The Best Therapies for Your Adopted Child (And You)

Adoptive families know that therapy will benefit their child, but it can be difficult to know where to turn. Maybe you thought it was called “counseling” but then you started to see words like “trauma-focused” or “eye movement desensitization” or question the effectiveness of art/animal/music/sand in therapy. We’ve created this guide below to find the right fit for your child or yourself.

 

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

PCIT is a combination of play therapy and behavioral therapy for young children that will involve you as the parents. Parents learn techniques for relating to their child struggling with emotional and behavioral problems, language issues, developmental disabilities, or mental health disorders.

Who this best serves: Children ages 2-7 and their parents with experiences of trauma or have diagnosis on the autism spectrum.

 

Play Therapy

Children are able to examine and express their thoughts and emotions in an age and developmentally appropriate way through play. The goal is to help children learn to express themselves in a healthy way, learn respect and empathy, and discover positive problem solving techniques. This will work for children still learning English as well. General play therapists will be appropriate or you can consider Theraplay®, which is a specific type of play therapy, and you can look for a practitioner in your area.

Who this best serves: Children ages 3-12 who may have social or emotional deficits, trauma, anxiety, depression, grief, anger, ADD, autism, learning disabilities, and/or language delays.

 

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Often used to enhance other therapy the participant is engaged in, this therapy gives a sense of calm, comfort, or safety and diverts attention from stressful situations. They may keep an animal at home or by their side during the day or engage equine therapy at a ranch or equestrian school. Bonding with an animal can increase self-worth and trust, stabilize emotions, and improve communication, self-regulation, and socialization skills. Equine therapies have been very successful with adopted children.

Who this best serves: Children with behavioral issues, trauma histories, depression, autism, medical conditions, schizophrenia, or addiction.

 

Art/Music Therapy

Artistic therapies are typically nonverbal and allow the participant to process difficult feelings and express them when they cannot with words. This may be due to difficulties with expressing themselves or still learning English when other talk focused therapies may not be helpful. Music focuses on listening to, reflecting, or creating music to improve health and well-being. Art uses drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting to help express themselves and “decode” the nonverbal messages behind the art. Sandplay uses sand/toys/water to create scenes of miniature worlds that reflect their inner thoughts, struggles, and concerns.

Who this best serves: Children, adolescents, or adults who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect. They are useful for anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, or on the autism spectrum.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Trauma Focused- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This therapy is short-term and focused on intervention in the way an individual thinks and feels and how that affects the way they behave and problem solve. It works on changing thought patterns as a way to change behavior. Trauma-focused is for focusing specifically on effects of early childhood trauma.

Who this best serves: Adolescents and adults but school age children can benefit from this therapy if they are developmentally able to do so. It takes participants who are engaged in therapy and works well with depression, anxiety, PTSD, anger, panic disorders, phobias, or eating disorders.

Trauma-focused is best with adoptees or adoptive parents with abuse histories, PTSD, depression, or anxiety as a result of incidents in childhood.

 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

This is a specialized therapy that diminishes negative feelings associated with particular memories of traumatic events. It focuses on emotions and symptoms from the event and uses a hand motion technique causing eyes to move back and forth which engages both sides of the brain. This physical and emotional connection can bring deeper healing, particularly with individuals with significant trauma.

Who this best serves: Adolescents and adults with PTSD, anxiety, phobias, depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and stress. It can also be used with younger children with therapists who have this experience and training.

 

Special notes for adoptive parents: The adoption process can bring up difficult emotions, thoughts, or experiences from your own past. While this is painful, it is also good that this is surfacing so you are able to seek healing. You may find your adopted child is pushing buttons you did not know were there and counseling will benefit you and your parenting. We encourage you to also consider the therapies listed above for yourself while you seek services for your child.

 

This information is sources from Psychology Today. You can learn more about these types of therapies and search for counselors on their website.

 

By: Heather Sloan, LBSW

Introducing: International Adoption from the Dominican Republic

Nightlight Christian Adoptions is happy to announce we were licensed to work in the Dominican Republic on May 6th, 2021 and are currently accepting applications for families looking to adopt internationally. Children available for adoption range from young toddlers to children in their teens and are of mostly Hispanic or bi-racial decent, some children may be of Haitian decent. About every 2 months, Nightlight receives a list of about 80-90 special needs children in need of a forever home and family. We have identified the most adoptable children and limited information on these children are available at: https://adoptionbridge.org/waiting-children/.

