As an adoptive parent, there are unique challenges that may arise for you and your family. While dealing with adoption challenges may feel isolating, many of the emotions and issues you and your child face are normal and understandable.
Psychologists Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Allison Davis Maxon outline 7 core issues of adoption that are important to know to understand how to handle specific challenges that adopted children and their parents might face.
It’s always important to remember that while adoption is a joyous occasion for many, it always starts with loss. Adoptive children have not only lost their immediate family members, but their culture, knowledge of their background, and an extended network of people surrounding them.
If the loss of a specific person feels too difficult to tackle with a young child, begin focusing on it as a “feeling” rather than a physical event. Beginning with open and honest conversations about their past and making an effort to recognize that they have two equally “real” and valid moms is an important first step in dealing with loss.
Feelings of loss will never go away, but approaching your child with empathy and support will help them learn how to cope with these large feelings.
Feelings of abandonment by their biological mothers is a key component as to why adopted children may feel rejection. Because of the complex emotions this can bring out like sadness and anger, it is common for adopted children to have tantrums or act out. Knowing the reason behind these behavioral issues can help you learn how to cope with these instances.
Make sure your child knows that missing a birth parent or feeling rejected by their biological family isn’t something you take personally. If a child feels their adoptive parent will be upset by these feelings, they are more likely to bottle them up out of a fear of abandonment.
3. Shame and Guilt
Because children are often unable to realize that biological parents have complex and adult reasons for giving their child up, they often feel they did something bad or wrong that led to their adoption. Coming from the feelings of rejection, shame can be silent and personal for many children.
To help your child with these feelings, work to expose them and let them exist in the open. Guilt and shame often fester in darkness and quiet, so bringing them to light will help your child understand that these beliefs and feelings aren’t true.
Grief may present itself differently depending on a child’s temperament, situation, and age. Common expressions of grief can include not wanting to play, little excitement about life, fighting, or excessive shyness and worrying.
In order to help your child through their grief and recover from childhood trauma, try the technique of therapeutic parenting. This term describes pro-active parenting that is used to help a child recover from trauma and grief. Using the four tools of understanding, awareness, education, and acceptance, a parent can gain insight into a child’s feelings and triggers.
Watching and understanding your child’s play and imagination or having age-appropriate conversations about their feelings can be important first steps in helping your child heal.
In any child, it’s important to create a sense of past, present and future identity that they can rely on to understand themselves and the world around them. Because many adopted children have lost their past identity, it can be hard for them to understand themselves and where they fit.
To build a past identity create open conversations about your child’s biological family and their culture. By learning as much as possible about where they come from, you can begin to help them build a sense of self from their personal history.
Present identity often centers around family, so make sure your child knows they are a real and intrinsic part to your family. Play with them, include them in conversations about your own family, and welcome them into the family like any other child.
By focusing on the past and the present, you will be able to give your child a strong foundation to build their future identity around what they know about themselves and the world.
Because of feelings of rejection and abandonment, adopted children may have a hard time forming close relationships with their adoptive family or kids around them. Creating intimate relationships requires vulnerability, honesty, and openness from the children and their parents.
By initiating conversations and providing opportunities for your children to share when they are ready, you can help to show them how close relationships will help them. Don’t shy away from difficult topics and make sure that you demonstrate for your child healthy ways to form and keep close relationships.
7. Mastery and Control
After a process that can feel unexplainable to many adoptees, they may feel a loss of control in their lives. Questions of how they ended up in this specific family, especially since they have little to no choice in the adoption process. Feeling a sense of control over your life is important to feel stable, so adoptive families need to make sure their children feel a sense of power and control over their lives.
A child struggling post-adoption may seem to be in constant power struggles with their parents or attempt to dominate sibling or peer relationships. To work on these behaviors, parents must approach the issues with a firm but non-punitive attitude. Setting necessary boundaries and work to instill a sense of self-control and self-love will help your child to build healthy attachments and relationships with the world and people around them.
Adoption can be a difficult transition for parents and children alike. Understanding that many behavioral issues come from a place of loss or trauma can allow you to approach these challenges with empathy and support. Taking the time to show your child that they are safe, stable, and loved will set you and your child up for success throughout their lives.
This article was written exclusively for Love What Matters by Anna Steingruber. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
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