Older Child Adoption Blog

Surviving Adoption

Self-Esteem and Racial Identity

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Transracial adoption usually refers to families in which parents adopt a child who is of a different race. Transracial adoptees are typically not only racial minorities in mainstream culture but also in their own families. They often feel like imposters in their adoptive families AND feel like they do not fit in with the race and culture of their biological ancestry. Some live in a state of incongruence.

Identity formation is a difficult process for all of us. Race, ethnicity, and culture can make identity formation even more complicated. When transracial adoptees are placed at an older age, it is more complicated due to years of separate histories, rituals, and traditions as well as their history of chaos and trauma. Further, they are expected to adjust to yet another family and new environment which likely includes a new socioeconomic climate, different norms and values, and perhaps an entirely different language or religion.

At the older age, children begin the development of a social identity (related to themselves in the context of their communities), a psychological identity (how they identify with and relate to others), and an interpersonal identity (how they think about themselves).

Developing a sense of ethnic identity in a racially dissimilar environment can become a major challenge. These children frequently observe others who are not like them. They observe or experience prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypical remarks. Through those negative experiences, they may internalize they have more limited options and their groups are somehow “not as good” as the prevailing cultural group. They may feel alienated based on the differentness of their physical features. They may feel lost, without a true connectedness to their birth culture or their adopted culture.

Issues of loyalty are often raised with these children. They may choose to distance themselves from memories and recollections of their birth family, or they may be attracted to groups and activities similar to their birth families or what they perceive as “their people.” They may struggle trying to develop both autonomy from their adoptive family and their identity. All of these struggles can negatively affect the child’s confidence, self-view, worth, self-respect, and goals.

Building a strong racial identity is a two-part process based on developing a strong self-esteem and a sense of pride in ethnic heritage. The biggest concern about the issues of identity is whether children will have a secure sense of who they are as a racial and ethnic minority and whether they can learn the skills to deal with discrimination and prejudice. The adoptee must be able to answer the question “Who am I?” and feel good about themselves, despite both subtle and blatant messages that tell them otherwise.

The identity development process is different for each transracial child as their experiences are all different. Some are quite capable of holding themselves in this world in a very impressive way while others have a more difficult time. The capacity to identify, access, and utilize resources and relationships to help them develop their sense of self is critically important. The identity and values of transracial adoptees will largely depend on the circumstances of the birth parents and adoptive parents, agency preparation, support of the adoptive family, the community in which the child grows up, and the family’s knowledge and comfort about transracial adoption.

Dr. Kelly Reed’s blog next month will contain recommendations for maximizing success in transracial or cross-culture adoptions.

Parenting in Hard Seasons

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

It has been a challenging year. Parenting is stressful, but parenting in a hard season can push one to the brink.

For most, school is a time of respite for both parents and children. Kids get a break from their parents and parents get a break from their kids. However, with school closed this spring, parents moved into the role of parent and teacher. You were with your kids 24/7. Your stress level may have increased as your time away diminished (or vanished completely).

And now school is out; summer is here. (Am I the only one who felt like summer break started back in March?) Goodness, it is going to feel like a long summer.

So if you are struggling, here is a list of resources to help you survive what may be the longest summer break in history.

Overcoming Exhaustion
Parenting Survival Guide
Loving your Child When it is Hard
Strengthening Your Support System
Adjusting Your Expectations

How do you cope in hard seasons?

Family Game Night Ideas

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources

Are you looking for some new ideas to have fun with your kids without screens? Here is a list of family favorite games from who have regular family game nights.

A qualifier for the games on this list was whether the game required a knowledge of language and/or culture. Many kids who moved around often in foster care or are new English language learners have gaps in their education. Typically, these kids struggle with games requiring spelling or vocabulary.

The games are listed by category to make it easier for you to determine what might work for your family. For many of the games, I have linked a video explaining how the game is played to help you determine whether or not it would be a good game for your family. The game links are affiliate links, but the videos are not.

