Older Child Adoption Blog

Surviving Adoption

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Are you or someone you know considering whether adoption is right for their family? These blogs offer a variety of topics to consider in the decision making process.

Interview with Christa
Adopting out of Birth Order
Maximizing Success in Transracial Adoption
Supporting Children in the Home
Rehoming: A Dark Place in Adoption

Are you specifically considering older child adoption?
Helping an older child adjust to your home
What I wish I had known in OCA

Also find out book on older child adoption
Wisdom from Adoptive Families: Joys and Challenges in Older Child Adoption

Improving Long-term Outcomes in Older Child Adoption

By | Blog, Conferences, Resources, Wisdom

This month we had the opportunity to contribute to the National Council for Adoption’s monthly publication, Adoption Advocate. You can read it here.

We wrote about pre-adoption education needs of families unique to older child adoption. Further, we wrote about post-placement support families need to be successful. We closed with recommendations for professionals to considering when approving families to adopt older children.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

Rehoming: A Dark Place in Adoption

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

A few years ago I did a post on Ending an Adoption where I provided tips on what parents can do before deciding to end an adoption.

Since then, I’ve heard of more families who have dissolved their adoption and placed their child in another family. Some utilized an agency while others did not.

In this post, I want to talk about how we can support families who feel ending their adoption may be their only choice and the best decision for their entire family.

In some situations, removing a child from the adoptive home is necessary. There may be safety concerns for other children in the household. There may be medical and psychological needs that cannot be met in the family.

No parent in this position takes the decision lightly. It is an incredibly stressful, difficult situation. The parents are in a lose/lose position.

No parent dreams of a day their home is not safe for one (or more) of their children. Nor do want to have to choose one child over another.

But sometimes…there is no choice.

Sometimes parents have to do what is best for every child in their home.

And sometimes that means removing a child from their home. Perhaps to get that child the medical and psychological care they need. Perhaps to restore a safer environment for another child.

What Can a Friend Do?

Pray for the family. Generally, parents do not come to this place from one small behavior/event. They have experienced a series of events and a progression of behavior. They need clarity and peace in their decision making.

Listen without judgment. It is difficult for parents to fully describe the state of their household. The stress. The challenges. The environment. The pressure. The decision. Do not assume you understand. Do not determine whether you believe they are making the “right” decision. Only they are experiencing it. Only they can decide.

Offer help. Bring dinner. Mow the yard. Babysit all the kids so the parents can take a break. Or babysit one child so the parents can focus on another. Do they express help to research options? Maybe help research therapy, respite, or doctors in your area.  

Families on the verge of dissolving have many needs. They need friends. They need understanding. They need love, care, and grace. 

And who knows? Maybe your open, non-judgmental friendship will help them through this dark time and they choose to continue to parent their child. Or maybe your support will be a comfort as they make the hardest decision of their life.

Maximizing Success in Transracial Adoption

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Being aware of the issues your family will face is key to maximizing your family’s success! Race must be an open topic of discussion in transracial adoptive families.

