Learning the Attachment “Dance”

 

 

Attachment is the secure bond that is created initially between an infant and their caregiver. This attachment process will begin in utero with a child’s birthmother and then be formed again with other caregivers, specifically their adoptive parents. Children have the capacity to form several attachment relationships, the important thing is those are formed with adults who will remain consistently, and lovingly, in the child’s life. Even for children adopted in infancy, there is an element of loss that the child will feel when receiving new caregivers after their birthmother. In order to have healthy, intimate attachments later in life with family, friends, and spouses, an individual has to learn healthy attachment as a child.

 

This article discusses the styles, or ways, an infant attaches to a parent as well as the ways that a parent attaches to their child. Attachment is often called a dance, corresponding movements and counter-movements between both the child and parent. Both have to participate and move in order to make this a real dance. When the child is securely attached and the parent is securely attached, this dance moves as it is supposed to. Often times because of our own difficult childhoods and the experiences your child has had with caregivers in his life, one or both parties may not have the ability to attach in a healthy and secure way. Below is an outline of secure and insecure attachments and how those impact us as adults.

Attachment Styles – Children

There are four identified attachment styles in children that predict the way they attach to their caregiver. In observational experiments in children age 18 months, called The Strange Experiment, these four styles are demonstrated and can be matched with a corresponding attachment style in their caregiver. We will first examine the four styles in children to understand these attachment styles and how that impacts the child as an adult and their attachment style.

Secure

A child who is securely attached has a caregiver that consistently responds to the needs/cries of their child. This child regularly has their physical and emotional needs met and they are confident when they have a need (hungry, upset, tired, diaper change), crying will result in their needs being met.

Anxious – Avoidant

A child with anxious-avoidant attachment has a caregiver who does not respond when the infant is upset. The parent may shush their child to stop crying without meeting their needs (the reason for the crying in the first place). This child learns not to cry to get needs met and that they have to meet their needs themselves.

Anxious-Ambivalent

A child with anxious-ambivalent attachment has a caregiver who inconsistently responds when the infant is upset. This parent sometimes responds to the cries and needs of their child and other times does not. This can be for a variety of reasons, but some may be mental health issues or substance abuse in the parent. When the parent is in a good place, they respond well to their child, but they do not respond well when they are in a bad place. This child cries and is difficult to soothe in an effort to stay in the caregiver’s direct attention.

Disorganized

A child with disorganized attachment has a caregiver who is frightening/traumatic. This typically happens in situations where a child is in an abusive home. The person who is supposed to be their source of comfort when they have a need or are upset is also the person that is hurting them. The child has no clear strategy when upset and you will see very erratic behavior from them when they are upset.

Attachment Styles – Adults

It is important to understand the attachment style that we developed as children because this will directly impact our attachment relationship with our children. The duty to attach is not placed solely on a child’s attachment to you, but it is also your ability to attach to them. In studies done on attachment styles, 81% of the time a mother’s Adult Attachment Inventory (AAI) classification (listed below) predicted their classification as children. This shows a direct correlation with your childhood attachment style and your corresponding adult attachment style. When looking back through generations, 75% of the time the mother’s classification predicted their grandmother’s classification. Attachment styles can be passed down from caregiver to child to caregiver to child through a generation. You usually parent your children the way your parents parented you, good or bad. If that generational line of descendants are not securely attached, then they are passing on insecure attachment relationships to their children.

Secure

A secure adult is 1) able to give care, 2) able to receive care, 3) able to negotiate their needs, and 4) able to be autonomous. These skills are developed as infants/children in healthy attachment relationships with our caregivers. For example, if our cries were appropriately attended to, then we learned that when we speak a need, a loved one will meet that need and we can trust them to do so. If we learned that our needs are not met, then as adults we will not voice our needs or trust anyone will meet them if we do.

Avoidant – Dismissing

A dismissive adult is closed off emotionally. They are able to give physical care to a child (feed, clothe, bathe, etc.) but do not connect emotionally. They can be described as not a “huggy, touchy, or feely” person, as physical affection does not come naturally. These adults put energy/interest into objects/things rather than people.

Ambivalent – Entangled

An entangled adult can be described as intrusive with care and in relationships or they get emotionally close to someone very quickly. They do not have good and healthy boundaries in their relationships and can be seen as controlling or overbearing. They may carry anger or resentment toward their own parents that is unresolved as an adult.

Unresolved – Disorganized

A disorganized adult may engage in mental “checking out” behaviors/disassociation. They commonly have behavioral or emotional disorders or another mental health diagnosis. Their personal relationships are chaotic/confusing.

 

In the general population, among adults you will find that 60% are categorized as Secure, 18% Avoidant, 12% Ambivalent, and 10% Unresolved. Interestingly, among the foster/adoptive parent population, you will find that 15% are categorized as Secure, 40% Avoidant, 15% Ambivalent, and 30% Unresolved. There is a much higher percentage of Avoidant and Unresolved adults among foster/adoptive parents. Reasons for this could be that these adults grew up in homes where their parents did not connect/attach with them emotionally (Avoidant attachment style) or were abusive/unstable (Unresolved) and their attachment style corresponds to their parents (remember, 81% have the same attachment style as their parents.) These parents want to provide a different experience for a child that has been orphaned or placed for adoption, so they are drawn to serve and love this population of children. However, without intervention, these adoptive parents will struggle in attaching with their child, especially if their child has their own attachment insecurities, and perpetuate the cycle.

