Archive for the 'Parenting' Category

Adopted Children at the Holidays

Every year around the holidays, I like to revisit this post that I originally wrote in 2010, to remind adoptive families and those who love them that the holidays can be a hard time for adopted children, and offering suggestions about how to make it easier. I hope you find this helpful during this season. Here is the link: Adopted Children and the Holidays.

While we are at it, let’s not forget birth parents, who often feel that a piece of their hearts is missing during this season. If you have an ongoing relationship with your child’s birth mother and/or other biological family members, don’t forget to let them know you’re thinking about them this season.

I wish each of you all the joy, warmth, and love your hearts can hold this holiday.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

New Study Examines Depression in Adoptive Mothers

A new study published in the journal Advances in Nursing Science shows significant rates of depression in adoptive mothers. The study, by Karen Foli (author of The Post-Adoption Blues), Susan South, and Eunjung Lim, investigated depression in 300 adoptive mothers, mostly during the first year after placement. Their rate of depression wsa 18-26% (on two different measures), which is higher than the rate for postpartum depression among the general population (10-15%). Several factors were found to influence whether an adoptive mother would likely suffer from depression, including parental expectations of what adoption and parenting would be like, the child’s special needs and bonding issues, fatigue, lack of support from others, marital problems, and history of mental health problems. Fathers were not studied in this publication, but I imagine the statistics would be similar for fathers who are primary caregivers for their children.

The transition to parenthood is huge, whether you gave birth to your children or adopted them. Disrupted sleep, lack of support, and the special challenges that adopted children can sometimes present can feel overwhelming. If you are feeling depressed, please don’t hesitate to seek counseling or medication to help you get through the transition. It’s not only important for your own well-being, but also for that of your child, as depression can strongly affect your ability to parent well.

You can read an abstract of the study here.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Adopted Children and the Holidays

Each year as the holiday season approaches, I like to share this post about adopted children and the holidays. If adopted children are part of your family, take a moment to read it and to remember that there is no such thing as a “perfect” holiday, only one in which you do what perfectly suits your family.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

The Gift of the Truth

In her book 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed, (read my review here), Sherrie Eldridge tells a beautiful anecdote for adoptive families. Observing kids playing in the park, she noticed that when a child falls down and hurts himself, most parents will soothe the child by saying “you’re okay,” or “it’s not so bad,” or the one that I find most painful to hear, “be brave.” It is the rare, wise parent who says “that really hurt, didn’t it?” or “that was scary.” Not having his feelings denied makes the child feel heard, and he soon goes back to playing. Eldridge calls this “the gift of what is so,” and I agree that listening to and acknowledging feelings is a gift – one of the best gifts we can give to children and adults alike.

This gift of telling things as they are (rather than as we wish they were) is especially crucial for the hearts of adopted children. When a child is thinking about her birth mother and feeling sad, many parents’ automatic reaction is to say “but you have such a nice life here!” or “we are your family now.” This reflection of what the parent needs to hear, rather than what the child needs, and the result is most often that the child stops trusting the parent with her inner thoughts and daydreams. By contrast, what a wonderful gift for the child to receive “the gift of what is so” – having her feelings really heard, understood, and accepted as valid. “I can see you are feeling sad about your birth mother right now,” the parent might say, “It’s hard not to know what she’s like, isn’t it?”

To give this gift, parents must have the strength and wisdom to know that their child’s sad or angry feelings about adoption aren’t a criticism of the adoptive parents, they are simply normal feelings that most adopted children go through from time to time. Sending the message that it’s okay to express negative emotions gives your child a wonderful stepping stone towards self-acceptance. Denying negative emotions doesn’t make them go away, it merely turns them inward, where they can fester into guilt and shame.

Adoption is wonderful, but it is not always easy. Having the courage to give your child “the gift of what is so” could be the best gift you ever give to him or her.

I always cry when I hear stories about adoptive families practicing this skill, but go ahead – make me cry! Post your stories in the comments or drop me a line at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com. I’d love to hear from parents and adoptees alike.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Do Babies Remember Separation?

