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Wisdom

Helping an Older Child Adjust to Your Home

By | Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom | No Comments

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

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.

Things to Consider when Looking for a Therapist

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Finding a therapist with adoption experience – specifically older child adoption experience – who is trauma- or attachment-focused can seem nearly impossible. We have some recommendations for finding a therapist or counselor who uses a developmentally appropriate approach.

Seek Recommendations

  • Look for recommendations of therapists or counselors who work with children and families. Check with other adoptive families, professionals (such as pediatrician, family lawyer, social worker, pediatric occupational therapist, audiologist, school counselor), family and friends, your employer, or your insurance company.

Search Online

  • There are online services like GoodTherapy.org, PsychologyToday.com, and others that can be helpful in locating therapists in your area; however, keep in mind that listed therapists pay a fee for membership to be included on these lists. There are some great therapists listed, but there will be some great ones not listed, and others may be listed but not so great.
  • There are many professional organizations, institutes, and networks that contain directories of therapists and other support that may assist in your search (such as Attachment & Trauma Network, Inc; Association for Training on Trauma and Attachments in Children (ATTACh); The Theraplay® Institute; The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN); TF-CBT National Therapist Certification Program).

Travel Distance

  • Good and convenient often do not go hand-in-hand. You can probably find a therapist 10 minutes from your house, but you might find a better one who is worth a longer dive. A longer drive home can provide time to process feelings and thoughts from the therapy session.

One or More Therapists?

  • There are no easy answers to the question of should we have one therapist or multiple therapists. Discussing the pros and cons with the therapist will be helpful in avoiding potential pitfalls in your therapeutic work.

Therapist’s Gender

  • You will want to choose the gender you or your child prefer to work with. However, your reasons may be something you need to discuss with the counselor.

Things to Ask Therapists

  • Are you a licensed counselor or therapist?
  • Are you a registered therapist, or do you have any additional certifications?
  • What is your training or educational background?
  • What percentage of clients are adolescents (if you are seeking counseling for your teen)? …families? …foster, adoption, or attachment related issues? …trauma related?
  • How much of your work involves the use of art, play, or team building exercises with adolescents and with families?
  • What do you believe is required for healing?
  • Do you work with other professionals in your clients’ lives, such as medical doctors, psychiatrists, schools, or other interventionists?
  • Are you willing to work with both our family and our child individually, or do you suggest we have different therapists?
  • If you will be seeing our child individually, how involved or informed will we be?
  • Do you make referrals if you identify my child or family needs additional or different services?
  • Do you provide psychoeducational assessments* or do you have someone you recommend who does?  

*A variety of psychoeducational assessments are available to assess individual aptitudes, attitudes, abilities, achievements, interests, personal characteristics, disabilities, and mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

Ask About Their Fees

  • If you cannot afford them, tell them what you can afford because this could be a long-term process. Some may be willing to reduce their fees.
  • Many community clinics can provide counseling on a sliding scale fee.
  • Some universities have clinics where students-in-training provide counseling at a lower cost. However, they are students, and therefore they will not have the training and experience of a fully-trained therapist.   

Listen to Your Intuition

  • Is the person you are talking to trying to sell themselves or are they really telling you about how they work?
  • Who makes you feel the most relaxed and encouraged?

It is our belief that it is essential for therapists or counselors to network with caregivers, school personnel, and sometimes other professionals to obtain a complete and accurate picture of the child and his or her needs. We also like the use of assessments that are up-to-date, valid, and reliable. If you struggle to find a therapist or counselor who fits our suggested criteria, you may find one who is willing to research and learn. Remember, counseling is an investment that often brings great returns. 

Improving Your Support Network

By | Blog, Conferences, Resources, Wisdom

We are excited to be leading a breakout session at the 2019 Tapestry Conference which will be held October 18-19 in Irving, Texas. As we considered what to present, we consistently went back to the importance (yet challenge) of support. In preparing to grow their family, parents often focus on the paperwork and preparation aspects of bringing their new child home. However, too often we forget about the support we need after our child comes home.

When the new child is older, we fall into the trap of believing the addition of the new child will not significantly impact our daily routine of cooking and chores. What parents frequently find, however, is while the child does not have the needs of an infant, the stress of getting to know the child is exhausting. You are learning your new child’s non-verbal responses and personality. You are attempting to connect with your child as well. The emotional toll can be unexpected and exhausting.

What kind of support do you need to gather? Here a few we will talk about in our session.