Intervention

Dr. Karyn Purvis says that we cannot take a child to a place of healing if we have not gone there ourselves. Even with children adopted at infancy, impacts of stress, substance use/abuse, or traumatic experiences in utero or during delivery will leave lasting impacts on a child in development and attachment. There are great resources to read and digest in the areas of child and adult attachment and impacts of trauma on the brain to children, especially in adoption. Three authors we highly recommend are:

 

If you would like to have an evaluation done of your adult attachment style, you can get an Adult Attachment Inventory (AAI) completed by a trained and licensed counselor or psychologist. One professional we recommend is Jim Harlow (http://www.jimharlowlpc.com/) but there are other counselors around Texas that can complete this evaluation. There are online inventories you can do, but the best results will be received by an in-person interview.

 

We encourage you to seek a path to healing for yourself if you grew up with a difficult childhood or relationship with either of your parents. Any impacts or wounds from your childhood will have lasting results that will be brought up in you as you become a parent. A child knows exactly how to find the right buttons to push in you, especially if your child has any struggles. The best thing you can do for your child is to seek healing for yourself. Our staff are here to support you and your path to healing. Everyone has some negative impacts from their childhood and openly admitting these will not disqualify you from adoption. We know counseling is used by the Lord to make you the best individual, spouse, and parent you can be and we encourage you to seek this as needed while you are adopting.

 

written by Heather McAnear, LBSW | Inquiry Specialist | Post Adoption Connection Center Coordinator 

Abounding Opportunities for Children with Down Syndrome

 

In case you didn’t know, October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. As a mother to a child with Down Syndrome it’s one of my favorite months as it gives me a good excuse to talk about my child to anyone who will listen! But every year at least one person asks me why we need an awareness month because, “Everyone knows about Down Syndrome” they claim. The truth is, while people know DS exists, most of the perceptions about people with DS and their lives are largely outdated and inaccurate. This is partially because the educational and social opportunities available for children like my son are growing and increasing every year in communities all across the world. These new opportunities help people with DS reach their full potential and bring a new sense of community among special needs families.

If you have a new child with Down Syndrome or are considering adopting a child with Down Syndrome you probably want to take advantage of these types of opportunities, but you may not know where to look for them. While every community is different and I can’t tell you exactly what’s in your area, there are some things that should be available no matter where you live and other programs that are common in most cities.

Therapies and special education are a HUGE part of life when you have a child with DS, and every child with DS is provided certain things through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Depending on your child’s age they will be provided services such as therapies (sometimes in-home or at school), play groups, pre-school, early intervention services, service coordinators, and employment services (for teens and adults). A good early interventionist or service coordinator can be extremely helpful in getting you connected to other services available in your state such as respite care funding, diaper programs (for older children), community support waivers, free medical equipment programs, and information about Medicaid eligibility. For more information about the IDEA, you can visit their official website here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/

Community is vitally important to everyone but especially for families and individuals with special needs. When you are not part of a community, it’s easy to feel so alone, like no one understands your life or your child. But when you get connected… It’s hard to describe the kind of instant connection you can have with someone when you realize that you both have a child with DS. Thankfully, most communities have some type of special needs family support, and the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) has over 375 local affiliates all over the US. These organizations can provide emotional support, advice, and socialization for the whole family! Our local Down Syndrome Association is very active and has multiple events every month. With opportunities like mothers’ night out, private events at the local children’s museum, summer camps, and the annual Buddy Walk… there really is something for everyone! Your child’s service coordinator or early interventionist can help get you connected to one of these associations, or you can check the NDSS website here: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/ . Another great community can be found in online groups. I’m a member of a special mom’s support group on Facebook which has been very helpful for me. Besides just the emotional support and information on local events, the ladies in the group offer amazing advice on everything from potty training kids with special needs, to toys, to which movie theaters are the most “sensory friendly”.

Before I had a child with Down Syndrome I had NO IDEA about all the local events and opportunities available to people with special needs. There are so many that it would take me weeks to compile an accurate list of events in just the upstate of SC, but here’s my quick list of popular other opportunities to check for in your area:

– County Rec camps and swim lessons for special needs individuals
– Special Needs day or Sensory Friendly day at your local children’s museum or zoo
– Sensory friendly events at your county library
– Date night or respite night at your local church
– Kid’s gyms or playgrounds with inclusive equipment for kids with all abilities
– Sensory friendly movie times at the movie theater

– “Wings for All” program at your local airport to help older child practice before they travel
– Sports teams, dance groups, and horseback riding programs that are inclusive
– Holiday events like egg hunts, parades, or Santa encounters that have special needs areas or times

The point is, opportunities abound if you know where to look for them. And if something doesn’t exist yet, maybe you can help start it! Almost every event or opportunity for our kids exists because of a parent and a community. A parent who said “my kid needs this” and a community who helped make it happen!

If you have a child with special needs, tell me what’s your favorite event or opportunity in your community? I love hearing new ideas and discovering new programs!

 

written by Jennifer P | Adoptive Momma

Spirit of Openness: How it Relates to Adoption

 

 

As an adoption agency, Nightlight Christian Adoptions deeply believes in the value of open adoption and the positive impact it has on all members of the adoption triad. One of the main questions that Nightlight social workers typically receive from inquiring prospective adoptive parents is about openness and the relationship they will have with their future child’s birth family. It is a topic that we often explore in depth with families throughout the process, starting at inquiry and spanning through to post-adoption. If the idea of openness is not explored and researched properly, culture (including movies and TV shows) may lead to feelings of fear and anxiety, especially since society does not portray many parts of adoption accurately or in a healthy way. Many prospective adoptive parents have walked a painful and difficult journey prior to beginning the adoption process with an agency or attorney, and fear may be a comfortable place to settle (as it is for most of us in so many areas of our lives) as the new path to parenthood is begun. As I continue to explore the concept of openness that will be unique to each adoption with prospective or current adoptive parents, I have really begun to shift encouraging both “open adoption” and a “spirit of openness.” The purpose in this is because a “spirit of openness” can be demonstrated within the adoption triad in every adoption (embryo, domestic, foster care, international), where the practical logistics of an open adoption may not – for various reasons.