Typical special needs of children in the Dominican Republic include children with medical needs which range from mild or correctable to severe.  The special needs list also includes older children ages 6 or older, some with and some without mild or severe special needs. HIV, eye diseases, and asthma are some of the common medical needs of children our agency is referred from the Dominican Republic. Sibling groups are also available for adoption.

As we continue to receive new files of children, Adoption Bridge will continue to be updated. Those who have a completed dossier are eligible to receive the full list of the children. Additionally, the program accepts applicants for those seeking relative adoptions as well as families who want to pursue a traditional match of a child from CONANI, Dominican Republic’s central authority. For more information, about this program and eligibility, please visit our web page for the Dominican Republic. Since the opening of the program, Nightlight has focused on the needs of children placed in orphanages. The institutionalization of Dominican children is due to a variety of factors, including but not limited to; poverty, abandonment, the inability for a parent or guardian to provide proper care, and/or the death of a parent or guardian. These reasons and others are the primary reasons why a child is left without a family.

Socio-economic inequality is high for those who live in the Dominican Republic, and the employment rate for woman of the country is only 33%. Additionally, children and women of the Dominican Republic do not have equal access to education. Improper sanitation to produce goods, natural disasters, and crime are also leading causes of poverty in the country. According to World Food Programme, quality of health services are inadequate and poverty affects 40% of the Dominican Republic, with 10.4% living in extreme poverty. There are roughly 200,000 children in the Dominican Republic are considered orphans and the number continues to grow alongside the COVID-19 global pandemic. Children living in poverty are vulnerable to child labor, trafficking, exposure to crime, malnutrition and disease. Additionally, urban orphanages traditionally don’t have access to adequate schooling and it is often not a priority of caretakers to provide schooling for these children.

It is a goal of Nightlight to change the life of these children and provide children with forever families while advocating for adequate welfare for Dominican Republic’s vulnerable children. If you are interested in adopting from the Dominican Republic or would like to inquire about the program, please contact Samantha Brown at [email protected] or call 317-875-0058.

Gratitude in the Face of Struggle

November heralds our Thanksgiving celebrations and festivities! I know many people who love this celebration because they describe Thanksgiving as the least commercialized holiday. Just as many people approach this time with a bit of dread…because the “thanksgiving” and “gratitude” in people’s lives seems all too manufactured, inauthentic and painted on.

I see both sides. Especially during times of struggle and strife in our lives. Each of us individually are probably well acquainted with struggle. Our nation as a whole has also experienced a kind of collective struggle as we continue to grapple with the pandemic that never seems to end. It is during these times that I have to actively discipline myself to remember those stunningly bright spots in my life so that I can truly be authentic in my gratitude.

Here is my stunningly bright story that inspires my authentic gratitude –

My youngest child has a tweak in his DNA that puts him outside the spectrum of what we call healthy. We make at least four visits a year to Children’s Hospital where we are given our marching orders for the next three months. Sometimes these visits remind me that this is not what I imagined as a young pregnant mama. A friend told me that having a baby is like planning a trip. You think you know where you’re going…perhaps Ireland…and you pack accordingly, but somehow your plane lands in an equally beautiful place – New Zealand. But everything you packed is wrong for this trip. That is how I felt when I was adjusting to parenting a chronically ill child with a life-abbreviating disease. I had not packed for this trip, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to pack for this trip. But here I was…in New Zealand.

I arrived at our next visit to Children’s with my 7-year-old in tow. I had a clipboard in hand with our daily schedule. My overflowing notebook with the last five years of medical visits and lab results was tucked under my arm. My little guy had his bag stuffed with his favorite “buddies” and games for when the day dragged on. I was laser-focused: Don’t get in my way; I am a mom on a mission. Before our first appointment, I made a quick pit stop to the ladies’ room. Then the question, “Mom do I have to go in there with you? I am 7…

“Okay, stay here, I’ll be quick”

I step back into the hall where my little one is waiting for me, and that is when I see the stunningly bright moments that can only happen in the struggle of the unexpected arrival in New Zealand. My fuzzy-headed guy is sitting on the floor with his new bald-headed friend. There isn’t really much more to see than their two heads bent close together. I cannot interrupt. I wait. After a little while my sweet treasure looks up at me and simply says, “Okay.” He stands up and I take his little hand in mine. “What was that about?” I ask. “Oh, we were just praying for his chemo treatments.” And we walked on.

Press into your authentic gratitude this season.

