Adoptive mother having a heart-to-heart chat with her adopted sonIt’s a beautiful experience when God answers your prayers and brings a child into your family. If you’ve adopted an older child, you must be prepared for the adjustments your child will go through when they join your family. You may wonder how you can help your older adopted child adjust. Here are suggestions that will help you.

Understand Normal Behavior Issues

It’s not uncommon for older adopted kids to have certain behavioral issues. Here are some behaviors you may see in your adopted child:

  • Defiance: Your child may test you by breaking the rules or arguing with you. They want to know if you’re committed to them for the long haul. This behavior may test your patience, but it’s important to be kind but firm, assuring them of your love even when they display this behavior.
  • Withdrawn or depressed: An older adopted child may seem sad or not want to do activities. Assure them of your love and don’t force them to join in the activities.
  • Neediness: They may regress into non-age-appropriate behavior like baby talk or wanting to play with baby toys. They are struggling with their identity. Never correct them for this behavior, but gently help them move towards more age-appropriate activities and language.
  • Behavior problems: An older child who has experienced trauma or neglect may steal food, then hide it, or they may lie or blame another sibling for something they did. This behavior can be challenging, but stand your ground and continue to show them your love and commitment to them.

Your older child may be struggling with trusting you, especially if they came from a difficult family situation. They may feel insecure or afraid or get angry. Every child is different. It will take time for them to adjust to a loving, caring family. Pray for them and continue to show patience. Over time, your child will begin to see you are trustworthy.

Help Your Child Grieve

Although children who were adopted as infants will deal with their adoption throughout their lives, kids that are older when they’re adopted will have a different experience. If a child has experienced neglect or trauma, it can complicate their experiences. Studies show that all adopted kids grieve the loss of their biological family to some degree. As their adoptive parents, you can help your older child through the grieving process in a couple of ways.

  • Use appropriate adoption language: Use words like birth parents, biological sister, cousin or grandparents, or birth family. Speaking with appropriate adoption language shows respect and helps the child feel more positive about their adoption.
  • Talk with your child about adoption: Discuss adoption in your everyday conversations. Encourage your child to ask questions. If you’re unsure of the answer, reassure them that you will find the answer.

Older adopted children gain an understanding of their adoption over the years as they grow up. Open adoptions often help adopted kids work through their adoption easier because they stay in contact with their biological family.

Be Consistent

Be consistent with your rules, lifestyle, and discipline. Typically, older adopted kids come from homes where there was little to no consistency. Your child may be surprised that you follow through on rules, bedtimes, meals, or chores. It’s a totally new experience for them.
Keep your rules simple, be clear about your expectations. Be sure to be fair with them, so they don’t feel like you’re singling them out. Be sure your adopted child understands the consequences ahead of time. Give them praise when they do a good job and keep your promises.

Be There

Older adopted kids need to know you are there for them at all times. Encourage them to talk to you, even though they may say things that are upsetting at first.
Listen and ask questions about how they’re feeling about certain things. Don’t give them pat answers or try to direct the conversation. Allow them to vent when they need.
Your child may need to talk at odd times of the day or night. They may call from school and want to speak with you. Or your adopted child may be hungry at weird times of the day or want to wear certain clothes.
All of this behavior is normal. Your adopted child is checking in to see if you are still there and if you care for them like you promised you would. It’s hard for parents to watch them struggle, but it’s a necessary part of their adjustment.

Helping Your Child Adjust to a New Life

If you feel overwhelmed at first, don’t worry. Feeling this way is to be expected when you adopt an older child. Ask God to give you wisdom and patience for your child as they go through their many adjustments.
If you feel stuck, don’t be ashamed to ask for help from your adoption specialist, pastor, or counselor to get through the challenging adjustment period. Sometimes children have real issues that parents won’t be able to work through at home. If that’s the case, it’s beneficial to seek help from a counselor who is competent in adoption. An adoption-competent counselor is trained and experienced in helping children overcome their problems.

Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.

Written by Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.

Founder of Lifetime Adoption, adoptive mom, adoption expert, and Certified Open Adoption Practitioner (C.O.A.P).

Since 1986, adoption expert Mardie Caldwell has been dedicated to bringing couples and birth parents together in order to fulfill their dreams.

“Many years ago, I was also searching for a child to adopt. We didn’t know where or how to get started. Through research, determination, and a prayer, our dream of a family became reality. I started with a plan, a notebook, assistance from a caring adoption consultant and a lot of hard work; this was my family I was building. We had a few heartaches along the way, but the pain of not having children was worse!

Within weeks we had three different birth mothers choose us. We were overwhelmed and delighted. Many unsettling events would take place before our adoption would be finalized, many months later. Little did I know that God was training and aligning me for the adoption work I now do today. It is my goal to share with our families the methods and plans which succeed and do not succeed. I believe adoption should be affordable and can be a wonderful “pregnancy” for the adoptive couple.

I have also been on both sides of infertility with the loss of seven pregnancies and then conceiving by new technology, giving birth to a healthy daughter. I have experienced first-hand the emotional pain of infertility and believe my experience allows me to serve your needs better.

It is my hope that for you, the prospective parents, your desire for a child will be fulfilled soon.”

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