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

Back to School for Adoptees With Childhood Trauma

Children who are adopted often come with an early history of trauma. Children with such a background can find the school setting difficult, which then affects their academic performance. Often this background of trauma can lead to such problems as sensory issues and being over or under stimulated; difficulty with controlling emotional responses (e.g., outbursts, anger); difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships with friends at school; little sense of boundaries; and a lack of appropriate trust and “felt” safety. Your child may be bright but at times uncooperative, easily distracted, and “hyper.” Do these symptoms sound like ADHD? Yes, they do. Often a child with such symptoms may be labeled as having ADHD, but the child may be reacting to triggers in the environment due to the child’s past experiences of abuse or neglect. Medication most likely will do little to alleviate the symptoms. Instead, other measures will be needed to help your child feel safe at school instead of out-of-control and afraid.

First, public school may not be the best option, especially if your child is newly arrived from another country. School can be a battleground for children who have limited English language skills. Your child will need to be nurtured in a safe environment before learning can begin. Children who have experienced trauma can be in a “flight or fight” mode, and they are operating in the lower brain where their emotions are working overtime. Without proper nurture and attachment, your child may have difficulty using the frontal cortex—the thinking part of the brain. If the child cannot move to the upper brain to perform school-work, your child will most likely underperform academically.

Some private schools may be appropriate. Often because of lack of funding, they do not have the resources for giving children the individualized attention and special services needed. However, if the atmosphere is calm and nurturing, the private school may be a good option, especially if your child is brighter, has a command of the English language, and does not struggle with serious learning disabilities.

If possible, home-school your child. While home-schooling is not an option for many parents, if at all possible, have your child home with you. Even a limited period of time can help your child do catch-up work while adjusting to being in a family.

If your child is in public school, the type of classroom your child is in can be critical for your child’s long-term well-being. If your newly adopted child is school-age, you will need to consider the child’s academic skills as well as your child’s emotional and social age. Of course, in a regular public school system, you cannot place your 11-year-old child whose English is wobbly into a first grade class. Your child should be placed in a grade close to the child’s age, and, as needed, provide the child with extra supports.

Children from the foster care system, who are not legally adopted, usually cannot be home-schooled. Therefore, how the child is treated in the public school system is even more critical. Your foster child may appear bright, certainly speaks and understand English, but the early trauma can still greatly affect school work. Special provisions may still need to be made even if your child appears “normal.”

Whether your child has newly arrived from the foster care system or was adopted years ago, you will most likely need to be an advocate for your child. Often children can become overwhelmed with the noise, expectations, and school schedule. If you feel your child is struggling—even if academically doing well—you need someone who can help you speak the language of school personnel to get the special services your child may need. Janie Dickens, an adoptive mother who understands the special considerations of adopted children ( Janie@passadvocacy.com),  provides consulting services with Nightlight through our Post Adoption Connection Center. You do not have to be in the post-adoption phase to reach out to her, as you may want to prepare yourself and your child’s school environment before your child arrives home. The first consultation is offered at no charge to Nightlight families.

Janie Dickens  of  Pass Advocacy can help you determine if your child may need academic and psychological testing, including an evaluation for any sensory issues or learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. These tests can be expensive if taken outside of the school but are offered at no cost to students in public schools. Again, you most likely will need to advocate for your child to receive such testing, and it may take several months before the assessments are administered.

For children without special educational needs but who have a history of trauma and need certain accommodations, a 504 Plan may be more appropriate. If your child has special educational needs, then your child may qualify for what is called an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). This article regarding children affected by trauma provides info about the 504 Plan and IEP as well as tips for helping your child during the school day.

Furthermore, be sure your child is well-fed and well-hydrated. Children need to eat regularly and take frequent water breaks. Many children eat very early in the morning, before the bus arrives, and then may wait four or more hours before having lunch. Other kids have lunch in the late morning and then must wait until school is out and the bus arrives home to eat again. That is entirely too much time for most children to go without food or a drink. For children who have a history of food-depravation, which includes most children adopted internationally and many from the foster-care system, such a time span can cause a calm child to be out-of-control.  It is essential these children have a substantial snack every two to three hours. In addition, they should have some water or diluted juices just as frequently. Without regular snacks, children are more likely to be frustrated, “hangry,” and behave more impulsively. Without sufficient hydration, our brains—and your child’s—can have a decreased cognitive function of up to ten percent.