Dice Games

Chicken Foot (How to play)
Farkle (How to play)
Left Center Right (LCR) (How to play)
Mexican Dominoes (How to play)
Nada (How to play)
Tenzi (How to play)
Rummikub (How to play)
Yahtzee

Card Games

Dos (How to play)
Egyptian Rat Screw (How to play)
Exploding Kittens (How to play)
Kings in the Corner (How to play)
Hearts (How to play)
Skip-Bo (How to play)
Spades (How to play)
Throw, Throw Burrito (How to play)
Uno

Board Games with Minimal Reading

Blokus (How to play)
Forbidden Island (How to play)
Guess the Mess (Description of the Game)
Sequence (How to play)
Ticket to Ride (How to play)
Tsuro (How to play)

Games Requiring Spelling and/or Vocabulary

5 Second Rule (How to play)
Alias (How to play)
Balderdash (How to play)
Bananagrams (How to play)
Blurt (How to play)
Pictionary (How to play)
Rory’s Story Cubes Several versions available (How to play)
Scattergories (How to play)
Scrabble

Check out connecting with your family and other game sites for more ideas. What your family’s favorite games to play?

Supporting Children in Your Home

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

This post written by Dr. Kris and Dr. Kelly was originally posted as a guest post on AdoptUsKids.

As a parent adopting a child from foster care, it is your job to provide stability in the midst of transition and help all members of your family—including the children already in your home—bond and find a new normal.

This can be easier said than done! With that in mind, we offer a few suggestions for nurturing the children who are already in your home as you welcome a new addition to your family.

Make time for your other children. Schedule regular time with each child individually to do something they enjoy. Allow your child to be honest and ask about things that are important to him or her. Make sure all of your children feel heard and loved.

Be willing to listen. Emphasize that you want your children to share their concerns and frustrations with you. Allow space for your children to honestly share their frustrations about the new sibling without shaming them for expressing their discontents. However, make sure you don’t spend too much time talking negatively about the newly adopted child.

Help improve their perspective. Encourage your other children to try to see things from the newest child’s frame of reference. Parents can do this without sharing too many personal details. For example, “It would be scary to live with people you do not know. We are almost strangers to your new sister.” Or “Your new brother has not lived with people he knew could take care of him. It might be hard for him to remember that he is in a safe place now.”

Recommend positive coping strategies. Offer ideas to help your other children cope with the new child’s personality traits and behaviors and other changes your family experiences. Introduce them to stress relieving techniques, such as mindful breathing exercises. Provide resources and private space for them to do something they enjoy, such as reading, coloring, drawing, exercising, or creating with Legos, yarn, art, or crafts.

Grant a break if needed. Your children may need a sense of normalcy with others they know well and a break away from the stressful changes at home. Give them options of visits or sleepovers with safe friends or family.

Present counseling options. Frequently parents think about the new child’s challenges, but forget that their other children experience difficulties as well. Provide opportunities for your other children to participate in counseling if you think it might help.

Part 1 on Helping Older Children Adjust to your Home can be found here.

Preparing Older Kids for Adulthood

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with The Adoption Connection to talk about how to prepare older kids for adulthood.

We wanted to share this conversation with you as well. I share information as a mom who recently launched a child. But I also share stories from some of the families we interviewed for our book. We hope you find this information to be helpful on your parenting journey!

You can also find additional helpful tips on my recent post Launching your Child into Adulthood.

Helping an Older Child Adjust to Your Home

By | Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

This post written by both Dr. Kris and Dr. Kelly was originally posted as a guest post on AdoptUSKids.

When you adopt a child, it’s easy to focus on their immediate needs: home, food, routine, education, people, etc. These are all important, and your child certainly experiences significant changes that require patience, love, and understanding from you as they adjust to their unfamiliar life. But there are other areas of focus that can help an older child adjust as well.

Be trustworthy. Your child may not have experienced trustworthy adults. Tell the truth. Keep your word. Be predictable. Guard your child’s business carefully. When you make a mistake, admit it, apologize, and seek ways to make things right. Remember that it will take time to build trust if the child has experienced significant broken promises in the past.

Communicate expectations. Your household rules may be different from what your child experienced. Your child may not be used to the structure and schedule of your family. Think about changes you might make based on what the child is used to and most comfortable with. Consider posting your schedule so everyone knows what to expect, but prepare for moments when a family member needs flexibility in the schedule (more down time or additional one-on-one attention, sensory activities, rest time, etc.).