Many adoptive parents have heard some version of the following remark, be it from a friend, family member, or a stranger in the grocery store. “You are so lucky to have adopted your baby so young,” people say, “that way she won’t remember her birth mother or being adopted.”

Although it may be true that very young babies don’t “remember” their birth mothers or early experiences in the same way that you and I remember things, child-development experts and experienced adoptive parents know that babies do experience loss, grief, and sometimes even depression during the transition period of adoption. Knowing this in advance gives adoptive parents the confidence of knowing that it’s nothing they’re doing wrong, as well as the tools to deal with it in a way that is healing for parent and child alike.

If you think about it, a newborn baby is a highly sensitive Mom Detector. Having spent nine months in the womb, the baby is intimately familiar with the voice, scent, and rhythms of his birth mother. When the baby emerges from the womb, he can see poorly, but his sense of smell is acute, and he responds best to the scent of his birth mother’s body and breast milk. His hearing is not fully developed, but studies show he responds to his mother’s voice from hearing it in utero. He cannot see well, but sees best at a distance of about 8 to 12 inches — not coincidentally about the distance to his mother’s face when he is in her arms. With all systems primed to detect the birth mother, it’s a wonder that anyone would think a baby wouldn’t notice a change in caregivers. In his well-known article “Helping Infants Cope With Change” (Early Child Development and Care, January 1974), child psychologist Dr. Justin Call notes that babies between one and three months of age are most likely to be highly distressed by a change in environment and caregivers.

We also know that babies are highly attuned to how quickly their needs are met. Studies show that babies whose cries and other cues for help are answered promptly are more securely attached to their caregivers, and show it by fussing less and eating and sleeping better. Conversely, babies whose needs are not met or are met very slowly become fussy, withdrawn, and in severe cases develop attachment disorders, learning problems, and more frequent illness.

If your new baby is showing symptoms of grief and loss, such as fussing inconsolably, poor eating, poor sleep, etc., it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong! Below are a few tips to help ease this difficult transition time for both of you.

Meet your child’s needs as promptly as you can. Adopted or not, all babies are highly attuned to how quickly their needs are met by their caregivers. When babies learn that their signals for help are answered quickly, they develop trust and security. Far from “spoiling” the child by answering his cries too promptly, parents who rush to meet their babies’ needs are creating a sense of security that actually makes the baby less fussy. Most babies show signs that they need something (a bottle, a diaper change, a warmer outfit, or just a cuddle) before they begin crying, by exhibiting little cues like squirming and making pre-crying sounds. Consider keeping your baby in the same room with you for at least the first few months so you can catch on to these pre-crying cues and meet your baby’s needs as soon as possible.

Try to mimic your baby’s prior surroundings. Since we know that babies are very sensitive to changes in environment, it makes sense to try to make your home as close to your baby’s previous environment as possible. A comfort object such as a crib sheet, blanket, or stuffed animal can be a big help (note that for newborns, items in the crib are considered a no-no because of the risk of suffocation. Use the comfort object outside the crib or choose a safe item that smells like prior surroundings, such as a fitted sheet). Especially if your baby was with her birth mother, an orphanage, or other caregiver for long enough to have a routine, try to copy that routine as closely as possible in your home.

Develop a consistent routine of your own. If your baby did not have a consistent routine before coming home with you (or if you don’t know what his routine was), there is no time like the present to start one. Bedtime rituals are especially important. Try starting at the same time every night and doing the same routine (for example a bedtime story, a favorite song, then bed) consistently night after night. Routines and rituals help make babies and small children feel secure.

Try attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is term coined by Dr. William Sears for a style of parenting that emphasizes togetherness and learning and responding to your baby’s cues quickly. It includes sleeping close to your baby, wearing your baby frequently in a sling or other baby carrier, using nurturing touch (such as having skin-to-skin contact during feedings and cuddle time, and baby massage) and learning your baby’s “language” of cues to her needs. Attachment parenting is an especially wonderful style for adoptive parents, whose children are especially vulnerable to insecurity. Remember: You can’t spoil a baby with too much love.