Children need to have regular breaks to stretch and move throughout the day. One recess a day is probably not enough.

Many foster and adopted children struggle with anxiety due to not feeling safe or being overwhelmed by the teacher’s expectations. Teaching your children how to use the 4-7-8 breathing can help alleviate some of this anxiety. In addition, this type of breathing can help children—and adults—fall asleep more easily and reduce angry outbursts.

Another area in which parents have difficulty with their children is after school. Some kids come home exhausted and may need some downtime. This is not a time for videogames, unless your child can play for only 15 minutes. Your child will need a snack and perhaps play board games or engage in other quieter activities. Some may need a short nap.  On the other hand, some kids come home wired to run around and play outside. This is fine. Homework can wait. Trying to get tired or boundless energy kids to do their homework is fruitless. Let them play for an hour or so and then approach homework if they must do it.  There are matters more important than homework—creating family bonds.

 

written by

Laura Jean Beauvais, M.P.H., M.A., L.P.C. | Director of Counseling

Attachment Specialist I | Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner|  Counselor/Coach

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

Grieving the Loss of a Child After an Adoption Dissolution

 

 

 

For the last 10 years, I have worked with families who sought to dissolve their adoptions. When I tell other people about the work, they are astonished adoptive parents would place their child for adoption. Often desperate parents think about such a decision but then wait months to years to actually put anything into action. These are parents who often have saved and spent tens of thousands of dollars, traveled overseas, stayed in flimsy hotels, left other children behind –often for weeks at a time–to adopt a child in a desperate situation. Parents have said to me, “We both prayed about this adoption, felt it was God’s call on our lives to do this, and now we cannot parent this child. Did we not hear the voice of God?”

No one sets out to dissolve an adoption—just as no one sets out to enter marriage with the goal of divorcing. Yet there are circumstances that may lead to a dissolution of a marriage as well as to the dissolution of an adoption.

So where do adoptive couples go when they consider a dissolution? Finding literature on the topic is not easy. What agency wants to say to their clients, “If this does not work out, here is how we can help you end the adoption” Of course, agencies provide resources and counseling to help preserve the placement of a child. Likewise, churches provide pastoral counselor or other resources to help struggling couples reach a healthy marriage. Yet for those who do find themselves divorced, there is open support through such times. Yet, in the adoption or faith community, there is little to no support for those whose lives are so fragmented that they see no way out except to find another family for the child.

There are essentially two broad reasons for a dissolution: the family does not like the child or the child’s behavior is so destructive that anyone would have to find another place for the child. Of course, these reasons overlap.

For children and parents who have a difficult time attaching, the children can do well in the next home. What causes the parents and children not to attach? The first adoptive parents often get into a cycle with their child in which the child’s negative behavior leads to the parents’ shutting down. This is natural. Some of these children have experienced so much trauma that they give nothing back. A parent can pour an incredible amount of love and attention into the child, yet the child shows little response. Parents can only do this for so long.

Other times, the parents’ dismissive attachment style leads the child to act out and, in turn, the child then behaves even more poorly. Once the cycle is broken, the child can begin to heal from trauma and attach to a caregiver. Only then can the child’s negative emotions and behaviors begin to diminish.

The next typical scenario of children who are placed for adoption, is one in which the child’s behavior is dangerous and could lead to injury of others in the home. These adopted children usually need to be placed with well-experienced and trained foster parents.

Regardless of the reason, parents often delay making the decision to relinquish a child. Of course, this is a serious decision, and unlike a birth parent, who almost always place a child at birth, the point at which a parent makes the decision to place a child for adoption has no exact timeframe. With this in mind, the parents must also realize that the younger the child, the easier it is, in general, to find a new family for the child.

Parents often delay the placement of a child into a new home, knowing the embarrassment and shame they and their other children may face. How do you explain this to your neighbors, people at church, or your other kids? Just as people continue in a marriage for the same reasons, when there are clear sins and grounds for divorce.

When anyone experiences such an extreme loss of a child, there must be a healthy way to grieve. As with so many hurting people who have experienced loss, many do not talk about it. The more shame involved in a loss, the more people are prone to hide their grief. Because we as a society are given permission to end a job or a marriage, there are obvious resources to help cope with these losses or transitions. However, there is no “permission” to end a relationship with our own children. So special measures must be taken to grieve this loss.

Have people on your team. To expect everyone around you to agree with your decision, is hoping for the impossible. Share your burden with a few close family members and friends who are supportive. They may not understand all of your reasons, but they should be there for you.

Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. Making such a life-changing decision means you must grieve together. There may be ways you each could have parented the child differently yet recognize this is not about blaming each other—or even blaming the child. Make sure that you give each other time to talk about the topic. If one spouse finds it difficult to talk, set a time limit such as 30 minutes, four times a week.

Recognize that biological parents make the decision also to place their children in other homes, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. In adoption circles, we applaud birth mothers who place their babies for adoption. Most birth mothers are not teenagers but women in their 20s. They often make the decision because they have limited resources or it is not a good time in their lives to be parenting. We judge not but rather support such a woman for this decision.

Get some personal counseling. There are probably other losses in your life that compound the pain. Learn how you can grow through this.

Understand the reasons why you are dissolving the adoption. Everyone reaches capacity. If your spouse dies and you have three other children with medical needs, most likely the sibling group, whom you just adopted, would do better in a family that can provide the nurture they need. While this is an extreme example, the needs of the adopted children and the adoptive family all factor into an adoptive family ‘s “reaching capacity.” One mom said she had a personal history of trauma and the child triggered her own issues. Granted the child’s behavior was very negative at times. However, this is a mom who was able to share her own history with grace and demonstrated tenderness toward the child and his history as well.

Create what is called a story or a “narrative.” This story needs to make sense to you and give you a framework in which to tell yourself and others about your decision. Such a narrative will take time to develop.

Find an online support of others who have also placed a child for adoption.

Recognize that there will be what Denalee Chapman calls “trauma-verseries “ after the child leaves your home. Allow yourself to have many emotions and feelings. One such feeling is that the child will fail in the next home. While very few parents want the child to come back after such a circumstance, it is understandable how parents feel this way.

Talk with someone who understands what you have gone through. Carrie O’Toole provides such services through phone coaching and retreats. She has written a book, Relinquished, in which she tells her own story of placing her adopted son for adoption. Three other children from the same orphanage in Viet Nam, where her son had resided, also dissolved from their adoptions.

Recognize you could have been truly in the middle of God’s plan for your and the child’s life when you made the decision to adopt. Your bringing the child into your home is what can lead the child into another family. Many times I have seen children adopted by families who never could have adopted from a specific country due to the country’s restrictions or the next family’s own life circumstances. While none of us sign up to be the conduit to bring a child into another family, this may be part of your child’s life plan. Recognize that you were faithful to God’s call and you will continue to be in His will.

Once a child is placed, give the next family and your relinquished child space for at least at six months. If appropriate, send the child a letter or small gifts. Maintaining some level of openness allows the child know you still care. This balance of allowing the child to attach to the next family while having limited ties with you is a delicate balance that varies by each case. Counseling would be best for such decisions.

Laura Jean Beauvais is the Director of Counseling for Nightlight and provides services to families struggling with a variety of adoption –related issues.

Resources:

The Myth of the Forever Family: When Adoption Falls Apart

http://www.carrieotoole.com/author/lifecoach/

https://adoption.com/adoption-dissolution-from-a-mothers-view-part-one

 

Older Child and Sibling Adoption: A Good Fit For Your Family?

 

 

I have had the blessing along with my husband to have adopted 6 school aged children over the past 24 years. We knew we wanted children and as we had an active life style and both worked, we decided sibling, school-aged children made sense for our family. We enjoyed spending time with our friends who had children and as they were all school-aged, it made sense for us to adopt children in the same age range as our friends. That would ensure our children would have ‘readymade’ friends and our social group would remain the same. We also knew we wanted more than one child, so it made sense for us to pursue siblings.

We found life was much easier with siblings as they helped to entertain one another. Our children were attached and protective of one another, and because they were adopted altogether this helped them to focus on attaching to us, as their parents.

Another consideration when thinking of adopting an older child is that there are many siblings that are available for adoption. Adoption Agencies and child welfare organizations try to keep sibling children together.

We found there were many benefits of adopting siblings.

One of the most important benefits is that the children already have a bond with one another. Knowing that they have an attachment already makes it more likely that they will be able to form other attachments.

When entering the family, they will always have a buddy, someone to play with, someone who talks the same language and has shared similar experiences. If you are interested in more than one child, it truly makes sense to adopt siblings. Siblings often have a very close relationship with one another that can help them as they make the adjustment into your family. Typically one of the siblings adjusts or takes a leadership role and helps the other sibling or siblings along with their adjustment to the family.

