This weekend D and I attended our first training session for our adoption. Our local agency requires 10 hours for all home studies. They prefer that as much of the training as possible be done in-person vs. online seminars, which are also available. We would also like to do our training in person because we can ask more questions, hear back from other prospective adoption parents, etc. The local agency warned us that their international-specific classes tend to get cancelled due to low enrollment, but did recommend a toddler-centric class since that is the age range we’re looking to be approved for. We enrolled immediately and got quite a bit out of it.
Attachment: Our lecturer spoke about the internal model of a child. The perception of themselves and the world around them is affected by whether or not their needs are met. This is stressed repeatedly throughout the class – the first goal is to ensure the child that their needs are being met. Always, immediately, without fail. Until they have learned to trust and believe that they do not have to fend for themselves.
Coming Home: A toddler needs time to adjust to their new arrangement. You cannot force physical contact. Work on playing, interacting with them. If you can provide them with toys or clothes ahead of time that they can bring home, it helps to have those “transition” objects. Do not expect that you can take home the items they used/owned at the orphanage or in the foster home, because those objects may be needed there. If you have clothes or a blanket or a plushie, do not wash these items, however tempted you are. The familiar scent is soothing. (I’ll be honest, this grosses me out entirely, but I’ll do anything to make them feel more at peace with the situation.)
Language: This didn’t apply to us so much as we have been told after questioning that the children in our international program almost all speak English. However, adoptive children are sometimes behind on vocalizing their needs so we were able to get some good tips: flashcards for “I’m hungry,” “I’m sleepy,” “I have go to the bathroom,” with pictures were recommended. Keeping positive expressions as they’ll be watching us constantly. Responding to non-verbal communication instead of forcing them to speak.
Eating: A huge issue for adoptive children is food. We are encouraged not to make adoptive toddlers wait for food – this is a basic need and you have to meet it, even if it means overfeeding your child. Our lecturer recommended having snacks on hand – even allowing them to keep a snack in their pocket or on their bedside at night. Knowing food is available when they want it can help alleviate stress. Just try to do your best to make sure the food is healthy. Kids may also stop eating due to stress and that’s basically a try-everything-you-can scenario.
Sleeping: Adoptive children have usually never slept alone. Do not allow them to cry themselves out like many do with infants to get them to do their nights – if you are uncomfortable with a child in your bed, have a mattress in your room or in theirs. Use this time to bond if you having issues with physical attachment – kids are more prone to allowing snuggling at night when they feel more vulnerable. This is also a good time to employ that transitional stuffed animal or blanket if you have one.
Our class was three hours, so that’s almost a third of all our training done. This is not everything by far. They also talked about local resources that we can tap into as most adopted children are behind developmentally. They recommend getting help/support before we think we may need it. Most of the families at the session were adopting from China, with the rest of us adopting from other countries. They also had two mothers attend who had multiple adoptions from China to speak about their experiences, good points, low points, etc. Both parents had had their children stop eating while still in China and reassured us that even though it’s heart-wrenching and panic-inducing, their kids eventually opened up and ate again.
It was an eye-opening experience for us, even though we felt we had known some of the information before hand, but it is one thing to read it and another thing to be told by someone who had gone through those hardships. D and I are still holding strong, trying to prepare our hearts in case of possible rejection in the first few weeks and other hardships we may go through. We had been worrying about international travel with a toddler we’ve only had for a few weeks, but both mothers and other parents in our class who had adopted internationally before said it was the easiest part of their journey – just bring enough stuff to do.
Of course, the most stressed out person through this whole ordeal is the adoptive toddler. They have to be the center and your focus. One book that was repeated recommended was “Parenting the Hurt Child,” by Keck and Kupecky. D and I are going to buy the Kindle version and read it on the way to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving. The mothers warned that a lot of it may not make sense now but that we’ll be able to recognize certain behaviors and signals once we have our child living with us.
Most importantly, they stressed patience, both with your adoptive child and with yourself. No parent is perfect all the time. The meeting process and those first few weeks and months and possibly even the first year may be heartrendingly difficult but you work through it. Just make sure you are getting the support you need, for your kids, for yourselves, and for your family.
Learning about being a parent is making this more real.