Don’t take “no” for an answer. Newly-adopted babies often cry inconsolably, flail and strain against being held closely, refuse to eat, and are difficult to soothe. It’s easy for the exhausted new parent to feel that the baby does not want them and to give up and put the baby down. Don’t. Remember that babies have extremely limited ways of telling us when something feels amiss. They sense that something has changed drastically, but they don’t understand what is going on and can’t do anything about it. The worst thing you can do for attachment is to give up. The best you can do is to remember that it is not personal and to persevere. Keep holding that screaming, resisting baby close to your heart. Soothe her, rock her, sing to her. Trade shifts with your partner if possible so that you can have a physical and emotional break. But above all, don’t take “no” for an answer from your baby. With patience and perseverance, he will learn to trust that you will be there to consistently meet his needs, always.

Don’t take it personally. Some adoptive parents who have pined for years for a baby to love feel dismayed when the newborn they’ve dreamed of seems to reject them. The red-faced, screaming newborn with her back arched away from their embrace is not quite what these parents had in mind! However, your baby is not rejecting you, but simply responding with instinctive panic to a big change in what she sees, hears, and smells around her. When you think about babies as highly-attuned Mom Detectors as described above, it makes a lot of sense. This is not because they are rejecting you – babies are nowhere near developed enough to have such a thought. They are simply panicking at the thought that they might not get their needs met. Prove them wrong, by all means, but don’t take it personally.

Seek out support. All new parents need support, and adoptive parents have special challenges that make that support even more important. Join an adoptive-parent support group or make friends with other adoptive parents, be it in your area or online. Knowing that others have been through these difficult, sleep-deprived first weeks can make all the difference.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Seven Sensitive Times for Adopted Kids

All parenting has its ups and downs, and parenting adopted children is no different. One thing is different is that there are certain times that tend to be more difficult for adopted kids than their non-adopted peers. Be prepared to lend a listening ear and a loving voice during these seven sensitive times.

1. Birthdays As the very word “birth days” suggests, birthdays are a common time for adoptees to think about (you guessed it!) their birth. It’s natural for kids to think about their birth mothers on this day and to wonder about what that very first birth day was like. You can help by being open to talking about your child’s feelings. If you know about his birth parents and the circumstances of his birth, be ready and willing to talk about it in age-appropriate ways. A telephone call or visit to your child’s birth mother can be a great idea for those with open adoptions. Most of all, don’t dismiss your child’s feelings or insist that she “should” be happy because it’s her birthday.

2. Holidays, including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Speaking of times when kids are expected to be happy, the holidays rank high. Like birthdays, the holidays are a natural time to reflect on family and the past, and this is often true of adopted children. The changes to their usual routine that holidays entail can also be hard on kids. For obvious reasons, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are extremely common times for adopted children to feel down or to have a lot of questions about their birth parents. Once again, staying open to these questions without judgment will help your child feel safe expressing her feelings to you. Incorporating traditions that honor your child’s birth parents and/or heritage can also be helpful.

3. Times of Change (moving house, a death in the family, divorce, a new sibling, etc.) Big transitions are difficult for everyone – even adults! Major life changes like moving, a death in the family, a divorce, or a new sibling can be especially unsettling for adopted kids, who are more likely than their non-adopted peers to feel insecure and to fear rejection or abandonment. Keep this in mind during times of major change, and make sure you schedule in some time each day to spend time with your child and reassure him that nothing will change the fact that you love him and that you’re a family.

5. Learning about the birds and the bees As children grow and start to have a better understanding about where babies come from, they tend to have more questions and worries about their birth families. While very young kids might be able to parrot back the basic fact that they were grown in another woman’s belly than mommy’s, this doesn’t mean that they understand it. Don’t be surprised if your child pops out with questions that you thought she already understood the answers to. This is a normal developmental stage as kids start to have a more accurate understanding of how birth and adoption work.

4. Entering school For many adopted children, entering school is the first time in their lives that they become aware that they joined their families in a different way from other children. This can be very distressing for some kids, especially if they are being teased about it at school. Stay wide open to listening to your child’s concerns and reassuring him that adoption is just another normal way that families come together. Be prepared to ask a few gentle, probing questions to get your child talking about what he’s feeling about school. If possible, talk to your child’s teacher early on, to discuss how to make adopted children feel more comfortable at school.