  • Social Needs. This blog post can provide ideas on how to strengthen your support network. Don’t forget about the social needs of your kids, too!
  • Physical Needs. Help with meals, household chores and maintenance.
  • Emotional Needs. Find people you can honestly share your fears, frustrations and joys.

What support do you still need? Do not be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help. Having a good support network can help create a smoother transition for you and your entire family.

You can find out more about the conference and the other speakers here. We hope to see you there!

Being Fully Present & Connecting with Your Loved Ones

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

What would your child or significant other say if you asked, “Do you think I use my phone (iPad, laptop) too much?”

What do they see? Perhaps they see you on your phone and think your phone is more important than them.

What do they hear? You might not realize that they hear your adult conversations or videos. Perhaps they hear you, your friends, or other family members gossiping or complaining – not things you want them to learn or think are okay.

To be that young vulnerable person ignored behind the phone held in a parent’s hand is far worse than we can describe. It has become a disturbing problem in our society. One that is shaping who are children are today and the people they will become.

Are your online communications more important than your child? No one wants to think their child feels forgotten or neglected because of a phone or electronic device.

Are you distracted and disconnected by your phone while your family is present? The truth hurts, but the truth can also heal. There is hope for changing from distracted to present, from not truly living to living, from disconnected to connected.

I want to share Rachel Macy Stafford’s article, “How to miss a childhood: The dangers of paying more attention to your cell phone than your children.” I enjoyed how she laid out the things we might do that are sacrificing our children’s childhoods and our own lives as well as her suggestions of things to focus on instead, so that we can grasp their childhood rather than miss it.

Maybe you will find this article difficult to read as I did. Maybe you will feel “mom guilt” like I did. But your child and society thank you as you try to get back to what really matters – connecting with our loved ones and being fully present.

I recently made a few adjustments to my phone use. I have turned off most notifications on my phone. I can control when I check email rather than letting my email disrupt me and my time with my family. I know 95% of those social media notifications are not worth the distractions. If I want to know what’s going on with friends before getting together with them, then I can browse their pages after my kids have gone to bed. I stopped exploring the Internet in the morning before the kids got up because they would see me on my phone or computer when they got up. I did not want them to think the Internet was the most important thing to me. This past year, I also found myself becoming a little resentful of how some of my phone conversations were taking time away from my family. I want to support others, but now I schedule time with friends twice a month where I can be fully present for them. Communicating my desire and goals with friends and family has helped them to better understand my need for change and my good intentions of a better childhood for my kids. Further, I can be a friend who can be fully present instead of half listening while also trying to parent kids.

What about you? Do you need to make changes in your electronic use to be present with your kids to grasp their childhood?

Please comment and share your experiences with us.

What I wish I had known…in Older Child Adoption

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

When I talk to families who have chosen to adopt an older child, I often wonder what were things they wished they had known about before adopting their child.

Here are a few I hear most often:

“I wish families who have already adopted an older child would be honest with how hard it is.” So often parents talk about the joys (and there are many), but rarely do they share with raw honesty the intense difficulties. Many agencies have prospective parents talk to other parents who have already brought their child home (which is GREAT!). Except these parents minimize the challenges and emphasize the blessings. While admirable, it does an injustice to prospective parents. A family cannot truly determine whether older child adoption is a good fit for them if they only hear the good. So if you are considering older child adoption, search out those who have adopted an older child. In fact, I would suggest that you reach out those who have been home OVER two years. Why? I don’t know what it is about two years, but things shift. Truth surfaces. Eyes are opened. Patterns are identified. Things start clicking. This was true for the majority of the forty families we talked to and it was true for us.

“I wish I had realized how important finding a support group was before we adopted.” Find social media groups. Find area support groups. Get connected. This group will be your lifeline. Or maybe you will find one or two people who you reach out to when you are challenged. Or empty. Or need encouragement. Find them. Before you bring your child home (if possible).

“I wish I had realized how absolutely consuming this journey would be.” Yes. 100% yes. One mom advised that you plan to set everything else aside for the first year, perhaps two. Maybe giving up everything is not realistic for you, but please consider reducing your involvement. You truly cannot understand the demands your new child is going to place on you (some purposely, but a lot to simply meet needs). And you truly cannot anticipate the how one person’s trauma impacts an entire household. Everyone will be impacted. Expect to make your world small for you and your family. I would also follow that up with find coping strategies that work for you. And do not feel guilty about TAKING time for yourself doing something you enjoy.

