March 6, 2023

International Adoption Travel Tips


passports on a world map

Travelling to meet your adopted child is a very exciting time in your adoption journey. You are going to finally meet and/or receive placement of your child. Though this is an exciting and joyous time, you may also find yourself experiencing a variety of mixed emotions with the joy, happiness, and excitement intermingled with times of feeling overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, and apprehensive as you prepare for this big event.  To assist you in preparing for this momentous experience here are some general international travel tips to consider.

Every child reacts differently to their first face-to-face introduction with their new parents. Their reaction will largely depend on their current stage of development. Toddlers can initially be reserved and cling to their current caretaker. Do not take the child’s behaviors personally; your child is likely scared. Be patient and let the child to come to you.  To initiate interaction with a young child, it is helpful to bend down to the child’s level and establish eye contact. A bright colored toy, or one that plays music, may captivate your child’s attention.   This is your opportunity to begin interacting with your child through discovery and play.

During these initial meetings, focus on building a connection with your child. Young children may not understand the meaning and roles of family members such as mom, dad, siblings, grandparents, etc. You may also find that your child appears to favor one parent over the other. Children in institutional settings are primarily cared for by women; with much less exposure to men as caretakers. For this reason, a child may tend to seek out only the mother for his/her needs.  On the other hand, because children are not as familiar with men as caretakers, the father may be somewhat of a curiosity and as such, children may be drawn to them. This relationship balance can be worked on once you are home by providing a daily bonding routine between the child and other parent. This can be as simple as reading a bedtime story or through interactive play with the child.

It is also important to note a child may act differently on subsequent visits or when travelling home with you. It is important to remember that a child’s behavior is triggered out of fear, grief, and loss. Ask if there is a special toy, object, or pictures from their current placement they can take with them that may provide comfort to them during this transitional period.

Travelling with young children requires planning and preparation for their anticipated needs (diapers, bottles, sippy cups, juice, drinks, change of clothes, snacks) but you will also want to have activities to keep them busy during a long trip. Suggested activities for younger children include:

  • Stickers/Sticker books
  • Color-wonder  coloring books/markers
  • Stacking cups
  • Colored pencils, sketch pads
  • Mad-Libs, puzzle books, word searches
  • Board books/Lift the flap peek-a-boo books
  • Play Doh
  • Magna-Doodle
  • Download age appropriate videos and games on your phone or I pad

When travelling with and older child or teen, take simple games or arts/craft projects that you can play or work on as a family. Ask the child what favorite places they would like to visit or foods they would like eat before leaving their current placement. Allow the child to be your guide as you explore his/her city and points of interests. Now is the time to take advantage of acquiring any cultural objects or memorabilia they would like to take with them to their new home.

Suggested travelling items to occupy school age or older children during your travel may include:

  • Download age appropriate videos and games for the child or youth. See if you can download any videos or games in the child’s language
  • Sketch pads, coloring books, colored pencils
  • Books, again see if you can find or download them in the child’s language
  • Individually packed snacks that are high in protein as well as some sweet snacks
  • Pack a small travel bag that contains small manipulatives they have not yet played with or seen.

Engaging and connecting with an older child or teen is easier in some aspects. When meeting your school age child for the first time, follow their lead. It is recommended that prior to hugging a child or older youth, to first ask for their permission. In asking for this permission, you are already teaching them about personal boundaries and that they have control of their bodies. Older children are able to entertain themselves for longer periods of times and although it can be difficult, if there is a language barrier, you can engage them in some simple conversations and needed instructions. Consider downloading a translation App for those times when you may need it. You can engage older children by asking questions about their likes and dislikes, what activities they enjoy, extra- curricular activities they may want to further explore, their friends, music, what they will miss in their current placement, favorite caretakers, talents, favorite subjects in school, future vocational plans, and what their daily routine looks like. You can also suggest they ask you questions about your family, home, neighborhood, community, the schools, weather, etc. However, this is not a time to ask questions about a child’s personal family history. Your child will disclose the more personal, intimate details of their past once they know you better and feel safe to divulge the more difficult parts of their life.

Travelling with your newly adopted children can be stressful under the best of circumstances.  You are just beginning to know your child and vice versa, there are appointments you will need to attend, documents to show, navigating around an unfamiliar environment, language barriers, and jet lag. With all of this going on, you may forget about self -care. This is the beginning of building family memories with your child. When you feel overwhelmed, it is important to take time out for yourself. When able, plan times during the day when each parent can have time alone to decompress from the stresses of the day. Check in with your spouse or support person periodically to see how each of you are doing. Give each other grace for the momentary lapses of frustration, exhaustion or when self-doubt may invade your thoughts.

Safe travels!

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