  • Consider your surroundings. Is your neighborhood racially and culturally mixed so that your transracial family does not appear unusual? Will your child be accepted as a teen the same as a toddler or child? Is there access to other transracial and cross-cultural families? Does your school have a variety of races and cultures represented in the classrooms, by both students and teachers? Ideally, it would be best if your child was surrounded by other children from his/her own culture or racial heritage. At the very least, your community should have some visible diversity so that your child does not stand out or become isolated. You may want to consider adopting more than one child from the same race or culture to reduce your child’s isolation and give your child an ally. However, only if you always wanted more than one child.
  • Teach your child about his/her heritage. Instill a sense of pride in your child’s heritage. Attending special ceremonies or holiday events–equivalent to cultural tourism–is not enough. Incorporate books, magazines, dolls, toys, games, foods, greeting cards, calendars, audiovisual media, and artifacts that reflect your child’s culture and ethnicity. Perhaps everyone in the family attends language classes to learn the child’s language or attends a church representative of the child’s background.
  • Seek relationships with others of his/her heritage. Find and develop personal relationships with people who are from the same background as your child. Seek mentors, groups, organizations, and activities from your child’s race or culture. Find hairdressers and health professionals of the same racial or ethnic origins. Your child will need ongoing relationships with others of his/her heritage, but keep in mind that your participation should be done to the extent the child is comfortable and the child’s comfort level might change at different stages. Not any person or organization just because of race or culture will suffice. Find people who are from the same area or from the same linguistic group.
  • Seek out other adoptive families of mixed race or culture. You will have more in common with the subculture of adoption than with either of the races or cultures involved. Your family and your child need reinforcement that comes from time with other transracial or cross-cultural adoptive families who face similar challenges. They can support you on issues of raising children in a multiracial family as well as experiences you have as a transracial adoptive family. There are several culture camps advertised in national adoption magazines that provide a chance to experience being the majority for an intense period of time. It also gives youth a chance to spend time with others who can share the joys and pains of growing up in a transracial adoptive family.
  • Educate your child and family about racism and intolerance. Transracial families often experience stares and people commenting on the mixed race of their family. Prepare ahead of time and give your child effective tools and techniques to combat racism. Create scripts for how your family wants to respond to stares and comments such as “Are those your children or are they adopted?” Most important is not how you respond, but that your response has been agreed upon with your child.
  • Do not tolerate racial or cultural slurs or jokes. Deal with racial or cultural slurs immediately and directly. Your child needs to know that is wrong and no one is allowed to say anything bad about his/her race or culture, no matter what the person’s intent or how important that person is to you or the family. Explain that prejudice will come from members of the racial majority and from members of his/her own ethnic group in the form of name calling, racial slurs, inferior treatment, exclusion, preconceived expectations, or physical violence. Help your child to understand it is the person saying or doing things that has the problem, not your child. Explain the history behind slurs and that they are hurtful. If you struggle with explaining or addressing these issues, seek out and attend courses or seminars to help challenge and confront racial or cultural prejudices. If one does not exist in your community, consider organizing one.
  • Validate your child’s feelings. The teen years are typically the hardest. It is important for your child to witness you investing in his/her culture and seeing others you rely on for their skills and abilities. However, as your child reaches teen years, he/she may need you to back off and let him/her be alone with his/her heritage. Your child may become embarrassed by his/her transracial family. Try not to take it personally and to respect that stage while your child is going through it. Friends whom the child related to may become uncomfortable. For example, some friends may no longer be willing to go out at night with a black adoptee for fear that the police will hassle them. This kind of prejudice is rarely articulated by teen adoptees, yet such racism can be a significant factor in the life of an adolescent adoptee in a transracial family. Regardless of what someone says or does, what is most important is validating your child’s feelings.
  • Acknowledge differences. Your experience of the transracial or cross-cultural adoption will be different than your child’s. You may feel your adoption has been successful with love for your child, your child appearing to do well in life, and your family never facing significant issues related to racial or cultural challenge. However, your child may have always experienced a sense of loss and alienation from his/her own culture but did not feel he/she had the right to express it. There may have been things your child never mentioned either to protect you or because the child feels shame and humiliation and is internalizing prejudice.
  • Practice responses. Empower your child to gain control of the situation. Discuss your child’s immediate response and alternatives. Act confidently. Teach your child problem-solving skills, including non-responses (e.g., ignoring the speaker) and verbal (e.g., whispering a response or asserting “They are my parents. I am adopted.” “My mother says that people who say that are ignorant.”) and nonverbal responses (e.g., staring back). Have your child practice these responses and model them when he/she is with you. Ask your child what he/she would like you to do, if anything, and then follow your child’s lead. However, if a racist act involves adults or an institution, such as the school, then you must take direct and decisive action yourself.
  • Understand where your child is developmentally. Have frequent check-ins to assess your child’s self-esteem and racial identity. The greatest challenge in raising children of a different race is teaching them to combat racial prejudice while building a strong self-esteem and racial identity.

This is part two of a series on transracial adoption. If you missed last month’s blog about self-esteem and racial identity, you can read it here.

Self-Esteem and Racial Identity

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

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.

Part 2 of this series, “Maximizing Success in Transracial Adoption,” includes 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.