 

By: Dawn Canny

Value of Openness in Adoption

While openness has become a more common practice in the adoption community, it can still be a relatively new reality for some to have an open relationship with their child’s birth parents. The term “open adoption” typically is used to refer to adoptions in which all parties are known to each other and have some form of ongoing contact. Adoptions vary in their levels of openness, from confidential (closed), to mediated (semi-open), to fully disclosed with ongoing contact (open). The primary benefit of having some level of an open adoption is the access children will have to birth relatives and to their own histories. They can get a first-hand understanding of the reasons leading to their birthparents’ decisions about them, and have a direct way to find other answers, ranging from medical and genealogical information to personal questions as simple (and important) as “Who do I look like?” or “Do I have other brothers or sisters?” As adopted children grow up and form their identities, they typically confront many questions related to genetic background and birth family. When there is no way for them to find answers, they must manage ongoing uncertainty.

When adopted children seek information about their histories, or when they struggle with feelings related to their adoptions, it is paramount that they feel able to talk freely with their parents and that they feel heard and understood. Adopted children who experience more open adoption communication are reported to have higher self-esteem, and their parents rated them lower in behavioral problems. Among adopted adolescents, those who had greater openness in their families reported more trust for their parents, fewer feelings of alienation and better overall family functioning.

 

Benefits for the Child

  • Establish a sense of connection and belonging
  • Develop a deeper understanding of their identity and a greater sense of wholeness
  • Gain access to important genetic and medical information
  • Preserve connections not only to family but also to their cultural and ethnic heritage
  • Develop a better understanding for the reasons for placement, which can lessen feelings of abandonment and increase a sense of belonging
  • Increase the number of supportive adults in their lives

Benefits for Birth Parents

  • Gain peace of mind and comfort in knowing how their child is doing
  • Develop personal relationships with the adoptive parents and the child as he or she grows
  • Become more satisfied with the adoption process

Benefits for Adoptive Parents

  • Build a healthy relationship with their child’s birth family and provide lifelong connections for their child
  • Gain direct access to birth family members who can answer their child’s questions
  • Improve their understanding of their child’s history
  • Develop more positive attitudes about their child’s birth parents
  • Increase their confidence and sense of permanency in parenting

 

Openness in adoption can provide a child with valuable connections to his or her past. No single open arrangement, however, is right for everyone. As with any relationship, there may be bumps and challenges along the way in the relationships between birth and adoptive families. Likewise, these relationships are likely to evolve and change over time. Through careful consideration of options, a clear child-focused approach, and a strong commitment to making it work, you and the birth parent can decide what level of openness is right for your family and the adoption triad.

By: Caidon Glover

 

A Birth Mother’s Story on Openness

A Nightlight birth mother’s perspective on open adoption –

 

“Open adoption has changed my life in more ways than I ever thought it would. I placed my son for adoption with my boyfriend because I had become pregnant unexpectedly. I was 18 at the time and still in school living at home with my parents, so it was hard to imagine raising a child as well because I wanted him to have the best life possible, and I felt like I couldn’t give that to him in my situation. When we had decided to go down the path of adoption, we didn’t know anything about it, and didn’t even know that open adoptions existed. Learning about open adoption at first was confusing, but at the same time gave us a little bit of relief. Knowing that we could still have a relationship with our child was comforting.

 

When we first matched with our child’s adoptive parents, it was another feeling of comfort. Talking to them for the first time made us a little nervous, and we wondered if they’d like us enough to form a unique relationship like this with us, but we bonded immediately and they even came down to meet us while I was still pregnant. They were there with us the whole time in the hospital, celebrated my birthday with me, and spent 2 weeks with us here after I gave birth. This made us closer than we had anticipated, and our relationship grew very strong. They live about 7 hours away, but we talk to them almost every day and they’re even planning another trip to visit soon.

 

Our bond with the adoptive parents is better than I could’ve hoped for. They really feel like family, and it just helps confirm that they were the perfect match for us. I feel that the unique relationship we formed with them will help with my child’s questions about adoption later on. We all love each other so deeply and being brought together through this unique experience has made our relationship strong. They both care so genuinely not only about my child, but also about us and how we’re doing, and having them as support is so important. Through open adoption, I feel that my child will have a bigger and stronger support system throughout his life, and having a relationship with him and his parents is something I’m grateful for beyond words.  I feel that although it was a long and hard process, as all adoptions are, it couldn’t have turned out any better.”

Bonding with a New Child

When I adopted my then four-year-old daughter from China in 2008, I did not plan intentional ways to attach to her. I thought it would come naturally, like it did with my birth children. I was mistaken to think I did not need to have an idea of what to do. Shortly after bringing her home from the orphanage, I read an amazing book which changed by parenting plan. Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen (2008) changed my perspective. I was reading it the first few months together and wished I had read it prior to the adoption and the multiple times I have referred back to it over the years.