Now what can this look like? This may look like the creation of a life book (maybe even beginning with the birth mother’s pregnancy journey), open and honest conversations with the child (and almost always his/her birth family), sharing pieces of a child’s tough story as appropriate, explaining openly and kindly to the child as to why they may not have contact or any knowledge about the child’s birth family, and addressing intricate identity questions as the child begins to understand the complex, unique, beautiful, and sometimes painful journey to their adoptive parents. One of Nightlight’s domestic adoptive parents told their son a story about his birth mother every day when he went down for a nap. Before 15 months of age, he knew her name and that she is another person in his life who loves him. Of course at that age, he cannot grasp what that entails; however, he will grow up always having a memory of her being someone important in his and his family’s life – and as appropriate and healthy, he can begin to understand all that entails. Logistically, this family has not had a visit with their child’s birth mother since he was born (a few years ago) due to the birth mother not desiring visits at this point of her journey of adoption (it is so critical to remember the journey experienced by birth parents and navigating that with the child’s). However, he will always understand that his parents not only want to share his story with him, but also his parents’ desire to love his birth mother and honor her role in his life by sharing about her openly and regularly. Birth (or genetic) parents may not always desire visits or even direct contact, and there is no question that adoptive parents may have a difficult time navigating that part of the child’s story. However, the honest and open discussions will allow for the child to ask questions as he or she feels necessary and help in the journey of bridging that gap in their story.

Even in open adoptions, there may not necessarily be a “spirit of openness.” There may be certain circumstances in a birth family’s (or adoptive parents’) life or adoption journey that may lead to hard conversations and complicated contact between members of the adoption triad. But even in those moments, the adoptive parents play a key role in shaping a child’s view of his or her birth family (and, in turn, a reflection of the child’s own personal identity as a part of the biological family). In the end, many adoptees may internalize how adoptive parents reflect on their birth family – as he or she always will have a connection to them that cannot be broken or ignored or glossed over. This lack of a spirit of openness can be displayed in very simple things that adoptive parents may not even realize, such as tone/attitude when discussing the behaviors of the birth family or fear or anxiety when preparing for visits, phone calls, letters, etc. Children pick up on the smallest attitudes and fears, especially when related to their adoption story. There is no doubt that this is a difficult balance to explore, but humility, honesty, forgiveness, and grace play major roles in the journey for the entire adoption triad.

Many times, the struggle with a spirit of openness comes from a place of fear (before, during, or after the adoption). However, our Heavenly Father does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Adoption is a complicated, messy, and beautiful journey for all members of the adoption triad, and a spirit of openness is going to further provide opportunities for exploration, development, and healing throughout the process for everyone. A spirit of openness about a child’s adoption and his or her birth family can always be attainable, even when an open adoption may not be (whether now or ever). In the end, the goal for all adoptive parents, birth parents, adoption professionals, etc. is whatever is in the best interest of the child.

 

written by Chelsea Tippins

How to Be An Adoption Advocate

 

Have you ever thought “I want to advocate for adoption but how can I do that if I am not called to actually adopt?” or “Am I really helping advocate for adoption if I am not adopting?” It is completely valid, acceptable and feasible to help advocate for adoption without adopting yourself and yes – you will be an immense help in advocating for adoption if you do so.

Support adoptive families

Whether you are supporting adoptive families through encouragement and prayers, financially, helping them prepare their home for when their child comes home, being a steady emotional support to them throughout their adoption process, or helping them with finding or obtaining resources that they need while completing their paperwork – support comes in many different ways and is incredibly valued and appreciated by adoptive parents.

Advocate for waiting children

Social media can be used as an incredible tool for advocating for children. Nightlight has a “Wednesday’s Child” every Wednesday that we share on social media. Simply clicking the “share” button from our Facebook page has led to many interested families being able to pursue waiting children.

Educate others through adoption-positive language

Many people do not realize there is such a thing as adoption-positive language. By modeling the appropriate ways to speak with adoptive families in regards to their children, you are educating the public on how to have an adoption-positive language. For example, instead of saying “is that your real child” or using terms like “birth parent” instead of “real parent”, “birth child” instead of “own child” or “waiting child” instead of “available child” all help educate others on how to speak in an adoption-positive way. Being an example of this language encourages positivity toward adoption and helps adoptive parents and children to feel safe and understood.

Educate your community about adoption

If you have biological children, discuss adoption with their teacher so that their teacher could consider assignments that could potentially be hurtful to students that they have whom are adopted. Ask your church if you can set up a display for Orphan Sunday in November. If you have a book club, a bible study etc. that you go to weekly, discuss different adoption stories to display the positivity of adoption.

Advocate for Changes in Adoption Laws

Whether you are advocating for adoptive parents to have an adoption leave when their children come home, advocating for birth mothers to have mandated counseling after the adoption takes place, or advocating for the adoption tax credit to stay in place – you are advocating for adoption in a major way. In order to advocate this way, you can contact your senator or representative as each member of the U.S. congress have contact information.

Donate

If you don’t know a specific family that is adopting that you can donate to, you can donate to places that provide grants and scholarships to families or to organizations who advocate for adoption or foster children who are in need of homes. Check out websites such as AdoptionBridge.org to view waiting families and support them financially as they seek to grow through adoption.