It is less expensive to adopt siblings at the same time rather than at separate times. We adopted two sets of siblings. Our children all developed a close relationship with one another. However their relationships differ according to personality, mutual interests and distance from one another. They became siblings to one another through adoption as well as genetics.

My youngest daughter who is in her late twenties, shared with me that she was glad to have been adopted with her sister as there was someone who shared her same genetics and they would always have one another, particularly if there were any sort of medical issue. It does not take away from the relationship she has with her other siblings, it is just something special shared just between them

Interestingly, most people express the concern that an older child might struggle more with attachment, however, older children CAN attach. I’ve had people tell me an older child, “can’t attach!” That has always puzzled me, as that comment often comes from an individual who is happily married. Certainly that couple met at an ‘older’ age and then fell in love, forming a lasting attachment called marriage. Why is it so hard to consider adopting an older child?

Although attachment takes work at any age, our eldest daughter, at age 16, was absolutely the quickest of all our children to attach, as she truly wanted parents and believed that we would be able to give her what she wanted, a family who would love and care about her. I’m sure she did not account for the fact that with parents, come rules, but she accepted them. I felt at the time and still believe that rules were part of the process that let her know that we cared about her. We explained that we had rules in place, so that there were no surprises. We had our expectations and she knew what we expected from her. More importantly, we gave her unconditional love and acceptance. We acknowledged that she had a life prior to coming into our family and that was in part, what made her so special to us.

We went into our adoptions knowing a bit more about our children. All of our children came with very special gifts, unique to them. Their personalities were evident. I knew our eldest was very smart and wanted to study science and math. I knew our son was not a great student, but loved building things and was very creative. Two of our children were very athletic and enjoyed playing soccer. It helped us to build a relationship fairly quickly as we had a good idea of each child’ likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. We were able to go into their adoptions already having a bond through our shared interests.

We found there were many more benefits of beginning parenting with older children. Our children were toilet trained, slept through the night and could eat the same food we ate. They were able to go to the beach, go hiking or sailing without much planning. We took a lot of road trips and they were good about packing up their clothes and toys, and enjoyed listening to classical books on tape, playing road games and exploring the country. We never could have gone on our many family adventures if we had adopted babies. As my husband and I both worked, it was also helpful that our children were in school. We were able to adjust our schedules around school hours and holidays. However, had we adopted a baby, it would have been far more challenging.

Our sons joined our family after they visited our family through one of the nightlight summer hosting programs. We had the experience of having them in our home for several weeks, realizing during that time, that we also enjoyed parenting boys (after having successfully parented four girls). Hosting gave us the opportunity to see what it was like to have a boy in our home. Hosting is a fantastic way to have an older child in your home for a period of two to six weeks, allowing both you to experience what it might be like to add that child to your family. It also gives the child an idea about what it might be like to join your family or a similar family. As a single children without biological siblings, our sons both appreciated coming into a family where they would have several siblings.

I certainly would encourage any parents who might be open to adopting an older child or siblings to consider the many amazing older children and siblings who are waiting eagerly for a family to call their own. In our family we refer to our adoptions as part of our family adventures. Could you be that family willing to take that exciting adventure of adopting an older child or sibling children?

 

–by Rhonda Jarema

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

Summer Activities That Promote Attachment

 

 

Summertime can mean more time for your child to say, “I’m bored,” and for you to feel frustrated with the lack of structure. Or summer can be a time for you to have greater opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. If one parent is home during the summer, there may be ample time to partake in lots of activities that promote attachment. If both parents work, there is usually more free time afterhours without the demands of homework, sports and other practices.

 

Why Increase Attachment with Your Children:

As your attachment grows with your children, you truly will begin to enjoy them more. The more you “like” your children, it is much more likely your children, in turn, will be more cooperative. Attachment forms the basis of all healthy relationships starting with the parent-child bond, which then prepares the child for the next real attachment in adult life: the child’s future spouse. In turn, children who have secure attachments are more happily married and then form  secure attachments with their children. Of course, we need healthy relationships with siblings, other relatives, and friends. However, there are only two true attachments: caretaker with child and romantic partners with each other.

Well-attached children can control their emotions and engage in give and take activities. Parenting such children is obviously more pleasant. Regardless if your child was born to you under optimal conditions or if your child came from a neglectful or abusive background, attachment-enhancing parenting takes time and effort. It can be downright exhausting at times.  If you are going to have a summer filled with attachment-enriching activities, this will also require some intentional planning as well “being in the moment” with each child.