6.During certain school assignments If you have talked with your child’s teacher about creating an adoption-friendly classroom, this may not be an issue, but many parents find that their children come home with some decidedly non-adoption-friendly homework assignments. Tasks like making a family tree, writing a report about their cultural heritage, tracing which genetic traits they got from their parents, or bringing in a baby photo can be confusing or even impossible for some adopted children. Talk with your child first about how the assignment made him feel, then come up with creative ways that he could complete the assignment in a way that respects his experience.

7. Adolescence Let’s face it: Whether your child was adopted or not, adolescence is a hard time on kids…and parents! The normal developmental phase of becoming more independent and figuring out identity can be especially tough for adolescents who were adopted. Adolescents also tend to have more sophisticated questions about their adoptions. Don’t be caught off guard – be prepared to share more information as your child is ready for it. As always, stay open to listening to your child’s feelings without taking it personally or telling her how she “should” feel instead. Let her know that you support her as she figures out who she is in this world. Better yet, show her that you support her by attending adoptee-rights events (if she is interested), helping with her efforts to contact her birth parents, or otherwise being an ally to your almost-adult adoptee.

Adoptees, do you remember particular times in your childhood that were more difficult for you because of being adopted? Adoptive parents, have you run across any times that are predictably harder for your children that aren’t on this list? Post them in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

The Adoptee Community

“Adult adoptees are a primary source for knowledge about adoption as an institution. Their perceptions are unique, for adult adoptees are actually the only persons who can tell us what it is like to live adoption in a society in which most people are not adopted.”

–Child Welfare League of America

Learning about the perspectives of adults who were adopted as children is an excellent idea for all adoptive and prospective adoptive parents. Reading about these viewpoints can be difficult for adoptive parents, because it’s not all positive. While most adoptive parents know about the feelings of sadness, emptiness, and rejection that adoptees can sometimes feel, fewer are aware that some adult adoptees are very angry about the adoption system and certain aspects of their adoptions. These feelings can be hard to read about, but the truth is that ignoring them does not make them go away. Learning about the adoptee community and its varied perspectives is an important way that you can prepare to be an informed ally to your adopted child. Here are a few resources to get you started.

Any book by Betty Jean Lifton: Betty Jean Lifton was an adoptee who wrote beautifully about the lifelong experience of being adopted. Her books are Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience, Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter, and Journey of the Adopted Self: The Quest for Wholeness.

Bastard Nation Don’t be put off by the name – Bastard Nation is a well-respected adoptee rights organization that is active in issues such as adoptee access to original birth records.

Dr. John Raible Online Dr. John Raible is an Assistant Professor of Diversity and Curriculum Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is an adult adoptee who was adopted transracially, and his research focuses on racial identity, particularly in adoption contexts. He is an insightful writer and speaker whose perspective includes his personal experience as well as his extensive academic research.

Harlow’s Monkey A blog about transracial adoption from an adoptee’s perspective. Includes an excellent page for adoptive parents on how to be an ally to transracially adopted children and adults.

Heart, Mind, and Seoul A blog by an adult adoptee from Korea who is also a mother to one adopted son and one daughter by birth. Her perspective as both an adoptee and an adoptive parent is insightful.

The Declassified Adoptee Amanda is an adult adoptee who has reunited with her birth mother. She is also an adoption activist and adoptee rights activist who writes with eloquence and grace about her own experiences as well as adoption issues generally.

Sherrie Eldridge Sherrie Eldridge is an adult adoptee and author of many books on adoption, including Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. She writes, speaks, and coaches with the goal of helping adoptive parents and their children enrich their relationship.

In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories. This book is one of the very few written from adoptees’ perspectives.

Do you know of other great resources for learning more about adoptees’ perspectives? Post them in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Book Review: Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft

If you have adopted a toddler, you may be feeling a bit left out. Most adoption support groups, books, and other resources tend to focus on families who are adopting newborns. During the waiting period to adopt, this may not stand out, as waiting for a newborn is very similar to waiting for a toddler to come home. However, once your child arrives, you may begin to feel isolated as you start to face different issues than your friends who adopted newborns. It isn’t you: Adopting a toddler really is different!