 

written by Jordyn Giorgi

Back to School: Tips for Adoption Friendly Teachers

 

With back to school dates on the horizon, it’s time to anticipate a new group of kids, and new challenges with helping little ones grow and learn. For parents who built their family through adoption, this also means deciding whether or not they will discuss an adoption story with their child’s teacher. While this decision is unique to each family, there are many ways that an adoption, and trauma informed teacher can make a significant difference in the lives of the children that join their classroom. Here are a few tips that will help children who were adopted thrive in any classroom setting.

Don’t let an adoption story create expectations about behavior- As an adoptive mother, I have worked with teachers who were knowledgeable (and empathetic) about trauma backgrounds, and those who had preconceived ideas about what it meant to have a “foster child” in their classroom. My children have responded very differently in those two environments. We had a teacher that spent time understanding our children’s history, and was passionate about helping them thrive in a classroom setting. While they were not in a situation that warranted an IEP, she came up with clever ideas to help them grow in confidence in her classroom, and because of that they thrived beautifully. She set the bar high, and gave us tools and terminology to communicate to future teachers so that they would continue to thrive in the future. She will never be forgotten. Heck, I plan to send her a yearly Christmas card and cookies or something. She was a huge blessing to us.

On the flip side we have worked with teachers that automatically assumed our children would be trouble-makers just because they heard the word ‘foster’. One thing you may learn about kids who have experience trauma, they are very observant about what is going on around them. It’s a safety mechanism to be very aware of their surroundings. It’s not so easy to hide your feelings as you may think, and if they know you expect them to misbehave, you might create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Honestly, it can be nerve wracking for parents to approach a new teacher about a trauma history or adoption story. Will you care? Will you help them and come alongside them in their journey to help their child thrive? Will this information create a stigma that will become a problem for them all year? Each child is unique; their adoption should not define them.

Be intentional about projects that may be geared towards traditional families Family tree projects are common in schools. It’s fun to discuss genetic roots as a teaching lesson for kids, but often children from non-traditional families feel uncomfortable with the spotlight being put on their story. Their peers may ask some honest, but tactless questions. Some of these projects may be impossible for them, and whether they participate or not, it will highlight that their story is different. Some children love being different, others don’t.

When creating projects, try to be mindful about how different families can be. Create expectations from the start that differences should be celebrated. We always buy The Family Book by Todd Parr each year for new teachers (they are still young so this works well). This is helpful for story time, and benefits both our kids, and other kids that may feel that their family doesn’t fit the traditional model. Each project can be created with room for differences, and not be so strongly based on genetics.

Their story is their own One of the first things I learned as a foster parent was that as soon as I mention the word adoption, a few questions will come up; “What’s their story?”, “Do they have issues?” “What happened to their real family?” Don’t even get me started on the word real

All of these questions are varying degrees of inappropriate, but they come almost automatically. People are wired to be curious, and since they can read someone’s adoption story online, why shouldn’t they be able to ask about this child’s story too? The problem is that people are constantly asking for a very significant, and painful story about a child right out of the gate. Often with the child right there, LISTENING. That child may want to keep that story private in the future, and adults should allow room for that decision to be made when possible.

Many adoptive parents are well trained to only share necessary information to certain people. They might also get annoyed by blunt questions that show how little you may know about the adoptive world. Remember, they are likely hearing questions like that more often than you realize. It gets old.

Here’s what you should know; Don’t use the term real family, ever. Everyone in adoption is real, the biological and adoptive people. Members from the birth family are spoken about with great kindness and care, at a minimum to prevent a child from feeling shame about where they came from. Often families have relationships with their child’s birth family, and consider them part of the family too. Also, not all types of adoption are the same. Children that were adopted internationally will have very different needs than children adopted domestically, or from the foster system. Try to learn a little bit about each type of adoption if you can.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions I know I may have implied that you shouldn’t ask questions, but really just be mindful of the questions you are asking. Good honest questions can set parents at ease. If they let you know their child was adopted, ask them if there is any terminology that they would prefer for you to use in your classroom, or anything they would like you to know to help their child thrive. Ask if they would be willing to share any necessary information about their child’s story, if it would become relevant in your classroom. If they see that you already are thoughtful with your questions, they will open up and talk to you.

Most importantly, know that you are an important part of this child’s story. You can make a huge difference in a child’s year, and sometimes life, simply by taking the time to learn a little about adoption, asking good questions, and creating an environment that is friendly to non-traditional families. The school system can feel complicated to navigate for parents sometimes, and intentional teachers truly leave a lasting mark in the hearts of the kids and families they are helping.

 

written by Deb Uber

Needs of Children Adopted Internationally

 

In International adoption, the term “special needs” encapsulates a wide variety of characteristics and diagnoses. Special needs not only includes those in wheelchairs, with missing limbs, etc.; it also includes those with learning difficulties or emotional and behavioral difficulties. Most children who join their family through adoption have some sort of special need, or at least may initially demonstrate a special need due to institutionalized living. When a prospective adoptive parent begins the adoption process, they will be asked to review a list of characteristics of the child they wish to adopt. This list is extensive and can be quite overwhelming. Unless a prospective adoptive parent has a background in the medical field, they may be unfamiliar with many of the listed diagnosis. The list includes familiar health issues like asthma and diabetes but also includes less known health issues like strabismus, raised angioma and nevuses. Nightlight recommends that prospective adoptive parents consult an international adoption doctor to decide what special needs their family is able to handle. When adopting internationally, it is important to establish a relationship with an international adoption clinic or physician. Once a family receives a referral of a specific child, the child’s medical reports should also be reviewed by an international doctor. Nightlight also recommends that once the child arrives home they visit an international adoption clinic.

