After an adoption, how do you help your child adjust emotionally to a new world? For the most part, creating an emotionally supportive environment for your adopted child comes naturally. We all have wonderful instincts that help us build the right environments for our children. The warmth and love you naturally provide as a caring parent does half the work.  To help you with the other half, here are some tips.

1. Help your child understand where they come from

 While you, as the adopting parent, are excited to gain a new family member it is important to remember that this adoption is happening because your child experienced a loss. Sometimes this loss leaves your child feeling disconnected from an important part of themselves. While some children can tell you they are experiencing this issue, many do not have the verbal ability or the emotional insight to understand. One of the best things you can do for your adopted child is to respect this, often unspoken, area of need by helping your child connect to their past. Just as each adoption story is a little different, creating this connection in a healthy way will look different for each child.

  • Support and provide connections between your child and their culture of origin.
  • Support relationships with other adoptees from similar situations.
  • Seek out relationships with other adoptive families and children.
  • Read “All You Can Ever Know” By Nicole Chung
  • Maintain a relationship with your child’s birth parents if possible.[1]

2. Speak openly, honestly, and positively about adopting your child

         Your child will be looking to you to define their adoption and understand what it means. Talking about adoption can feel difficult, but there is no need for it to be a negative experience. Practice making it a part of everyday life by talking about it early and often. When they are old enough encourage them to ask questions, let them guide parts of the conversation and focus on discussing your own positive views of adoption. Speak honestly, telling your child the truth.  Your child will notice if you hold back important information and this could cause them to feel confused or have negative responses. Your job isn’t to hide things but to be there for your child if they have difficult feelings so they know they are in a safe place now. While truth is important, it does not have to include negative talk. Try to avoid any negative talk about a child’s biological family unless truly necessary. Children can make startling assumptions and a negative discussion about someone they feel connected to can cause difficult emotions. Make your adoption story one of acceptance and openness to cultivate positive feelings.

  • Read the blog post “Talking About Adoption” by Jen Winkelmann[2]
  • Let the discussion of adoption grow with your child. Don’t assume one discussion answers all the questions, as more questions will come up as your child matures.  
  • Talk to other parents about their discussions of adoption with their children
  • Read the article “Talk To Your Kids About Adoption” by Ronny Diamond [3]

3. Respect your child’s emotional age

         Many children who are adopted have a history of trauma. This can lead to emotional pain and attachment issues and affect developmental growth. No matter how old your child is at adoption, they have been through a life changing event and need time and support to heal. Developing emotional attachments with adopted children can sometimes require extra effort. Let them talk openly about their thoughts and feelings without making any judgements. One of the best ways to do this is to grow your own listening skills. Learn to regulate your own emotions so that you can provide calm and caring responses to painful experiences. Over time they will internalize this response. Respect the process and the time it takes for a child to grow into an emotionally mature person. Given the right environment, growth is inevitable.

  • Read “How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
  • Be aware of how you respond when your child says things that hurt and be prepared with a healthy and healing response[4]
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself or your child. Acknowledging the need for help can be one of the most important things you can do for your family.
  • Read the blog post “Developing Emotional Attachment in Adopted Children” By Lysa Parker[5]

4. Utilize community resources for your child and family

            Your family and your adoptee are surrounded by a community, including family, friends, neighbors, religious organizations, schools and community run groups. Reach out to this community, which can provide invaluable support, connections and resources. It can also be helpful to attend caregiving trainings, or contact a therapist specializing in adoption issues. Connecting with your community and accessing available resources can help you and child get through hard times, and is one of the most supportive things you can do for your adopted child.

  • Join Colorado Coalition of Adoptive Families
  • Find a local adoption competent therapist on the Adoption Exchange website[6]
  • Attend a Trust Based Relational Intervention care giving training near you
  • Sign up for the Family Navigator Program on the Adoption Exchange website[7]

5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself

            Parents who adopt are caretakers, and parenting an adopted child takes enormous time, emotional strength and energy. In that process, it’s easy to lose sight of our own needs. Often when someone we love is having difficulties, especially our child, we forget to take care of ourselves. This is common for parents who adopt, and is called adoption burnout.[8] Adoption burnout happens when we become so overwhelmed by all of the things going on around us that we start to fall apart. Adoptive parents are under the same stress as other parents plus the added stress of the adoption process, the extra hurdles that can develop from a child’s traumatic past, and the solitude that can be felt after going through a unique experience like adoption. Feeling isolated, discouraged, overwhelmed or having marital issues while struggling with these issues is common. It can be difficult to talk about these issues after you worked so hard to get your child in the first place. But you should realize that you are not alone; many other adoptive parents also feel overwhelmed and struggle with these issues.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out to a qualified therapist or other resources and ask for the support you need. Often the best support you can give your adopted child is an emotionally healthy parent.

  • Read the blog “Are You Feeling Adoption Burnout” at the website One True Gift[9]
  • Individual Therapy
    • Contact Shoshana Aal at Watermark Counseling for a consultation, Call: 720-514-9925
    • Find a local adoption competent therapist on the Adoption Exchange website[10]
  • Support groups
    • Join Parents of Adopted Kids, Call 720-594-5425 for details
    • Visit the Adoption Exchange website to find a list of Local Support Groups[11]

References and Resource