Encourage honesty. Let your child be honest without taking their words personally. Give them opportunities to express thoughts and feelings without responding as though your feelings are hurt. Allowing them to be heard will encourage communication.

Give them alone time. Your child may express a desire to be alone, or you may sense that they want alone time. If you ask them and they say “yes,” then you should provide a safe space for the child to be alone. The child may need some time to relax; have some peace and quiet; or want to express sadness, anxiety, anger, etc. in private. Alone time can also be good for reading a book, listening to music, or drawing. You may need to balance some alone time and time bonding with the family.

Be open-minded and accepting. Your child may have traditions or habits that seem odd or unacceptable in your family, such as eating fast, chewing with an open mouth, or using inappropriate language. Do not attempt to change every habit that you think needs changing. Prioritize relationship-building first and then, over time, address the most significant behaviors (perhaps safety-related) and leave the rest for later.

Let them be a kid. Your child may have faced more responsibilities and concerns than other kids their age, including having been in a parenting role and caring for younger children. They may not know how to play independently and may need to be entertained. Give them opportunities to be a kid and express needs or interests of a younger child. This might mean letting your teenager play with dolls or toy cars, allowing them to play dress-up, or letting your preteen snuggle with you and read picture books. Parent to your child’s needs, rather than the date on their birth certificate.

Serve familiar foods and make food available. Your child may have eaten different foods than your family regularly eats. Have some of their favorite foods on hand. You might serve something familiar at every meal or include familiar food in their regular meal plan rotation. Consider the needs of your child first and then make it work for your family. Some children had limited access to food and may worry food will not always be available. For children with food insecurities, it is especially important to have snacks readily accessible.

Plan for a good night’s sleep. Some children may never have slept in their own room. Consider making a cot on the floor by your bed to help your child adjust to your home. Some children may want to sleep with the overhead light on, or they may want a nightlight or small lamp on at night. Some may feel safer and sleep better with toys arranged a certain way and left untouched by others.

Provide opportunities for therapy. Depending on their age, talk with your social worker about incorporating Theraplay, play therapy, filial therapy (an empowering form of family therapy), art therapy, or equine therapy into your child’s routine. Family therapy may be beneficial in promoting collaboration and connection as well. Group therapy can be beneficial for several reasons, including letting your child hear from other children.

Launching Your Child into Adulthood

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Our oldest moved out last summer. Before she moved out, I felt so much panic with the realization that I only had a few more months to teach the necessary skills to live independently! Thankfully, we began working on some of them at age 16 and have progressively covered the majority of them. Consequently, we spent the last few months focusing on the areas that needed improvement before officially launching on her own.

Did I expect her to be 100 percent successful? NO! I realized she was going to make mistakes (I made plenty…and still make them). However, if she learned the basic skills, she would be able to make small mistakes (such as overspending one week) instead of large ones (such as being unable to pay her rent).

Here are some of the areas we worked on to help her launch successfully:

Budgeting. I wish I could say that we saw great success in this area over the last four years, but I will say there was progressive improvement. The rate of improvement increased once the timeline to move out was determined. It is as though the impending move out date brought urgency to learn the skills necessary to be successful. We introduced the envelope system several years ago to introduce money management skills which works for many, but ultimately, your child needs to have some level of self-control. Self-control and impulse control are some of the areas that many older adopted children struggle with. But keep at it. Everything may not stick. Ok, most of it will not stick, but hopefully some aspect of what you are trying to teach will. And remember, you probably stumbled when you first moved out. And you child will too.  

Cooking Skills. One mom in our study shared how she required her daughter to meal plan, grocery shop and cook one complete meal a week. Every week it had to be something different to broaden her cooking skills. Mom was always available to ask questions or to assist, if needed, but she found her daughter’s confidence grew every time she tried a new dish. What a brilliant idea! I cannot guarantee that your child is going to appreciate the opportunity to learn to cook. However, perhaps asking them to cook along side you a few times a week will help them learn some basic cooking skills so they will not be living off microwaveable meals. But, if they do that, it is okay, too.