 

A child in need of a family is likely not perfectly healthy. The child may have some behavior issues, be malnourished, have food insecurities, struggle with attachment, and possibly have infectious diseases or parasites. Living in congruent care does not leave a child unscarred, healthy, and without needs. My daughter was characterized as “healthy” in her referral and when you look at her she has all of her limbs and looks perfectly healthy but she has many invisible special needs that affect her daily living. Some examples of invisible special needs that may not be identified in an orphanage but are commonly diagnosed in children from hard places include: ADHD, sensory processing disorder (SPD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), anxiety, food hoarding, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

 

Special needs are also identified differently among international adoption country programs. For example, in Burkina Faso and Peru adopting a child over the age of 6 is considered “special needs,” while in Ukraine a child will not be entered on the international adoption registry until the age of 5. Some countries like Bulgaria have a list of waiting children who are in need of families. Many times, these children on a waiting list have more significant needs, are older or are part of a large sibling group. Depending on your family you may be able to meet the needs of these children. If so, please contact the program director of the country you’re interested in adopting from to get more information.

 

The characteristics of children living abroad who are in need of families are different now than they’ve been in the past. Infant adoptions are rare and typically the process takes much longer if an adoptive parent is not open to many special needs. However, making the decision to adopt a child with special needs must be something the whole family is comfortable with. Each family will need to determine what level of additional needs they are capable and comfortable accepting and are willing to provide services for their child. We recommend that you research and talk to an international adoption doctor to make the best choice for your family.

 

 

This post was republished with permission from Angela Simpson at MLJ Adoptions International.

Helpful Tips for Language Adaption

 

You may have heard the terms “ESL” and “ELL”.  ESL stands for English as a Second Language.  ELL means English Language Learners.  Most children adopted internationally enter into a family whose spoken and written language is English.  This means your adopted child is an English Language Learner.  If the child is learning English; however, still has access to his native language at home, then he or she will be an ESL learner – learning a new language while maintaining his original language.  It is important to know the difference when you are speaking to your child’s new school to ensure your child receives the best instruction.

Many people who consider adoption wonder how they will communicate with a child who speaks a different language.  This can cause anxiety before and after the child joins their family.  The ability a child has to learn a new language is phenomenal and it should be noted that a lot of information, instruction and emotion can be conveyed between you and your child through gestures, faces, pointing and touching as your child transitions.

Here are some ideas shared by language teachers, adoption professionals and adoptive parents that may be helpful to you!

  • Do not demand that your child speak but rather encourage them to use speech.
  • If you use sign language, be sure to use words to go along with the signs.
  • Name objects as you walk around your home.
  • Repeat heavily used words in many different ways. “Do you want to eat?” “Let’s go eat!” “Are you ready to eat?”  “I’m hungry, let’s eat.”
  • Other children are the best teachers so allow your newly adopted child to be around other children to help learn new words through play.
  • Allowing your child to watch you and him speak into a mirror will show him the motions his mouth should make to create certain sounds. This can be a fun game!
  • There are lots excellent educational videos showing a close up look of how the mouth forms to make different sounds.
  • Should your child have trouble with certain sounds, focus on those.
  • If your child says a word incorrectly, play a game and have them try again. It is important that you not repeat this game to the point of boredom or frustration.
  • Do not change grammatical structure to make learning easier for your child. For example: “Get ball.”
  • It is okay to keep using or learn to use your child’s favorite words in his first language. Using them interchangeably with the English word will not confuse or hamper their language development.
  • Learn and use some of your child’s native language. Most parents feel that mixing their language with a few words from the child’s language helps with bonding.
  • Expose your child to people who speak his or her language. Specifically, native speakers from his/her country.  It is okay to continue phone calls to people he/she knows in the country as long as it is a positive relationship.  Most times, these opportunities should be limited.
  • If your child insists on only watching videos in their first language, you may consider allowing this as a “treat” after practicing English or watching a program in English.
  • For older children who can read, allow them to watch a movie or TV show in English with their first language in subtitles. By doing this, he can see on the screen what the words mean that he is hearing.  It also forces him to read!
  • Do not be sad at your child’s loss of their first language, likewise do not celebrate mastery of their new language.
  • It is a normal stage of development for a child to reject their former language with a desire to be “American.”

Learning some basics of your child’s first language is important!  Many have noticed that children under age six expect their parents to speak their language. They do not understand the concept of a parent coming from another country where they may not speak their language. The child assumes that if that is their parent, they should speak their language and when that does not happen, issues can follow. Many of the issues new families experience are due to miscommunication. Being able to speak, even the basics, can make a huge difference to a newly adopted child! Younger children do not feel so isolated and an older child feels respected that his new family was willing to learn his language to help increase the child’s comfort level on joining into their family.  Be prepared, an older child may laugh when you mispronounce a word!

Here are some resources for learning your child’s language:

https://www.adoptlanguage.com/

http://crunchtimelanguage.com/

Here are some articles about language development in the internationally adopted child:

http://www.colorincolorado.org/article/language-and-older-adopted-child-understanding-second-language-learning

https://leader.pubs.asha.org/article.aspx?articleid=2289686

 

–Dana Poynter

Down Time & Special Activities for the Summer

 

Your child also needs some “down time” to become more regulated and calm.  Just as with movement activities, these quieter times include structure, engagement nurture, and challenge. So what are some downtime activities that promote connectivity with your child?