Fortunately, there is a wonderful resource for new adoptive parents of toddlers in the book Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best (Perspectives Press 1997). Hopkins-Best and her husband adopted an 18-month-old boy from Peru and found themselves unprepared for the special issues that newly adopted toddlers present. Her book is a must-read for anyone who is even considering adopting a toddler. It includes a section on how to determine whether toddler adoption is right for you, the specific issues toddlers present, attachment challenges, child development, behavior management, and tips for easing the transition into your home. Finally, Hopkins-Best includes a chapter on taking care of your own needs as a parent while also looking after the needs of these very needy little people. Each chapter includes several personal stories from the parents of children adopted as toddlers, including 26 families who took an extensive questionnaire for this book.

There is something in Toddler Adoption for families at every stage of the adoption process, from those just considering whether adopting an older child might be right for them to families who have already adopted a toddler. I especially loved the way that Hopkins-Best conveys the joys and advantages of toddler adoption as well as its challenges, and that she does so in a way that only a parent who had experienced toddler adoption could do. Her material on child development and attachment is well-researched and thorough, and her tips for bringing your adopted child home for the first time are invaluable for parents – but even more so for the little people in their care during this difficult time. A short list of resources in the back helps connect parents with more support and information.

Most of all, the message that shines through Toddler Adoption is that you are not alone. The book allows you to benefit from the wisdom of many other parents who have experienced the special challenges – and special rewards – of toddler adoption.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Sleep and the Adopted Child

All new parents struggle with lack of sleep, and that includes adoptive parents. Although most parents expect this with a newborn, some adoptive parents are surprised to learn that newly adopted children of all ages experience sleep problems, especially during the first weeks at home. Also, helping adopted children learn to soothe themselves to sleep is different and much more complicated than it is for non-adopted children, because of the special needs of adopted kids when it comes to attachment, bonding, and sometimes overcoming trauma. Pour a cup of strong coffee and check out these tips for dealing with sleep issues.

  • First, put aside all the “sleep training” books. Most “sleep training” books on the market today are variations on the “cry it out” school of parenting. For example, some advocate that you let your child cry for five minutes before going in to soothe him, then for ten minutes the next time, then fifteen minutes, etc. They are geared towards parents of babies age 5 months and up, as babies under 5 months of age are unable to learn to self-regulate and soothe themselves to sleep. I confess that I am soft-hearted about this even with non-adopted infants, but for adopted children this type of sleep training is just a terrible idea. Even in infancy, studies show that adopted babies show symptoms of grief, loss, and even depression from separation from their mothers (if you don’t believe that infants “remember” their mothers, consider that babies’ limited sensory perception is entirely focused on only one thing – mom. Science-based development books such as Lise Eliot’s What’s Going on in There? are especially instructive.). Leaving an adopted infant to cry alone is literally the worst thing you can do in terms of attachment and healthy development. This is even more true for children who are adopted when they are older. Many children adopted from toddler age on up have experienced multiple separations from caregivers; some have even known abuse or neglect. Again, letting these children “cry it out” is just about the worst thing you could do to convince them that you are a reliable caregiver. The last thing you want is to gain hours of sleep at the expense of trust and security in your child. Rather than worrying about “spoiling” the child, spend the first several months focusing on proving to her that you will meet her needs consistently. A co-sleeper (a crib that attaches to the side of your bed so you can respond to the baby instantly at nighttime) is a wonderful idea for adopted infants, and some also advocate for “co-sleeping” even for older children.

  • Learn as much as you can about your child’s former environment. Especially if your child comes to you from an orphanage, conditions in his last environment might be very different from the ones in your home. Children who are used to sleeping in a communal room with many other children sometimes find it frightening to suddenly sleep all alone. Learning as much as you can about the lighting, noise levels, other people, and comfort objects in your child’s former home can help smooth the transition to a new home. Comfort objects such as blankets, stuffed toys, dolls, or even just a shirt or bedsheet are especially soothing to adopted children. If they don’t yet have a “lovey,” now is a great time to create one by making a favorite toy or blanket part of the bedtime ritual. Even if they seem questionably clean to you, try to resist washing comfort objects, at least for the first several months, as their familiar smell is a major source of their ability to soothe. Also, although by Western standards the “family bed,” or children sleeping in the same bed with their parents, is considered strange, this is the norm in many cultures and may prove very comforting for your adopted child. There is no right or wrong place for your child to sleep, only what works and what doesn’t.

