a child has been accustomed to in his/her foster home or orphanage can provide continuity and a needed sense of safety.

Do have lots of fun

The best way to establish a bond is through sharing enjoyable experiences as a family. So let loose. Play a boardgame, have a picnic, head for the beach or build a snowman. Whatever activities you choose, make it fun for everyone.

Remember to give your adopted child space and time to adjust to his/her new family and surroundings. Having fun as a family will help you exhibit patience and flexibility in your attitude toward your new family member.


Don't

Do not overwhelm the child

Transitions are very tough and sometimes traumatic. Find a balance between having a big party to celebrate your child's homecoming and keeping things low-key. Stick to your family's routine, but be sure to take lots of pictures or videos to commemorate this special day. Remember that it takes time to nurture and grow a relationship, so do not expect instant bonding, trust or gratitude.

Do not be afraid to express affection through smiles and hugs

While it is important to express affection through smiles and hugs, do not be surprised if your efforts are not immediately reciprocated. Some children have not experienced a lot of warmth. As a result, they may be very distrusting or even fearful of physical manifestations of affection and love.

Do not blame yourself if you don't have every answer

Adopt a forgiving attitude toward yourself and your parenting skills. Don't be afraid to reach out for support. Join an adoption group for parents, ask questions, use your pediatrician as a resource and read recommended books on adoption. In addition, seek the help of a qualified mental health professional if you hit some rough patches along the way.

Do not overlook the importance of community activities

Sign your child up for community activities that he or she may enjoy, such as karate, girl scouts, soccer, ballet or guitar lessons. This is a wonderful way for him/her to meet friends in a new community.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

A warm, patient and open attitude can help adoptive parents deal effectively during the early weeks after bringing home their adopted child. Bonding cannot be forced, but can be facilitated through engineering fun activities involving the entire family. Sometimes, the adopted child bonds sequentially, gravitating initially more toward one parent rather than the other, or in the event of a multi-sibling home, one of his/her brothers or sisters. Acceptance and encouragement from family members can help establish a sense of belonging, safety and permanence. Making room for your adopted child's preferences and habits as he/she gradually becomes accustomed to your household routine and structure can go a long way toward making the transition less challenging.


More expert advice about Adoption and Foster Care

Photo Credits: © pinkyone - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Susanne Breckwoldt, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist

Susanne Breckwoldt, Ph.D. is a psychologist practicing in Cresskill, New Jersey and a children's book author. She works with a population of adolescents, adults, couples and families and has special training in hypnosis and EMDR. Dr. Breckwoldt'...

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