Are you thinking about adopting an older child?
I hope so! The need for families for children ages 3 and older is tremendous and increasing all the time. But I want you to ask yourself some questions first just to be sure this is the right choice for your family.
Some good ones to start with include:
- Do other family members and friends support my decision to adopt an older child?
- Do I have a flexible lifestyle that will enable me to make significant changes to accommodate a child’s needs, especially in the first weeks after his or her arrival?
- Do I have access to a good support network that includes reliable friends, as well as medical and educational professionals?
- Am I emotionally prepared to make significant changes and deal with possible challenges or ‘unknowns’ after placement?
Don’t adopt solely because you want to help a child in need. It’s natural to feel a humanitarian pull, but it should never be your only motive. Otherwise, resentment can build when difficult times come.
As many families evaluate their adoption choices, they decide that they do not want to adopt a baby, but feel they have love and security to offer and that they would like to share that with an older child.
If this sounds like you, start educating yourself now on some of the unique needs and challenges of older children. That will help make for smoother adjustments later. Here are a few other thoughts and tips for those planning to add an older child to their household.
- I want to dispel the myth that adopting an older child automatically means you’ll deal with attachment disorder. That’s not true. It is important, though, to remember that older children may have experienced a good deal of chaos in the past. A consistent schedule can go a long way toward enhancing attachment.
- A structured environment is essential. A quiet start will build your child’s sense of security and give you time to help them with language acquisition and get to know what they like and dislike. Develop a very predictable routine and keep visitors to a minimum during those first weeks at home.
- Re-evaluate commonly held ideas about discipline. Keep in mind that many older adoptees may have self-parented to a certain degree. They are going to test you during those early weeks: they want to know you’re strong enough to keep them safe. Also, be sure to keep your behavioral expectations realistic and in line with a child’s emotional, rather than chronological, age. If discipline’s necessary, focus on non-punitive strategies—such as distraction, re-direction, teaching positive behaviors and talking about expectations—rather than taking a punitive approach.
- Your child’s emotions may seem to run wild at first. They will be processing many, many changes. Add a language barrier to the mix, and you will likely be dealing with a rather frustrated kid. How will they deal with that? Some might seem overly cautious or withdrawn; others may seem to be in a frenzy of activity, exhibiting signs of ‘flight or fight’ mode. Kids who have come from hard places may not have learned to moderate their emotions. They will need help learning appropriate ways to express their feelings.
- Social skills take time. A child might appear clumsy or lack a sense of personal space. They may not have been taught social skills, particularly within a family environment. These things take time to develop.
I also want you to know that you won’t always be in adjustment mode. If you’re patient, if you plan, if you have a good sense of humor, the rewards will be HUGE!
I’ve been a social worker for 34 years. In my experience, the vast majority of families who have adopted an older child think it is the best thing they ever did. Adopting an older child and seeing them thrive is a great example of what the human spirit is all about.