  • Create rituals. Sleep experts for children and adults alike agree that rituals before bed create associations that tell our brains it’s time to sleep. A simple and consistent routine is key. For example, your family’s ritual might begin after dinner and consist of quiet play, bath, pajamas, story time, a song, then bed. Consistency is more important than the specific activity, so if you feel you might not have the energy to do a bath before bed every single night, leave it out of the bedtime ritual and simply do stories and/or songs at bedtime. This includes a consistent bedtime. Some experts recommend that parents change their kids out of pajamas first thing in the morning so that those clothes are strictly associated with bed. Again, incorporating rituals from the child’s former environment, if possible, is a great idea.

  • Get some support for you. Having said all that about attachment and proving to your child that you are trustworthy, I feel honor-bound to point out that every human being, including you, needs to sleep. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Sleep deprivation impairs our ability to function, causes patience to run short, and can lead to post-adoption depression. If at all possible, have a relative, close friend, or trusted nanny stay overnight to take a shift or two during the first difficult months. Talk openly with your spouse or partner about a fair way to divide up the nighttime wake-up calls (and no, having the spouse who doesn’t work outside the home take all the wake-up call is not considered a fair division of labor). Nighttime parenting is hard, and going it alone is near to impossible. Have some frank talks (ideally before the child comes home) about who will help you.

  • The early bird catches some winks. Although they don’t always act like it, babies and children need a lot of sleep! Experts agree that the ideal toddler bedtime is between 6:30 and 8:00 PM. Although most adults slow down as they get tired, many children become more active when they get over-tired, resulting in a hyper child who is harder to settle down. Try to get a feel for when that window is when your child is tired, but not so tired that she beings to get wound up. That’s bedtime. Another advantage of an early bedtime is that parents get to spend some time together!

  • Know that night wakings are normal. According to a 2004 poll about sleep habits in America, about 70% of infants, 47% of toddlers, 36% of preschoolers, and 14% of school-age children wake and need a parent’s intervention at least once each night. These statistics are for all children, not adopted children! It is normal for children to wake up during the night, and even more so for adopted children, who have experienced grief, trauma, and loss. Take a few deep breaths and calm yourself before you go in, then keep it loving, quiet, brief, and boring. Keep the lights dim. The less eventful your trip into the child’s room, the more inclined he will be to go back to sleep.

  • Know about night terrors. Night terrors are a sleep disorder where the child shows signs of extreme terror but are, in fact, still asleep. They generally do not respond to you and do not remember the episode in the morning. Night terrors are most common between ages two and six. Most experts recommend that you not wake the child up during night terrors, but simply stay with her to make sure she is safe (not sleepwalking or flailing) until the terror passes. A longer-term solution is to keep track of the exact time when night terrors occur, then wake the child 15 minutes before the usual “‘night-terror time” every night for seven consecutive days. Many parents report very good results with this technique.

  • Don’t underestimate the power of time zones. If you adopted your child from another state or another country, be sure to transition him gradually to your time zone. Conventional wisdom holds that people need one to two days to recover from jet lag for each time zone crossed, and this can be more for young children. Gradually move bedtime from the time it would be in the country of origin to the local bedtime.

  • Other resources There are a few other excellent resources on sleep for adoptive parents, One is The Center for Adoption Medicine’s page entitled “Sleep and Adoption.”. I also recommend the book The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley and Harvey Karp (there is a version for infants and a version for toddlers and preschoolers). Another good book on sleep is Sleeping Through the Night by Jodi Mindell. If you suspect that your child’s [mis]behavior during the day might be related to inadequate sleep at night, try Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Sleepless in America. While these books are not specifically targeted to adoptive parents, their gentle approach is much more suitable for adopted children than other sleep-training books. Perhaps most importantly, seek out support groups for adoptive parents and lean on friends who have adopted for advice. Although the first months can be a real challenge, I promise you will sleep again!
  • Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Adopted Children and the Holidays

    A very happy Thanksgiving to all my readers! As we enter the holiday season, I want to offer a few tips for parents of adopted children at what can sometimes be a difficult time. The holidays are, almost by definition, a time for family, and that can make them a confusing and emotional time for adoptees. Depending on the child’s age, you might notice him acting out, withdrawing, or maybe just asking more questions about his birth family and where he came from. Below are a few tips for supporting your child during this time.