  • Eating and drinking together can be a bonding experience. You can look at each other while you eat, make pleasant conversation, and, as already noted, even have fun feeding each other.
  • If you are outdoors and your child is just eating a snack and is ready to get back on the playground, then spend about five minutes in some hand-clapping games while you are sitting.
  • Reading together provides an opportunity to ask your child about the characters in the book and what each character may be thinking. If there are parent figures, you can ask your child, “What is the Daddy doing here?” What are some other things daddies do with their children?” What do you like to do with your Daddy?
  • Putting together puzzles can challenge your child while you talk and create something together.
  • Playing board or card games—remember those?—allows for challenge and engagement with your child. Of course, you have other things to do, so encourage your children and their friends to play simple board and card games together. This can promote sharing, winning and losing, as well as cooperation.
  • When your child is resting, you may want to engage in body touching activities such as backrubs or just putting lotion on each other’s hands. When you do such activities, take notice of your child’s hands and count the freckles or other features, such as the nails. You can say, Phili, what cute little freckles you have; I can count three of them on your hand today. Tomorrow we will see if we can find more.” Encourage your child to also put lotion on your hands.

Screen Time is NOT Downtime:

A couple of times per day, you want to make sure your child has about 15-60 minutes of downtime—depending upon your child’s age and ability to have such low-activity. Playing on an Ipad , however, is NOT downtime. Yes, screen-time is definitely a break for you. And, let’s face it, every child is going to spend some time on their screens. So there is probably no need to feel guilty if your child spends less than one hour a day on electronic devices. However, the average child spends more than seven hours a day with these electronics. This amount of time is downright damaging. In addition, the games they play, no matter how innocent, can have an addictive nature and tap into the child’s brain’s pleasure center, increasing your child’s dopamine. Your child’s brain feels like it is getting a reward each time your child plays on the Ipad. So instead of getting pleasure from human interaction, your child gets pleasure from the online games. If that is not bad enough, research shows that the area of the brain where processing takes place, can shrink. A child from less than ideal circumstances already has more difficulty using their frontal lobe of the brain for such higher level functions such as planning and organizing. If this area of the brain is further compromised by the extensive use of video games, then your child can be further dysregulated—leading to angry outbursts, temper tantrums, and impulsive activities. In addition to the gray matter in the brain being compromised, the white matter in the brain is also compromised leading to problems in the connections in the brain. Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) can already have diminished brain function between the left and right brain hemispheres. Video games can further deteriorate this connectivity.

Initially, it is easy to have your child happily playing away on the Ipad while you get chores and other work done. However, there is a longer-term price to pay. For more information about the dramatic positive effects coming off of electronics can have for your child read https://drdunckley.com/2015/11/11/screentime-making-kids-moody-crazy-lazy/

 

And while we are discussing screen time, please put the phone away.  Even if you are not looking at it while your children are around, just the fact that your phone is out and within sight causes anxiety in children.  They know you could be interrupted any minute.  Somehow our parents and grandparents were able to go to the pool and beach without them.  Put yours away in a plastic Ziploc bag.

 

Special Activities for Special Kids:

 

Many of our adopted children who come from difficult places, have sensory and other issues that make it difficult for the child to engage. Attachment enhancing activities can still be done with your child’s special issues being considered. While I do not like to diagnose children, knowing what types of behaviors your child has (e.g., “My child is hyperactive at times and sometimes has difficulty paying attention.” instead of, “My child has ADHD,”) can help you gear activities with your child’s needs in mind.

For a child with attention and hyperactivity issues, try games such as “Mother May I.” Your child needs to focus on what is being said, (“Jump forward three times”) as well as actually following the instructions. For children who are newly adopted, this game can also reinforce listening to mom and obeying her as well as recognizing her as the “real” mom. The instructions can be playful and funny. Make your child laugh. You will too!

If your child has trouble sitting down, allow the child to have sensory gadgets to squeeze and hold while engaging in an activity. So while your child is being read to, let him hold one of these objects.  Some kids also need chewing toys as well.

For a child who tends to be anxious, any exercise that encourages breathing can be calming. You may want to listen to some muscle relaxation on YouTube such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  Calming music is also helpful if you can talk to your child about relaxing her body and helping her breathe slowly and deeply. If your child (and you) can actually do this five to ten minutes a day, twice a day, this can make a great impact on your child’s anxiety level.

To make these relaxation exercises more kid friendly, you can give your child a lemon and encourage her to squeeze the lemon enough to “make” lemonade. As your child squeezes the lemon, your child can also tighten different areas of the body, starting with the neck, chest, and working down to his toes.

If in the pool, you can blow bubbles for a certain period of time. Your child’s taking big breathes, holding her breath, and then exhaling is very calming and helps your child relax. Your child can blow while you count and then you can blow bubbles while your child counts.

To help your child feel more in control and to further reduce anxiety, let your child be a special hero who is able to conquer all sorts of “monsters.” Give your child a towel gently knotted like a cape and let your child play superhero around the pool. Make up the names of various monsters that your child can whack with a pool noodle. “I am going to whack the pretend boogie man who lives under my bed.” (Of course, if your child has never mentioned such fears, do not introduce the thought into your child’s head.)

For children prone to angry explosions, help them to recognize what their body feels like when they “blow up.”  Do not try to discuss the situation in the middle of  your child’s outburst. However, during a time when your child is calm, encourage your child to “explode” like a volcano in the water. He can jump out of the water and then growl. You can do this also. Laugh about your explosions. You can do this with waves in the ocean as they come over the child’s feet. Discuss how angry feelings can take over—just like ocean waves. Or you can make a volcano out of sand and fill it with water. Ask, “What does an ‘angry’ volcano do?” Let your child either have water spill over or perhaps destroy the volcano. If in the pool, have your child splash their arms in the water and make big splashes that represent anger. Then talk about what anger feels like. Then talk about the things that cause your child to feel angry. Share some of what presses your buttons as well. From there you can discuss things that the child can do when he is angry so that he does not feel like the hot lava coming down a volcano. You can ask your child if going to another room, talking with an adult, or holding a stuffed animal helps with angry feelings.