I used many of the techniques Cogen refers to in her book. I had my four-year-old using a bottle to rock her to sleep and then a pacifier. I sang her lullabies and played silly finger games of Itsy Bitsy Spider. I read story books and played dress up. I pushed a stroller, took pictures, and did many of the things I had with my birth children when they were much younger biologically than four. I rebuilt the foundation to help my daughter to attach, learn the world is safe, and built trust.

There are fun ways for families to build this attachment with children of all ages. Their beginning story in life does not have to be the end of their story. Here are some suggestions for you to put into practice with your child:

  • Play games! Bring out Candy Land, Old Maid Cards, and Trouble. Roll the dice. Play games that call for the child to make eye contact with you. Do peek-a-boo with your young child.
  • Give piggy back rides to your child, play airplane on the floor or bicycle gymnastics with your child. With airplane, have your little one lay across your feet while you are on your back. Holding their hands, move the child through the air as you make sounds. And bicycle? Face each other and touch feet with your knees bent. Cycle your feet back and forth, singing a silly song of “bicycle, bicycle, who’s going to ride the bicycle”.
  • Embrace crazy hair day and let your child do your hair, or make up, or even face paint!
  • Dance & Sing – swirl around holding your child in your arms, your child standing on your feet, or do a fun hip hop. Break out the karaoke machine. Put on a dance video. Use songs that are soothing and quiet. Sing lullabies.
  • Write notes to your child. Leave a sticky note on the counter, put a love note in their lunch box, or mail them a letter. Send a meaningful text to the teen or write a loving post to the child, expressing affirmation to the child.
  • Read together. Make this a daily part of your structured routine. Get a library card and make going to the library a meaningful event for your child.

Whatever you add to your parenting to help your child attach, be attuned. Make things fun, even if they are intentional. Baking, decorating cookies, drawing, coloring, folding clothes, cleaning up their room, Legos and building forts – all activities that increase the time you spend with your child building the relationship they need to become thriving individuals and adults.

 

By: Tina Daniel, Ed.D., LPC

How to Become an Advocate for Foster Children in School

Children in the foster care system already have a difficult time adjusting to their new setting. This is especially true if they do not feel they are welcomed into their new school environment or find themselves experiencing new levels of trauma in what should be a “safe place”. It is important to understand that not every child who is in foster care has experienced the same type of trauma and that specific trauma experiences can lead to difficult/hard to handle behaviors. This can lead them to be withdrawn in the classroom, defiant towards caregiver, and struggle academically.  

Children in foster care have already suffered from the trauma that led them to be placed into the foster care system and what are schools doing to prevent more trauma from occurring in the schools? Fortunately, many schools are creating an atmosphere that allows foster children to feel safe and understood in their new school settings. Schools are beginning to encourage teachers to take trauma informed training, allowing them to have a better understanding of trauma-based behaviors and how this can affect the overall functioning of a child. It is important for teachers, and mandated reporters in general, to recognize the signs and symptoms of a child currently experiencing trauma or that has experienced a trauma in their past. Trauma can affect children in a variety of ways and it is important for a child to know that supportive adults are there for them. They need to know you will advocate for them in any way possible, allowing them to feel safe and comfortable with you in a world that has been so frightening at times.  

One can become an advocate for a foster child who has experienced trauma in their school by:  

  • helping the child find counseling services to review their feelings towards the incident that occurred in the school  
  • providing the child with choices  
  • making an “out” plan if the child begins to experience unwanted feelings due to the trauma they have experienced or just in general  
  • Being their shoulder to cry on or someone that will listen when they are ready to discuss what happened to them  
  • Communicating with school counselor on the different behaviors a child may be exhibiting  
  • Allowing a child to know that they are safe with you and creating a safe environment for them in / outside of your home or classroom  
  • Communicating with social workers as well if you see a difference in their behavior 
  • Promoting trauma informed individualized programs in their school  
  • Understanding that the child may not have all of the answers for their behaviors or feelings but supporting them anyway  
  • Allowing for mental health days if a child does not feel comfortable going to school / needs time to think  
  • Letting them know that they are supported by you and others around them  
  • Allowing them to ease into a new environment and not pushing them out of their comfort zone  
  • Not sharing their experiences with others unless they give permission 

 

Post Adoption Reports – Why?

