Saturday, June 6, 2015

Surviving to Thriving: Refreshing Tips for Successful Older Child Adoption

I wish that parenting came with a perfect "how to" handbook. I REALLY wish adoptive parenting came with that handbook. :)

I've been asked to share what we've learned so far in our adoptive parenting journey. Most of this applies to adopting an older child, but some of it is helpful with the younger crowd as well. Johanna has encouraged me to blog these things, and I plan on getting her to participate in the series. (We've got a great plan for an interactive video, too!)

There are so many things we wish we had known when we first brought Johanna home, things that have literally made the difference between us making it or not. I'm always learning and willing to share what I've learned---so, here goes. :)

(Please remember that I'm not THE expert in this field, and that all of my advice may or may not work for you and your child.)

Let's start at the beginning with number one. :)

1. Focus on the Essentials

Often families are struggling because of a focus on non-essentials.

Here's the thing: Kindness is an essential skill.

Eating oatmeal is not. 

Respect for authority is another esssential.

Throwing toilet paper into the toilet (and not the trashcan or floor) is not. :)

Communicating needs and feelings in English is an essential skill.

Reading in English is not. 

Bonding and forming healthy attachments with both parents and siblings is an ESSENTIAL skill----Education is not. 

Yes, they need an education. Yes, we want them to "catch up". Sadly, many families focus on catching up with education MORE than they focus on catching up on healthy attachments. 

If you're more stressed about what workbook/curriculum/online program/school your child needs than you are their ability to fully communicate with you in English, you are likely focusing on the WRONG SKILL. 

And here is where you find frustrated families, because a child with no healthy attachment skills will more than likely NOT CATCH UP on their education. So you're pushing, and forcing, and stressing, and the child could care less because the skill they need most is an attachment with you, not an education.

My number one advice for families adopting an older child is for them to FOCUS ON THE ESSENTIALS. 

Early essential skills worth focusing on:

---Kindness to both people AND animals.
---Communication of needs in new language.
---Healthy sleep and eating habits.
---Family rules for chores and safety.
---Playful interaction between family members.
---Loving touch is a GOOD thing.
---Parents are primary and NECESSARY for meeting needs.

Behaviors NOT worth focusing on in the beginning:

---Public behavior (even when it's incredibly embarrassing, lol).
---Gross habits (nose picking, burping at table, wiping snot on their sleeve, etc).
---Hygiene (daily showering, changing of clothes, brushing teeth, etc).
---Food preferences.
---Unhealthy attachment/idolization of past relationships or country.
---Heart change. (More on this one later.)

Now, of course, many of the things on the non-essential list are able to be addressed while still focusing on the essentials.

But anytime you find yourself overwhelmed or upset at your child, ask yourself--"Is this an essential skill I'm stressing about?" 

If the answer is "no", consider easing up, letting go, and returning to the essentials for awhile. :)