 

What to Include in the Activities: In every activity that you do with your child, there should be four components as suggested in Theraplay ®:

 

  • Structure: This means the activity is organized and you, as the parent, are setting limits. You are also directing the activity in a cooperative way with your child. It is not a free-for-all for your child, yet your child can make suggestions and have choices as to what they can do. Let’s say you are in the water with your child, you can play such games as dunking your head underwater and coming up and touching noses. Although you are in control, your child can then suggest that you put your hands under water and bring them and clap them with each other. During snack or lunchtime at the pool, you can feed each other a few pretzels. So even in settings, such as being at the park, your child can have plenty of time to freely run-around, but also you will take time to personally engage with each child or your children in a group activity.
  • Engagement: You are participating with your child in the activity. If you are at the pool with your child, there can be plenty of time for playing with friends and jumping off the diving board, while you are cheering your child on. For a few minutes, while at the pool each day, make time to engage intentionally with your child.
  • Nurture: Caring for your child in a sensitive and attuned manner helps your child calm down. During snack or lunchtime at the pool, you can feed each other a few pretzels. As you feed your child and vice versa, you are also providing structure in that you select the food you will feed each other and your child knows what to expect. Of course, as you feed your child, you are also engaged with the child and looking into the child’s eyes. If, for example, you find a crumb on your child’s face, gently stroke your child’s face, as you notice his eyes, and brush the crumb off.
  • Challenge: As you engage in activities with your child, you want to realistically give your child more opportunity for him to do better than the last time. You would not expect your four-year-old child to keep his head underwater for 30 seconds the first time at the pool, but you could challenge your child to keep your heads under water for three seconds and then touching noses when your heads bob up.

High Energy Activities:

If your kids are typical, once they are outside, they will want to go full-steam ahead and get lots of running around time. This can be a great release of energy. Plus, your kids really need to use their large muscles. The swinging, bouncing, and climbing provides your child a full sensory experience as well. Yet such strong movement for extended periods of time, tends to wind up children, causing them to become dysregulated (meaning mood swings, being agitated, and feeling out of control). Yet, even when your child engages in movement activities, provide structure that allows your child to have varied activities as well as some down time. Calming your child down can usually be accomplished with set times for snacks and rest. Usually kids will stop to get a drink and eat something substantive.

Stay tuned for another blog with ideas for Down Time and Special Activities

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

In the Classroom: Acknowledging Foster and Adopted Children

 

 

As parents of six children, all school aged at adoption, we realized almost immediately, that adoption would need to be addressed in the classroom. We have been very involved in our children’s education, so have dealt with a lot of teachers! For the most part, we have been blessed to have amazing, nurturing and involved teachers, who truly wanted the best for our children. However, even the best teacher, may not be aware of how to be sensitive to the issues our children may encounter with some of the material presented in the classroom.

This week, I received an email from the PTA President, who’d requested the 5th grade parents to send in their children’s baby photos for the school yearbook. It brought up such sadness for me, as I thought about the children in the 5th grade at our school and others throughout the country, that would receive this assignment or others that request information or photos from early childhood. None of my children have a single photo of them as a baby or toddler.  Our youngest son looks at the early photos I took of him when he was six and refers to them as when he ‘was a baby.’ I sent a request to the PTA President to consider eliminating baby pictures from the yearbook as it highlights those children from foster care or international adoption who are unlikely to have those special photos. I was ignored, so I had to call in to the school principal.

There are a few school assignments through the years that are used to talk about genetics, family trees or a lifeline. I remember the second grade assignment to make a lifeline of major events for each year of the child’s life. I called the teacher and reminded her that my child and another child in the class that was in the foster care system, might not feel comfortable having their lives up on the wall for open house and all to see! The teacher began to cry and was very apologetic, offering to immediately cancel the assignment.

One of my daughters did the genetics assignment in school, ignoring the fact she was adopted, and identified her brown eyes coming from me and her blonde hair coming from her dad’s side of the family! I thought it was interesting that she did not want to make her story part of the assignment. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed by her adoption, or wanted to pretend her early years with her biological family did not exist. It was just that her adoption and anything related to it, even the color of her eyes, is her business, and she chose not to share her personal story in a school assignment with her peers in the classroom.