Post adoption reports are required by families who adopt children from outside the United States. The requirements vary in number and frequency, usually based on the sending country’s laws. It is understandable that after a sometimes long and expensive process of adoption that parents feel both wary and weary of a social worker visiting their home to report on their family unit for years after homecoming. In order to understand this requirement, it’s important to learn about the history of US/intercountry adoption and why it not only protects adoptive parents and their children, but how it can ultimately benefit yours and the legitimacy of future adoptions.

Adoption is among the oldest and most widespread of human social practices. The oldest recordings of adoption practices date back to 18th century BCE. It wasn’t until 1851 when Massachusetts enacted the first modern adoption law, that adoption was recognized as a social and legal matter requiring state supervision. While 1851 seems late in the history of adoption, it was actually early in the history of adoption law. For example, the United Kingdom, did not pass legislation regulating adoption until 1926. In the 150 years since, modern adoption law has spread and been accepted throughout the Western world—so thoroughly we forget how innovative it is and how hard it is for other cultures to grasp. The idea of permanently and legally severing a child’s biological ties to a birth family is all but incomprehensible to some cultures.

It has been widely reported that US international adoption grew out of orphan-rescue missions in the wake of military conflicts, beginning with the airlift of German and Japanese orphans at the end of the World War. Similar rescues followed the Korean War, in 1953, the Bay of Pigs debacle, in 1961, and the Vietnam War, in 1975. These “babylifts” were, in part, political and fueled by a new superpower’s desire to demonstrate its good will to the rest of the world as humanitarian mercy missions.

In addition, in 1955 Henry and Bertha Holt, an evangelical couple from rural Oregon, secured a special act of Congress enabling them to adopt Korean “war orphans.” These children of Korean women and American GIs had been stigmatized or abandoned because of their visible ethnic differences and the presumption of infidelity or illegitimacy. The Holts turned their personal experience into a mission, founding the first organization dedicated to large-scale international adoption, Holt International Children’s Services.

Rates of international adoption began to climb dramatically after 1992, when China opened its orphanages and let Westerners adopt some of the thousands of daughters abandoned because of a radical and historically unique social experiment: the one-child policy. Intercountry adoption by westerners transformed from a charitable endeavor to a private industry. And with that came unethical motives and practices that legislators and legitimate agencies who were finding families for orphaned children were already desperately trying to prevent tried. For example, in the 1980s a number of Latin American countries were hit by child-buying and kidnapping scandals; in some cases, during civil wars, military forces were killing insurgents and selling their children into international adoption. In 1989, the televised sight of Romanian orphans warehoused in abysmal conditions broke many Western hearts provoking thousands to adopt from Romania. Many did take home institutionalized and often developmentally delayed children. Others fell under the sway of entrepreneurial locals who saw money to be made. As has been widely reported, by 1991 Romanian adoption “facilitators” were soliciting children directly from birth families in hospitals, on the street, in poor neighborhoods, even in their homes, sometimes haggling over prices while shocked Westerners stood by. In response, Romania shut its doors to international adoption, reopening for reform, and then closing again when corruption returned to re-open only to Romanian citizens living abroad. Similarly, in 2008, Guatemala closed its doors to adoption to try to root out systemic corruption. Overall, these are tragic results for children who legitimately do need safe forever families.

While the motivation for the adoptive parents may have been sincere in countries like Romania and Guatemala, US legislators continued to scrutinize other countries’ practices in determining a child’s “orphan status” and termination of birth parental rights. And rightfully so. All too often US and European agencies have been “finding” children for their consumers by contracting directly with orphanages, maternity homes, hospitals or foreign lawyers abroad who are unsupervised by their respective governments. At Nightlight, we work hard to vet our foreign partners along with the United States Embassy in those countries to ensure we are placing children who may never have a chance to find a family in their native country.

Post adoption reporting is one of many ways in which the US government has worked with foreign governments to assure legal and ethical adoption practices. Furthermore, the reports are a tool in which US citizens and our government ensure children have not been trafficked, sold or rehomed without anyone’s knowledge. Keep in mind that the cost of post adoption reporting should be merely to cover worker fees, translations and shipping when original reports are required. One of the most important items to report is that the adoptee has obtained US citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. The US Department of State website states:

The Department strongly urges all adoptive parents to take these obligations seriously and comply with post-adoption and post-placement requirements in a timely manner. Failure to do so may put at risk the ability of future U.S. families and foreign children to be matched. Your cooperation will contribute to the country of origin’s history of positive experiences with U.S. citizen adoptive parents. 

 Post-adoption reports provide an important opportunity for the adoptive parents and the child to discuss the progress of the adoption. They may also provide assurances to political leaders and adoption officials in the child’s country of origin that intercountry adoption was indeed in the child’s best interest.