“I wish I had known how much un-teaching would be necessary before I would re-teach appropriate behaviors.” One mom commented their household appeared to have absolutely no rules and completely out of control children that first year. Remember, you cannot focus on everything your child needs to work on from day one. It is not possible. Another mom suggested focusing on issues of safety at the beginning. Once those have been unlearned, then relearned, you can focus on other issues (such as manners, grooming, etc.). It is a long journey marked by small successes that lead to larger ones.

These are only a few of the things families wish they had known before they adopted their older child. But I hope these help you—if you are considering older child adoption—to make an informed decision on whether it is the best fit for you. For those of you already home, I hope these help you know what to share with other prospective adoptive families who ask you about your experiences.

Adjusting Your Expectations

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

The beginning of a new year provides us the opportunity to reflect and look at our own expectations.

Unrealistic expectations put too much unnecessary pressure on you, your adopted child, your existing children, your spouse, and others. Unrealistic expectations can harm your relationships and leave you working toward false goals. They can, will, and most often do lead to disappointment. If you want your relationships to be successful, work on being aware of what is going on with you, with others, and within your relationships and set realistic expectations.

Do not expect others to be able to read your mind and always act according to your wishes. You do not share one mind, and they are different from you. Good communication is vital to a healthy family. Your family (existing children, spouse, and others) will likely need to adjust their expectations as well. Most families we spoke to found that their existing children had difficulty adjusting to their adopted sibling’s behaviors and the attention their adopted older sibling received. Make sure you check in with your family members to learn how they are doing. Have frequent, purposeful discussions with them acknowledging the successes and difficulties they are experiencing. Give them opportunities to express frustration that their expectations are not being met. Provide them with potential reasons why things are going the way they are. Have family members try to look at things from other family members’ perspectives.

Equally important, your expectations cannot change people. One of the biggest challenges people face in life is learning to accept people as they are. You can accept people while not accepting their behavior. People who do not feel accepted feel rejected, which is a form of identity destruction and can lead to many negative outcomes. Your older adopted child will be required to do a lot of work to adjust and change. You cannot change people, but you can help facilitate their process toward positive, healthy change. Life does not always work the way we imagined or planned and working hard to adjust accordingly to where everyone is at and what they are capable of may be beneficial. Adjustments can be long-term or moment-to-moment as needed.

Though we tend to set our expectations unconsciously, it does not prevent us from consciously adjusting them up or down. If you observe yourself repeatedly disappointed by experiences you feel you should be able to enjoy, you may benefit from consciously lowering your expectations somewhat. Similarly, if your expectations are continually low, your pessimism may prevent you (and possibly others) from enjoying the anticipation of good things, and you may want to work on allowing yourself to expect a little more. Going into situations with an open mind, not expecting certain things, allows you to fully engage without the pressure of living up to preconceived notions.

Consider taking a few moments to reflect on your expectations for yourself and for others.

Adopting Out of Birth Order

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

No matter how you grow your family, your family experiences many changes. Of course, it changes in number, but the atmosphere also changes. The dynamics are different. Everyone is finding their place in the new normal. When you add a child younger than any existing children, every family member adjusts to cater to the youngest member of the family. And the family finds their new rhythm.

However, when the new child who joins the family changes the birth order, finding the rhythm is often more difficult. Not only does your new child have to figure out their place in their new family, but the existing children whose placement in the family changed also have to find their place.

For some children, a birth order displacement is minor. They may have a more flexible personality and can easily go with the flow of life. They will still have to learn how to respond or act to their newest sibling. They may need to figure out how to respond to a child who is chronologically older but acts younger than them. The parents may also need to figure out how to navigate that as well.

For other children, a change in birth order causes them to feel “demoted” in family “rank” which can incredibly difficult for some to accept. These children tend to be more competitive or often are identified as “natural leaders.” They may feel resentment toward the new child. They also may be confused on how to respond to a child chronologically older who acts younger than them. It can be especially difficult if the new child is now the oldest but is unable to fulfill the required responsibilities.

Before you decide to adopt out of birth order, consider these questions:

  • How will your existing child respond to a child who is chronologically older, but acts younger than they do?
  • How will your existing child handle the change of their place in the family?
  • How does your child handle change?
  • Will they struggle no longer being the oldest boy or oldest girl?

Perhaps ask others who know your child well for their thoughts as well.

Adopting out of birth order can work, but it does not always work. The unknown variable is how your new child is going to respond to their place in the family. Some adjust well while others want to be in charge of every family member. Some struggle to simply fit. Most will feel sad about family experiences they missed before joining the family. Often, this sadness is expressed as jealousy toward existing children. Then parents need to determine the best way to address that jealousy.