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. :)


  1. I can't put it into words how much I admire you! You really are an incredible person! Thank you so much for your honesty with the *bad* and sharing with us some of the good.

  2. Great post! I love how God has brought healing and hope to a precious child and that you've been there to comfort, love and support her during that process! She is blessed to call you, Mom!

  3. I am feeling stuck right now with our 10yo home 8mo... you say respecting authority and family rules are on the essential list...well, for instance, we all have colds this week and I am asking everyone in the house to blow noses and wash hands a lot. She is refusing...but that is not respecting my authority. So, how do you train the "obey me when I ask something of you", and not make it seem about just nose blowing (on your non-essential list)?

  4. Thank you for this beginning. I can attest that you are totally right. Our kids have to absorb so much so fast when we adopt them that we must choose the essentials. The best thing I did was bring my girls home with the mindset that they were like newborn babies in their need for mothering and teaching. We wouldn't put a newborn in school or insist a newborn have perfect manners right away.

    One of the things I'm struggling with with one of my girls is that when we do have a good day, when she accepts my love, and we have connected, she gets so "high" from it that she wants more and more and more until she's soliciting it every few minutes, craving it, trying to force more and more that she ruins the moment. My adoption agency director said one of her kids (all adopted) was the same and gave me some advice for handling it by explaining that we've had a good day and it's okay to have some space from each other now. My goal is for my daughter to feel so secure and loved that she can hold on to the feeling longer, but in the short run, I need to keep her from getting that "high" and going over the edge to terribly, terribly annoying so I can keep on with my day. Her need to interrupt does get to that point where I can't get the essentials done, like prepare a meal. I can't even have her help me because her mooning and swooning interrupts herself. Any ideas? She is very, very cognitively delayed so often I've had to tell her to go read or play (at a specific task, like legos), and in her most annoying times have sent her to sit on her bed. I'm getting so much better at keeping things from escalating and recovering from interruptions, but I'm open to more ideas, that's for sure.

  5. Big thank you for sharing your story, you are an inspiration
    and it is just amazing to keep seeing stories like yours! Really appreciate it!


I welcome any and all comments as long as they are Christ-honoring. Please let me know what you think!