It is important that as parents, we encourage our children to feel comfortable sharing the parts of their story that they choose to share. School assignments need to include all of the students and include them in a safe, positive manner. At the beginning of each school year, I go to the school prior to the first day, introduce myself to my child’s teacher and share that my child was adopted and had some difficult years. I suggest that my child’s story is his or her own, and that we encourage sharing only if the child chooses.  Assignments need to be sensitive to that child’s history or lack of photos, etc. recognizing that for a child from Foster Care or Adoption, their story will be far different than other children in the classroom and may not be appropriate for sharing. I also provide a wonderful article from the U.S. Department of Education, “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” http://qic-ag.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/QICAG-Education-Brochure-v041-final.pdf I’d encourage all parents to help pave the way for their child, by following these steps, meeting with the teacher prior to the school year, giving a bit of general history, strengths and challenges of your child, along with this article. It can only help your child to feel more comfortable in the classroom and hopefully avoid some of these challenges.

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.

Equipping Minds of All Ages and Abilities to Reach Their Full Potential

 

 

Autism Spectrum, Anxiety, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Gifted, Learning Challenges, ADD/ADHD, Traumatic Brain Injury, Memory,Comprehension, Down Syndrome, Processing Disorders, Dementia, Executive Functioning, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Communication Disorders, Trauma, Post Concussion Syndrome, Parkinsons, PANDAS, and Neurodevelopment Disorders

Equipping Minds to Reach Their Full Potential 

Join Dr. Carol Brown

FACEBOOK LIVE

NO CHARGE

February 6,13,20,27 – March 6,13,20,27

Wednesday’s 6:30-7:30 PM  EDT

Or Join In Person at Buck Run Baptist Church

1950 Leestown Road, Frankfort, KY

Sessions will be recorded and available to watch later on the Equipping Minds Youtube channel and Facebook page.

 

Host a group at your home, church, or school.We will be playing games to build cognitive, social, emotional, sensory, and motor skills.  These games are used to find the specific areas in which the brain struggles such as working memory, processing speed, perceptual reasoning, and comprehension. Parents, teachers, and therapists are implementing at home, in the classroom, and in their centers improving reading, math, writing, language, social skills, and behavior.

 

We will have 8 sessions to equip you to work with your own children.

 

What separates Equipping Minds from other programs is its holistic approach. The Equipping Minds program uses nutritional therapy, primitive reflex exercises, sound therapy, vestibular therapy, and vision exercises in addition to Equipping Minds cognitive exercises.

 

Scientists are excited about your brain’s abilities to keep growing, learning, changing,and healing, ALL THROUGH LIFE! Equipping Minds will give you the practical exercises and games to do just that. You will be equipped to build memory, processing, comprehension, language, social, and reasoning skills in learners of all ages and abilities. It is based on a biblical view of human development that believes the brain can change.

 

Equipping Minds also differs from other programs, in that, these brain strengthening exercises use what the student already knows. Equipping Minds ingeniously sets aside academic skills allowing us to get to the foundational roots and cognitive functions, quickly and accurately. Working memory and processing speed are two of the most common weaknesses we see in students with learning challenges. They often get labeled with ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disorders when what they really need is a holistic approach to address the neurodevelopmental and cognitive foundations.

 

I am excited to see how God will use this course. Please share with those you feel would benefit.

 

Blessings,

Carol 

Dr. Carol Brown has over 35 years of experience as a principal, teacher, cognitive developmental therapist, social worker, reading and learning specialist, speaker, HSLDA special needs consultant, and mother.  Carol has completed her Doctor of Education (Ed.D) from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She received her M.A. in Social Services from Southwestern Seminary and B.A. in Rehabilitation Counseling from Marshall University. She is a contributing author in the book, Neuroscience and Christian Formation, Human Development: Equipping Minds with Cognitive Development , and the Equipping Minds Cognitive Development Curriculum. 

She has served as a learning specialist, teacher, principal, and head of school  in classical Christian schools in North Carolina, Georgia, Northern Virginia, and Lyon, France. Carol trains public, private, and homeschool educators in the Equipping Minds Cognitive Development Curriculum which she created. She has conducted professional development workshops for Kentucky Association of School Councils (KASC), Toyota, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Kentucky Parks and Recreation, Kentucky Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Centre College,Society of Professors in Christian Education (SPCE), National Alliance on Mental Illness ( NAMI),  homeschool conferences, and civic organizations.