For children with disruptive behaviors, such as those who refuse to follow rules and who refuse to accept “no” for an answer, you can use a bottle of soda water as an illustration of what it is like to hold onto anger too long.  Talk with your child about the things that make a bottle of soda water bubble up and then explode when you open the bottle (e.g., shaking it, turning in upside down). Then talk about ways to open the bottle so that the soda does explode. Then have your child talk about ways that make his bubbles get very excited and ways that he can settle down those bubbles so he does not explode (e.g., punching a pillow, talking with mom, or reading a good book).

For children with annoying behaviors, such as repetitive motions, getting into others’ space, or making inappropriate sounds, you can play games of things that annoy people and ask your child what annoys him. For example, you can both hum loudly and talk about how humming can be very annoying. Make fun of yourself. You can eat noisily and slurp your coffee extra loudly. Then discuss how these noises can be funny but they can also be ver….y annoying. Then get your kiddos to do the same. You may also want to write down some of these behaviors on a beach ball (see below),  in which you put down other social skills  on the ball (e.g., “chew with mouth closed”) and have your child talk about ways do the right behavior instead of the annoying one.

If your child has obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors, you can place beans, seeds, or marbles in a bucket, and these can represent the OCD thought or behavior. If at the beach, you can put wet sand in a pail. You can say, “These beans/marbles/ beads/sand are what sometimes takes over your thoughts.” (Do not say to the child she has OCD.) Then have the child put her hands in the bucket and feel the OCD problem taking over her hands. Describe how easy it is to get buried in the thoughts and feelings. Now, you, the parent, are going to protect the child from these beads. Put your hands over your child’s hands so that the beads or other materials cannot touch your child. Another way to do this exercise is to put little toys in the beads or sand and tell your child the objects are the OCD. Then you will put your hands into the sand and help your child’s hands not to get “attacked” by the objects that represent OCD. You, as the parent, can remove the OCD objects.

While keeping the exercise “light,” and even have moments of silliness, let your child know you take her thoughts and feelings seriously. The idea is for you, the parent, not to be the enabler but truly be the protector of your child and to help your child control her thoughts so she does not engage in ritualized OCD behaviors.

Almost all children from difficult circumstances have experienced trauma. Some of this trauma is not remembered or was more subtle. Serious outward trauma may be played out or discussed over and over again by your child. Your child may feel at times that he is re-experiencing it. Other children avoid talking about the incident, no matter how safe they feel with you. Often these children will be clingy and won’t want you out of their sight.

You can make a special box for your child and put things in there that represents part of your child’s history. Your child can take these items out and talk about them. The story your child tells may not be about the specific trauma but about other events that took place. As your child becomes more comfortable, she may begin to share with you. Mellenthin,* recommends watching  “Boundin” –a short film on YouTube that shows a lamb who faces adversity (getting shaved each year). After watching the video, you can have your child get a puppet or stuffed animal to replay what happened and how the  little lamb (and your child) can bounce back.

You can have fun using  beach balls to address many other issues including expressing feelings.   Blow up a beach ball and on the ball , using a Sharpie pen, write as many feelings (e.g., sad, mad, glad, excited, disappointed) on it that your children can name. Then toss the ball. Whoever catches it selects the feeling closest to the right thumb. Have the child share what makes the child have that feeling. Of course, the adults who play also share their feelings. The rule should be that a new feeling is selected each time and each child has a turn. The game can be varied by hitting the ball with your heads, your thumbs, passing it like a volleyball punch, or hitting it with the feet or knees and then picking up with the hands.

A new ball can be blown up and on it you and your children can put on it social skills such as saying, “Thank you,” giving compliments, asking a question nicely, and staying in your own space. As noted above, you can also put down the opposite of annoying behaviors (e.g., quietly chew food).

The third ball can have coping skills on it, which may include deep breathing, doing jumping jacks, pushing the wall down, blowing bubbles, talking to someone, hitting a pillow. It is better if your children can be involved in coming up with their own coping strategies. Playing with the ball can be used to address other issues as well.**

Remember, you only have to get it right with your kids about 30% of the time to be a good and effective parent.  Also, the more playful you are, the more you will enjoy your kids, and, in turn, you will be creating fun summer memories.

 

* Play Therapy: Engaging and & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders, by Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S, 2018.

** This was developed by Robert Jason Grant and is called Feelings Beach Ball: from Play Based Interventions of Autism Spectrum disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities.

How to Manage and Complete Adoption Paperwork

 

When my wife and I meet new people, I love explaining what I do for work and the joy I get from helping guide families throughout their adoption process. I love sharing the adoption stories and testimonies of the families we work with, and how each have a personal and unique journey through adoption. For those looking to build their family through adoption, the process is indeed a journey; one that will be simultaneously life-giving and challenging. As with any journey, often times the hardest part is getting started.

 

I find this to be especially true with the families I work with as they begin to navigate the adoption paperwork stage of the process.  Adoption paperwork is a necessary and vital part of the adoption journey, but it can definitely feel overwhelming for families.  Even the most organized of couples tend to have a hard time keeping it all together! At Nightlight Christian Adoptions, we acknowledge the difficulty of this process, so we have compiled a few tips to help families manage, and ultimately complete, their adoption paperwork.

 

     1. Break Paperwork Down to Manageable Pieces

 

One of the biggest mistakes I see families make in the adoption paperwork phase is when they try to take on every form at once. This usually starts out with good intentions as the family is driven by their excitement to keep the ball rolling, but it is almost always met with them becoming overwhelmed. Instead, we recommend that families break their paperwork down into manageable pieces.