 

Nightlight works in countries who are open to placing children with US families as a last resort for placement. This may look different in many countries. For instance, in disaster-torn countries like Haiti, there is little ability for domestic adoption thus creating a humanitarian effort for children of all ages. However, in Colombia, domestic adoption is prevalent and growing for children who have been detained into the child welfare system due to neglect and/or abuse. Only children who have not been placed successfully in-country over time are able to be adopted outside of Colombia.

We encourage our adoptive families to utilize post adoption reporting as a resource for their adopted child and family. Many families experience little to no transitional issues and may feel post adoption reporting to be invasive and unnecessary. However, adoption is a lifelong journey for adoptees. Post adoption social workers can provide insight and connection to the adoptee that is outside of the family unit. We also realize that social worker visits may be triggering to some adoptees and work with families to prepare the child and work toward a positive experience for the family. While home visits are required by most countries, visits can start in parks or restaurants to gain trust and build relationships between workers and adoptees. Ultimately, it’s important that adoptees feel they have a network of people in the adoption realm that can support their journey through their lives.

 

For more information on post adoption resources, visit our Post Adoption Connection Center

Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism (2010.) Capsule history of international adoption.

Seabrook, John. (2010.) New York Times. The Last Babylift: Adopting a child in Haiti.

The Adoption History Project (2012.) Timeline of adoption history.

US Department of State (n.d.) What to expect after adoption.

US Department of State (n.d.) FAQ: Child Citizenship Act of 2000

Love Language Within the World of Trauma

 

Love languages and the knowledge of different ways to communicate love have gradually increased in popularity over the past few years. It can be especially important for children who have experienced trauma to be able to receive love in a way that they understand and can receive without fear. This can be particularly complicated when the child you are caring for may potentially have a love language that was abused through traumatic memories. Children who have experienced abuse or neglect may react differently to love languages that are spoken by their foster or parents through adoption. Here are some things to keep in mind for each love language with some alternatives that may feel more secure for a child who has experienced abuse in an area where they have a predominate love language.

As an overall reminder, young children between 0-6 rarely have a set love language and need each language to fill their bucket until a clear preference starts to show as their personality develops. This is the recommended starting point for all children and youth of all ages when they first come into your home, even the 17 year olds. Children who experienced trauma at a young age may have never had a consistent or attentive caregiver. It will be important to communicate each language consistently while you are bonding, and well after they begin to trust you and push boundaries. It may feel as if you are starting with an infant and working your way up, but this is a good sign. With safety and connection in place, often their language will develop into one or two predominate preferences. This can take years, or happen quickly depending on the child and their past experiences. If your child is rejecting certain languages, do not assume that they do not receive love that way. It is possibly a sign that they were extremely hurt before in that area, and they need extra care, attention, and patience before they will feel comfortable letting anyone touch, affirm, help, give gifts to them or spending one on one time with them again.

Physical Touch. This language has a lot of capacity for abuse, especially for children who were either neglected and left alone for significant amounts of time, or those who were physically hurt by their parents. Often kids experience both, which can make a child crave physical touch while at the same time being frightened of it and left struggling to relax when they are receiving physical contact. The goal then becomes safe touch and a lot of patience. We recommend looking through handheld therapeutic acupressure tools and helping your child pick one or two they may like to try. If deep pressure does not appeal to them they may prefer something like a paint brush or using a soft brush to make predictable circles on their arm as they relax. You may even introduce cuddling during a movie where there can be a pillow as a barrier. This provides enough felt safety while still meeting their needs. You may also want to consider a pet like a cat, dog or rabbit for some children who can cuddle something that has not caused physical harm to them in the past and keep your own touches to their shoulder or arm and only for specific purposes like when you are teaching them to cook or a sport. Be especially cautious with situations where family members may be requesting good bye hugs, as forced contact may be uncomfortable and feel unsafe for children and youth. Eventually, your child will feel more comfortable letting their guard down around specific caregivers and may request a lot of physical contact or even seem extremely needy in this area. This is a great sign! Be patient, they are catching up for lost time. Many parents intentionally will rock much older children as a reminder of the contact they should have received in infancy, but missed out on.