Housekeeping Skills. Several years ago, I realized that while my daughter successfully completed the chores I asked her to, I was the one making the request. It occurred to me that when she got her own place, she was going to need to think of these things on her own. We created a weekly rotation of chores so she would be in the habit of completing them regularly. There are certainly things we have missed (such as remembering to wash the bathroom towels regularly and remembering to wipe off kitchen counters), but overall, she confidently knows how to keep her apartment clean.

Wisdom from Adoptive Families: Joys and Challenges in Older Child Adoption has an entire chapter on preparing your child for adulthood. One dad shared how he helped his children learn to budget using a debit card that worked for his kids. The ideas that families shared on how they are teaching their child are excellent!

Remember, as parents, it is our responsibility to give our children the tools necessary to be successful. You can provide opportunities for them to learn skills, but it is still their responsibility to use them. Do not feel like you are a failure if your child does not take advantage of the teaching/learning opportunities you provide. I often tell my daughter, “I can give you all the tools you need to be successful, but it is your choice to use them or not.” If you are providing the opportunities, you have done what you can which is all that is asked of us.

When Adult Children Struggle

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

I’ve noticed a common theme on social media lately: Our adult children are struggling. But parents are struggling, too. I do not have all the answers, but I’ve learned a few things in the last two years since my daughter launched.

Kids from hard places struggle more than kids with little trauma in their background.

All parents desire the very best for their children. We often want to make our children’s lives easier. It is why we’ve invested in a variety of extracurricular activities to help them discover their passions. It is why we encouraged years of therapy to help them heal. And it’s why we attend conferences and read books to better parent our children through their past trauma.

All of those are great tools. But I’ve realized something else, too.

Our kids have to choose.

Whether it is hard for them to choose healing because they can’t or because they won’t, they still have to choose. They have to choose to do the hard work to heal. They have to choose to attend therapy. They have to choose to face the past trauma. They have to choose to practice the techniques and use the tools. We cannot do the work for them (although don’t we wish we could?). It is their work to do.

So what can we do?

Pray. It seems the least active, but it truly is the most powerful. Pray for their healing. Pray for their protection. Pray they will make right choices. Pray that God would correct any wrong thinking (in them and in you). Pray that you will have the wisdom to know how best to help them.

Support. It means listening when they are sharing their hardship. It means saying “Wow. That sounds hard.” Or “Gosh, I’m sorry you experienced ___ (a difficulty in a relationship; losing your job; a hard day at work, etc.).” It means offering them a home cooked meal or bringing them a bag of groceries when they have little to eat. It may mean helping them pay their rent. But it might not mean giving them money. It might not mean letting them move back home. It might not mean solving their problems for them. And sometimes it may even mean not giving them advice.

Accept. It means accepting that there is only so much you can do to help your child heal. It means accepting your child may not change today, in the near future or ever. It means accepting that your child is not where you dream or desire them to be. It means accepting that when you have done your best your child’s behavior may still be embarrassing and bring judgment from others. It means accepting you cannot fix them; their behavior is not a reflection of your parenting. It means accepting them where they are, although it is hard to accept that they are not making different choices.

It is incredibly difficult to see our children make poor choices. It is hard to see them continue to make the same choices that cause them to struggle. It is hard not to want to fix it for them. But once our children become adults, our role has changed to one of acceptance and emotional support.

An Interview with Christa

By | Blog, Resources

In honor of National Adoption month, we interviewed Christa Jordan from Spoonful of Jordan. We met Christa and her husband, Jonathan, at Tapestry Conference. Christa has written a workbook to help prospective adoptive families determine which type of adoption is best for their family. We hope you find this interview helpful.

Please tell us about yourself, and what experience you have with adoption or the adoption community?

Jonathan and I have been married for 9 years. I’m mama to our 6 year old son who came to our family through international adoption from Japan in 2014. Aside from being adoptive parents, we both have backgrounds in social work: I hold a BSW and Jonathan worked in foster care for 8 years. I’ve served the foster and adoption community in a variety of ways from mentoring to leading support groups for waiting families. My favorite job, however, is being stay-at-home mom and homeschooling our son! I love to write and process life through words so I started blogging before we began our adoption process. You’ll pretty much always find me with a cup of coffee in my hand and likely quoting something from Mary Poppins.

