From one adoptive parent to another I am no professional and so my perspective is as a parent, same as you. It is easy to fall into thinking that parenting your adopted children with the same ways of thinking and parenting other children should have similar effects, but in my experience and from what I have learned from others it absolutely does not.
I want to touch on just three shifts that I think will help adoptive parents and their children in practical everyday experience.
The first shift is to add visual language. Since our adopted children were not native English speakers, one of the first glaring need was that of basic communication! Our youngest is deaf and hears now with a cochlear implant but still struggles with English. As the old saying goes, “if I had known then what I know now. . .” well, now I recommend adding visual language in your first year home (regardless of hearing status) and preparing ahead of time to do so. While it seems like an extra step in the hurry to get them fluent in English, the extra effort will pay off. If your child has any language delay or is switching primary languages I strongly recommend everyone in the household taking time to learn the basics of a visual (sign) language prior to bringing your child home and continuing to learn along with him/her. Even if there is no language delay or language switch, I think adding a sign language component is a fun way to do something as a family, to have a bit of a secret code that not everyone will know (but some will – and that’s fun too!). Plus, when a child can sign to communicate at times when they are too overwhelmed to use their voice it can be a huge way to stave off frustration.
Is is worth the effort and time to put into learning to sign? In the long run, a second language (or third) will only help. ASL is a beautiful language that with fluency can open doors of opportunity.
We learned (and later saw it in our own children) that children who are moved away from their native language (as was ours with an international adoption) typically lose the native language gains faster than the gains they acquire in their new language. As language builds upon language, the basics of a visual language can be learned rapidly and serve as a bridge to a more complex spoken language (and a great start to learning sign language) Language builds upon language. And building a new relationship with understanding, trust and attachment requires communication.
The whole family can begin to learn the sign language alphabet and some basic words and phrases while waiting for adoption finalization and continue learning together once the new child/children are home. Children are very visual and pick it up easily.
Signing Time videos are a great child friendly start which adults can learn from, too. Lifeprint.com has a free video course which is terrific for parents.
The second shift I recommend is in the perspective toward stuff. While it may be tempting for you and all your friends and relatives to shower your new little darling with tons of new stuff, it is better to temper the urge and keep it simple.
Let friends and relatives know in the most tactful way possible that you have chosen to follow the advice not to overwhelm your child with gifts, but to focus more on personal relationships. An alternative for those who insist on giving something would be to suggest gift cards that you can use at a later time for your child’s needs. Or perhaps a family membership to a local zoo. (Along the same line is to avoid overwhelming them with crowds of people initially and keep it to smaller get-togethers spaced out over time.)
Finally, the third and most counter-intuitive big shift adoptive parents can make is in thinking about discipline.
Because of their backgrounds the typical rewards and consequences not only may not have the desired effects but may totally backfire! Trauma and neglect plus a host of other possible issues can predispose your child to think in a way that defies logic. Suffice it to say that instead of connecting the dots (Behavior X leads to Consequence Y, therefore if I do not like Y, I must not do X) responses to consequences and rewards seem often to result in reinforcing undesired behavior and/or thinking.
If you find that typical parenting techniques frequently leave you wondering what just happened over a period of time, I recommend seeking out knowledgeable, professional help.
Be proactive in these three shifts: adding a visual language bridge; prioritizing relationships building over stuff, setting firm boundaries on allowed items; and have trauma-informed understanding of discipline. You will find it is time well spent to be ahead of the curve.
Proverbs 3:5 says “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding . . .”
Real life is often emotional and kid’s from hard places often have overwhelming emotions. As a parent I want to help my children learn to use positive coping skills and give them tools to help. While not a substitute for professional help when needed, there are some natural products we have begun using in our family that make a big difference in helping kids (and their parents) be ready to learn appropriate ways of coping with their big feelings, to focus and be more settled.
If you think it might be helpful for your family to learn more about these products feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to fill you in.