Words of Affirmation: Children who prefer verbal affirmation to receive love may have come from emotionally and verbally abusive homes where they were told they were stupid, selfish, or screamed obscenities at. This is particularly destructive to their self-esteem, as they can easily develop the belief that they are a bad child, unlovable, or a waste of space. Grand statements of “you are amazing” will feel fake to children who have a damaged self-esteem. Instead we recommend starting with a softer approach. When you are around your child, try pointing out exactly what they are doing, just notice it. For instance, if you are with a child who is playing with Legos, let them lead and avoid asking questions but make comments about what they are doing and mix those comments with gentle compliments. “I see you are building a ship there” “you are making your ship blue” “you are great at building Legos” “I love how gently you play with your toys”. Pick a time of the day where you can focus on using these types of statements and compliments, even 5 minutes a day. This will help with bonding while also showing them that they are seen and heard. Eventually they will become more receptive to hearing compliments to you outside of that concentrated time of play. You may be surprised at how many affirmations that it can take to start making a dent in the damage that was done before they came to your home, but it is well worth the effort. This is also important with youth and older teens, but they may be more aware that you are choosing specific times to concentrate on this, so it will need to be broken up throughout the day.

Quality Time: Is your child stuck to you like a little barnacle and afraid to be alone? They may have missed out on a lot of quality time as they moved home to home in foster homes with a ton of kids, group homes, or orphanages. Often these group settings have few caregiver and a lot of kids who need care, so a healthy need for quality time and attention becomes a fear that they will not have their needs met if they are ever left alone. Usually parents underestimate the amount of concentrated quality time that a child needs to fill their bucket, 15 minutes a day per parent. For these kids, schedule that time in and make it a priority that you will sit down with them to play for 15 minutes, even if you need to use a timer. Put your phone and other distractions away and let them lead the play, comment on what they are doing, affirm them, go along with their goofy antics. That consistent 15 minutes a day will have a bigger impact on them than you may realize. With it, they will be more open to you scheduling in your own self-care where you can step away for a mommy or daddy break and your own 15 minutes of rest. With patience and time their fears of not having their needs met will shift to trust.

Acts of Service: Neglect is one of the biggest factors for children who have experienced abuse in this particular love language. If your child is parentified, it is a good sign that this language is of particular importance to them. They may have had a parent who completely ignored their needs, and so they turned to meeting others needs and caring for them in the hopes that it would earn them love and safety so that their own needs could finally be met. They are likely to be particularly combative about anyone doing things for them, because their trust has been so damaged in this area. One of your first steps is to acknowledge all of the hard work that your child has done to care for those around them, because it is likely that their siblings and past caregivers took it for granted. Take time to do those extra touches that parents do for younger children, especially for older kids who can reasonably do these things on their own. Make homemade lunches for them, help clean their room when they aren’t looking, and sit next to them while they are working on their homework to offer assistance. They may not show that they appreciate this, but it speaks louder than you may believe. These are often the kids that don’t show their trauma, or get forgotten because they are so busy taking care of everyone else, and aren’t showing their need in an obvious way. In reality they need their love language spoken just as much, if not more than the kids that they were always taking care of.

Gifts: This language is consistently misunderstood in adults and children, so taking time to understand what that language is about is particularly important. Gifts as a love language is more about having something tangible to know that someone was thinking of you when you were not physically around, and that they care enough to listen and know what you like. This is not about the cost, it’s about the “I was thinking about you”. There is particular room for abuse of this love language as abusive caregivers may have used gifts as an apology for abuse, or even in grooming. In those situations, gifts that were supposed to be about “I care about you” were really about “I want something from you, and I know you like this”. This can be devastating to the psyche of a child who may come to believe that the only way they can receive love is to please their caregiver regardless of if that causes them physical and emotional harm. This also can create a lot of manipulative tendencies in children who are simply trying to get their needs met and feel loved.

Parents of children from hard places should focus on small gifts given consistently over time, and do not stop providing love this way when your child has messed up. This doesn’t have to cost anything, try picking a flower for them, painting a small rock, drawing a picture for them, or even taking them to the dollar store to pick their own gift out. You will want to avoid rewarding manipulation, and instead give these gifts when they are least expecting it and are entirely removed from difficult or good behaviors. The main goal is consistently speaking this language in small ways with no strings attached.

Children who have dealt with trauma often feel as if it is their fault. This causes a loss of self-esteem and eventually, the child may believe that they cannot be loved. Love languages are a way to show you care, you are there for them, and that they are loved. In the beginning, the child who does not believe they can be loved, will be hesitant with you and become potentially suspicious as to what you are doing. Don’t take it personally, be consistent, be patient, encourage self-esteem, and be emotionally and physically available for them. We recommend working with a reputable therapist if possible as you work through each love language, especially if you child finds a specific love language to be triggering.