What led you to write the workbook Before You Adopt: A Guide to the Questions You Should Be Asking?

The workbook was born out of many conversations and what we wished we would have considered before adopting. Personally, we were the first in our circle who decided to grow our family through adoption. After we came home, I began getting connected to those interested in adoption or foster care through friends, my blog or social media. I started meeting with people and began asking the kinds of questions I included in the workbook. Over and over as I asked the hard questions, I would hear “I’ve never thought about that.” Additionally, I noticed a lack of practical education and preparation for families in the process. While trainings offered great stories, rarely did I see a holistic view or practical tools. Even though we that were really prepared for adoption, there were many things we struggled with or simply were not prepared for. I’ve watch many families walk through incredibly difficult things and feel some could have been prevented or less difficult with conversations had beforehand. But, you don’t know what you don’t know! I searched for a resource like this. When I could not find one, I decided to write it!

What would you like your readers to get from reading and utilizing this workbook?

I want readers to learn how to think holistically and outside of the box. Often people come to adoption or foster care without previous knowledge or experience. They don’t even know what they should be thinking about and working through, or asking professionals and preparing for. My goal was not to give all the answers. I believe there are ethical practices and general guidelines that everyone should know and follow, but there are so many variables on the journey. The journey is going to look different based on your past, preferences, beliefs and worldview. My hope is that people will feel more empowered and less overwhelmed by working through the workbook.

What do you think is most important for those considering the journey of adoption?

There are several things. First, if you are married, it is essential that your decision is 100 percent unified. I have seen so many couples come into this with one being passionate while the other is dragged along. That will not work. It won’t be good for the child or children who may be coming into your family, and it is certainly not good for your marriage either. I intentionally designed the workbook for each person to have a copy to work through the questions as individuals, then come back together to talk about your answers. You will quickly identify areas you need to discuss, do more research and ask for help. If you’re single, I encourage you to find someone you fully trust who will be an essential part of your support to be your sounding board on questions. Secondly, I think every prospective adoptive parents need to closely examine at their expectations and motivations. I believe it so important that I dedicated an entire section of the workbook about that.

What do you think makes a good book on adoption?

I think one that encourages you to look at the complexity of adoption and foster care. Carissa Woodwyk calls it the “both/and” which is my favorite phrase. If a book only gives the beauty and doesn’t address any of the loss or pain in adoption and foster care, that’s a problem. Likewise, if it’s addressing only the pain and not the beauty, healing and restoration, that’s also a problem. Both can be held together, simultaneously, and I think that is incredibly important. Another big thing to look for: is it honoring to all members of the triad (birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents)? It is important to know how the book is centered as it impacts the narrative.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share?

I’m working on my second book which is scheduled to publish in January 2020! It is very different from my workbook. It is our story of how God has moved so many mountains in our lives from our marriage, to finances, and adoption. I’ve entitled it Moving Mountains, and I hope others will find it encouraging when in a difficult season.

If you are considering adoption (or know someone who is), we hope that you consider getting a copy of her workbook! You can find it here. It is a helpful resource.

Resources about Trauma for Teachers

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

As parents we often struggle to help our child’s teacher understand the impact of trauma in the classroom. We try to share information we have learned. So we try to share articles and resources from professionals “with credentials” with teachers and administrators.

Some teachers and administrators gladly accept the knowledge we share while others are less enthusiastic. I always struggle walking the fine line between being forceful and strongly encouraging their understanding.

Last month on Facebook, I posted a variety of resources that can be shared with teachers about the impact of trauma on the classroom. Here are a few of my favorites:

How Trauma Affects Kids in School

Helping Traumatized Children Learn (includes video lectures from a professor about the impact of trauma)

This is a Student’s Brain on Trauma

10 Things about Childhood Trauma Every Teachers Needs to Know

Hopefully, the teachers and administrators you share these resources with will be receptive to the research and become aware of students’ needs! Tell us how your teachers and administrators responded! We’d love to hear from you.