Providing Security for Internationally Adopted Children

As a Child & Adolescent Psychoanalyst and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist specializing in adoption, I am familiar with the unique challenges that adoptive families face.

Adoptive parents can take comfort in knowing that studies show children who join a family through adoption are typically as psychologically healthy as children who are born into a family. However, adopted children do face some unique issues related to being adopted that are different from the issues faced by biological children.

One of the unique issues facing adopted children – particularly those adopted from another country – may be security issues.

It is a fact that humans are biologically “wired” to form their judgments about the safety of their world based upon the loving relationships that they did (or did not) develop within the first crucial years of their life. In other words, a child’s sense of security is based in part upon how they were treated by loved ones and caregivers in their earliest years.

While your adopted child may have had his or her basic biological needs met before you adopted them, they may not have had these necessities met within the context of a close relationship. This can adversely affected a child’s ability to form relationships and feel “secure” in their new home environment.

If you have adopted a child from another country they may seem frightened, nervous or insecure. Often there is a language barrier – you and your child may not speak the same language and this can leave your child feeling confused and scared. This behavior should gradually fade over time – but it can also suddenly seem to manifest itself “out of nowhere.” Fortunately there are many things that you can do to help your adopted child feel safe and secure in his or her new life as part of your family.

Simplify Daily Life for Internationally Adopted Children

Children feel the most safe and confident when they understand their world. Yet we live in a fast-past, hectic and complex society filled with endless activities, entertainment options, events, trips, restaurants and a wide array of technologically advanced devices. We may take all of this for granted – but keep in mind that all of this may be strange and overwhelming to your internationally adopted child.

Most adopted parents are excited to give their adopted child all of these many modern luxuries, which they did not have before they were adopted. However it is important to try and “take it slow” and present your child with only as much as they can reasonably master and integrate.

Think about making your daily life simpler and less complex – gradually introducing your adopted child to these many modern concepts which he or she must process in order to feel “safe”. A slower pace – and a regular routine with predictable days – will enable your internationally adopted child to master their environment at their own pace. This can go a long way toward fostering their sense of security.

Daycare for Internationally Adopted Children

If you have adopted an infant, you should consider not placing the child in full-day care for as long as possible if at all.  It is difficult for an adopted child to form a loving, bonded relationship with parents in just a relatively few hours each day. The process of the parent leaving them anew each day can create special problems for an adopted child – and actually work against their ability to develop feelings of security. Day care settings typically resemble an adopted child’s experience in an orphanage or group care setting – many children and ladies taking care of the children. This can then lead to big feelings in your child.

Playdates with Other Internationally Adopted Children

Getting together with other internationally adopted children – particularly children from their birth country – can be invaluable to building your child’s sense of security. Being in a room with other internationally adopted children can be a phenomenally normalizing experience for an adopted child.

Enabling your child to see that there are other families like theirs helps them understand that they are not “alone” and not “different.” This can be very empowering for a child’s sense of security. Seeing children that may look like them or even speaking a language that was spoken before them came home with you can be a welcoming experience for your child.

Listening to Your Internationally Adopted Child

Many parents of internationally adopted children wish their child would simply forget any unfortunate circumstances of their life before adoption. But that is not a realistic expectation. Your child’s pre-adoption experiences will always be in them – even when there are few, if any, conscious memories. We call these memories “Body Memories” – those memories that are felt within the child and the child has difficulty articulating the feelings. Often these are memories from a time before your child had developed language skills and therefore could not talk about the feelings they had of sadness or upset.

To help your child develop the ability to love you and others in the deepest way possible, you must be open to what they endured during their first months or years of life. He or she cannot simply forget and move on. They must remember in order to happily move on.

Your internationally adopted child may come to you with surprising recollections “out of the blue”, or they may have nightmares suggesting unpleasant memories. They may one day tell a story, draw a picture, or act out a scenario with dolls that is evidence of a disturbing memory.

It is important not to ignore these events or “brush them under the rug.”

Instead, directly offer your adopted child clear verbal reassurances that the painful events or memories of his early years – during the “time before mommy and daddy”,  will not be repeated in your family.  Do not “change the subject” to something more fun or pleasant. Instead, listen to your child and let them know that you feel deeply with them and let them know you are so sorry these things happened to them. Your ability to acknowledge his or her past experiences will build the loving intimacy that fosters a lifelong sense of safety and security.

Oakland County Therapists for Internationally Adopted Children

With you as a loving, patient, attuned & understanding guide to his or her new life, your adopted child can achieve the same sense of security and safety as any child!

However, if your child is exhibiting persistent, troubling or destructive behavior that you think may (or may not) be adoption-related, do not wait to consult with an adoption therapist. It is always better to talk to an adoption therapy specialist – who can sort out the problem and offer tools that you can use as a family – than to wait until a problem escalates.

To Speak to an Oakland County Adoption Therapist Today, call: 248-476-4515

Victoria Schreiber

Thank you for visiting my blog, where I will post articles I have written to help you and/or your children understand yourselves better, form healthier relationships, and live a happier and more productive life.

Psychotherapist West Bloomfield

Psychotherapist West Bloomfield