Our favorite kids tool for speaking all of these love languages? Melissa & Doug Scratch Art Notes can be used for safe physical touch (helping kids learn to sketch things out, soft touches on the shoulder or sitting close by a child while you sketch together), Words of Affirmation (encouraging notes left all around the house or in lunch boxes) Quality time (drawing together), acts of service (little notes left behind after you helped do a chore they don’t always enjoy), and gifts (little drawings or gifting a card and scratcher for them to play with at school in their free time).

 

written by Natalie Burton & Deb Uber

 

Family Adoption Story: A Father’s Perspective

 

As Father’s Day approaches, we want to honor all dads, especially those who have opened their hearts and homes to adoption. When it comes to stories of parenting, fathers do not often take center stage. That is why we asked two adoptive fathers to share their experiences during and after adoption. Each faced unique struggles on their journey, but their success and words of encouragement are an important reminder of the power of a strong father.

Ryan, who was initially in our Mexico program but adopted from a dissolution, shares how experiencing hardship through his adopted daughter helped him to be more compassionate toward everyone around him.

“To me, adoption means opening your home, family, and yourself to offer love and support for a child that needs it. It’s is about putting your family and a child before yourself. I was always nervous about adoption. I feel like I barely knew what I was doing with the 2 kids I already had and I wasn’t sure if I was a good enough parent or person to handle a child that has been through the trauma that adoption brings. I still get the same feelings now at times, even 5 years into being an adoptive parent.

          “A big consideration is the cost of adoption. Adoption costs are expensive and they were very much a concern when we started looking more into adoption. We did some fundraising to help offset some of the costs. After adopting, we also took advantage of any and all adoption tax breaks that we qualified for. We were able to recoup a significant amount of the costs with just these two methods.

          “Since adopting, I have grown a lot as a parent and as a person. My daughter may have learned some things from me, but I think I have learned more from her. I have a much better understanding of how trauma affects people and I try to use it in my interactions with other people as well by trying to give people more grace because I don’t know what they have, or are currently, going through.

          “My advice to anyone wanting to adopt is to throw your expectations out the window because in my experience, expectations are nothing like reality when it comes to adoption. Some things are easier than you expected while other things are harder. If an adoptive parent is afraid he won’t be able to love a child who is not his biological child, I would say It definitely takes time and unconditional love. I don’t think any reasonable person would expect you to deeply love your adopted child when you first meet. I have found that attachment can be very hard, for both parent and child. Perseverance, patience, and communication have helped us when attachment wasn’t going well. As long as you continue to strengthen your relationship, love should come naturally.”

Joe, who adopted from Nigeria, discusses his faith as a guiding light through the ups and downs of adoption.

“From the time we started the adoption process to the time we finally brought our child home was five and a half years. The process was long and hard…. but unforgettable! We have learned that adoption is very much like a roller coaster, both in the process and in your emotions. For us, there were times we thought the process was moving along very smoothly, the never-ending paperwork was getting done and everything seems on schedule. But then, out of nowhere, something would happen and cause a delay. After a while, the pace would pick back up, sometimes even too fast! Up and down we would go.

 

“Our emotions would be on the same roller coaster as the process was. When things went great, we felt great. When things were delayed or doors were closed, we felt sad and hopeless. We have learned that this is just how the adoption process is. So, if you are going through that, you are right where you should be. You will have ups and downs, happiness and tears, excitement and fears, joy and anger. The memories of this journey will always be with you. And in the end, if you stick with it and don’t give up, you will have a precious child to share your life with, forever.

 

“For us, God specifically called us to adopt a child from Africa. We knew it was His calling. So whenever one of those delays or setbacks happened, we always reflected back on that calling. Did God still want us to adopt? Every time we asked Him, we got the confirmation to continue, despite the feeling of giving up. And we had good reason to feel that way! There were so many roadblocks and hiccups along the way. We had to switch countries from Uganda to Nigeria after a year and a half in the adoption process. We were officially matched with three children and almost matched with two or three others. We almost traveled to those countries twice. We were even matched with a child for a year, sending him letters and gifts, only to have it fail in the end. All those opportunities of adopting those children fell through, except the last one. The last child we were matched with worked out! We officially adopted our son in October of 2019 and the following year, in October of 2020, he came home!

 

“The adoption process is so complex and difficult to understand that we just need to trust those people that know what they are doing and trust in God that He will see it through.”

 

 

In these fathers’ accounts of the rewards and hardships of their adoption processes, the need for perseverance is a clear theme. Setbacks can be discouraging, and you may find that you have much room to grow once you are united with your adoptive child. This June, take time to appreciate the fathers in your life who give so much of themselves for their families.

 

co-written by Julie Conner & Casey Kutrip