 

Breaking the paperwork down is a beneficial way to both organize forms and find peace of mind by putting your work into perspective. A helpful way to do this is to separate the paperwork into corresponding sections in a folder or binder. An example breakdown of this is as followed:

 

  • Agency Forms
  • Home Study Forms
  • Financial Forms
  • Dossier Forms
  • Education Forms, etc.

 

Another way to break down the paperwork requirements is to separate responsibilities between you and your spouse. You can designate who fills out each section of forms and come together on the forms that require both adoptive parents to complete. Regardless of one’s method, breaking down the paperwork into pieces helps families manage their work and prevents them from becoming overwhelmed with the process.

 

 

  1. Utilize Your Checklists

 

A helpful tool that every Nightlight office provides for families is a checklist for the supporting documents of each case stage.  Viewing the adoption paperwork broken down as a checklist allows a family to physically track their progress towards completing their required forms. We advise families to always keep these checklists handy, and to utilize their own created checklists if it helps them understand the process more tangibly. For families with children in the home, this is also a way to get them involved in the adoption process. One idea for families with little ones is to have a checklist of adoption paperwork on a whiteboard or poster board where they can help you place a sticker or draw a checkmark when and item is completed. This could be a fun way to have the whole family feel a part of the adoption process while giving you a visual of your progress.

 

  1. Make Copies of Everything You Complete

 

Often times I find that families become so focused on filling out and uploading/mailing their forms that they forget to make copies for their own records. This causes an issue later in the process when a document needs to be resent or referred to, only for the family to realize that they mailed or discarded their only copy. Several of the documents completed during the adoption paperwork phase will need to be referred to again in the process, and ensuring that your family has access to what you have already completed will save a lot of time and energy in the future.

 

Your family might choose to store everything online or through hard copies, but regardless of the method it is important to keep records of your paperwork throughout the entire adoption journey. For example, a family that is adopting internationally might think that they are finished with their paperwork once they have arrived back in the U.S. with their child. However, in reality they will need several of their documents in order to obtain the child’s social security number, U.S. Passport, and start the re-adoption process if applicable. So a good rule of thumb is to always back-up and keep record of every document you complete!

 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

 

This tip might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how frequently I hear from families who are hesitant to ask for help from their agency caseworker or adoption advisor. At Nightlight we are always willing to help walk our families through the process: from start to finish! This includes the paperwork phase, as we recognize the amount of work that is required and the confusion that comes with the process. From application, to home study, to dossier, to post adoption; whatever questions you might have regarding paperwork during your adoption journey, your Nightlight adoption advisor or caseworker is willing to help you find a solution.

So although paperwork is not the most exciting part of your adoption journey, it is something that is vital to the process. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the amount of forms and documents, utilize the tools at your disposal to organize and manage what needs to be completed. As always, Nightlight Christian Adoptions is here to see that your journey end with you welcoming your child into a loving home.

 

written by John Hewitt, M.Div.| Home Study Coordinator

Ways to Love a Birth Mom

All the chocolate has been consumed. All the flowers purchased and delivered. All the cards and kind messages relayed to loved ones. As February is drawing to an end, what better time to reflect on what it looks like to love others well in the coming year. As adoptive parents, you often have special people to love that would not have otherwise crossed your paths if it weren’t for adoption. Whether you are still waiting to meet your child’s birth mother or whether you’re walking through life with her already, here are some practical ways you can actively and genuinely love the women in your lives that made the sacrificial choice of adoption and, thus, have become a special part of your family.

  1. Pray. Pray daily for your child’s birth mother. Pray that she would grow in wisdom. Pray that she would know God’s presence and be comforted by His great love for her. Pray that she would be strengthened by His spirit and that any shame or guilt would be laid to rest through Christ’s love and fondness for her. Set aside a special time each day—maybe the hour your child was born or the hour you first met your child’s birth mother—to specifically and earnestly pray for her.
  2. Give. Give your time, especially. Give a listening ear. Give a photo when you promised to send one. Give a special gift on certain days throughout the year. Give validation where it is needed. Birth mothers experience a variety of different thoughts and emotions that are often hard for them to process and express. Validate her fears when they are expressed to you. Validate her sadness and grief. Validate her efforts to remain connected with your child. Validate her value and worth as an individual. Validate her gifts and talents as they become evident to you.
  3. Pay attention. Whether you already know your child’s birth mother or are just beginning to get to know her, take time to understand what makes her feel loved, valued, respected, and cherished. Does she respond well to words of affirmation or prefer receiving gifts? Does she enjoy spending quality time or appreciate acts of service? Be attentive to her needs as an individual and seek to meet them in notable ways. Write a note to her detailing what you love or value about her. Send a bouquet of flowers to her unexpectedly one day. Speak to her as a friend. Really pay attention to what she says and value the opportunity to learn from her.
  4. Do what you say you’re going to do. Birth mothers have often had people in their lives make promises that are left unfulfilled. You can imagine how wounding that can be over time. Overcommitting can often lead to even more heartbreak, grief, and rejection for birth mothers. That is why it is absolutely crucial to avoid overcommitting and only say what you’re actually willing to do. Let your yes be your yes, and your no be your no. If you say you’ll send pictures, send them as you promised. If you agreed to meet up before the birth, make time to meet her! If you told her you would write a letter a few times a year, make sure the letters make it to her.
  5. Empathize. Social researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, made an important distinction when saying that empathy fuels connection, whereas sympathy drives disconnection. Connection is always the goal—for adoptive parents, birth parents, and children. So, when listening to the stories, thoughts, or feelings of these courageous women, try focusing on empathizing—feeling with them rather feeling sorry for them. For more on the distinction Dr. Brown makes and why empathy holds so much more power when connecting with not just birth mothers, but also others with whom we interact each day, I would encourage you to watch this short video.