  • Accept and acknowledge your child’s feelings. Parents, who are often going through their own stresses at the holidays, are sometimes tempted to deny their children’s sad feelings. “Christmas is a happy time!” they might admonish. This sends kids the message that their feelings are not okay and should be hidden. Instead, try to recognize your child’s feelings. This may require a little bit of guesswork if your child is not old enough to express what she is feeling. You might begin with a question. “Are you thinking about your birth mom? I’m thinking about her today, too.” Although it can be hard to get over your own insecurity and hurt feelings when your child is feeling sad about his birth family, it is essential to show the child that he can trust you with his real thoughts and feelings. Try re-stating your child’s feelings in neutral terms (“It’s hard not having your birth family here, isn’t it?” or “sometimes you wish you could spend Christmas with your birth mom.”). One great book about communicating with kids is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Another good resource for adoptive families is Helping Children Cope With Separation and Loss by Claudia Jewett Jarrett.
  • If possible, include birth family in holiday celebrations. If not, create rituals. One of the wonderful things about open adoption is that it expands the circle of family, which is an especially beautiful thing at the holidays. If possible, include birth parents, grandparents, etc. for part of your holiday celebrations. If this is not possible, it can be helpful to create a ritual to do together to acknowledge the birth family. Some families light a candle during holiday meals or at times when the child is thinking about her birth mother. Others get out an album of photos of the child’s birth family and look through it together. Whatever you choose, pick a specific time (say, Christmas Eve before bed) and do the ritual every year, but also be flexible and let your child choose to do the ritual when she is feeling sad about her birth family.
  • If your child is from another culture, include traditions from that culture in your celebrations. The holidays are an easy and beautiful time to include your child’s birth culture in your family life. Traditional native foods, music, clothing, crafts, decorations, and traditions are all fun to learn about together, and greatly enrich your holiday traditions.
  • Avoid overstimulation. Especially for newly-adopted children, the holidays can be too overwhelming to handle. Traveling, having guests in the house, disruption of routines, new toys, and bright lights are exactly the opposite of what children need when they are adapting to a new environment. Children who are adopted from institutional settings, especially, are often unaccustomed to a lot of attention or even to playing with toys. Even children who have been in their homes for a while can get overstimulated by holiday celebrations. Try to keep celebrations low-key at first, and to maintain eating an nap schedules as much as possible. Be an advocate for your child by explaining to family members that your child can get overwhelmed easily, so they should give him some time and space and limit gifts to a number that doesn’t overwhelm him.
  • “Being good” doesn’t always mean feeling good. Remember that adopted children hear messages about “being good” differently than their not-adopted peers do. Some children interpret the “you’d better not pout, you’d better not cry” messages of Christmas to mean that they will be rejected or sent away if they aren’t “good.” The holidays are an especially good time to emphasize that you love your child unconditionally.
  • Be aware of what’s going on at school. If you haven’t done so yet, the holidays can be a good time to talk to your child’s teachers about adoption. For example, if your child is newly adopted, you may want to explain that she might have trouble answering questions like “how does your family celebrate the holidays?” Encourage teachers to learn about different types of families and to use inclusive language, especially for open adoptions and LGBT adoptions, where there could be more than one “mommy” and “daddy” involved. One thing that sometimes comes up at the holidays is that schools “adopt a family” by donating gifts and food to families in need. Explain that using adoption language for charitable activities can be confusing for adopted children.
  • Remember that the holidays don’t have to be perfect. This is advice that most families could stand to hear, not just adoptive families! While some families feel pressure to have a picture-perfect holiday that is 100% happy and drama-free, this is a tall order when human beings are involved. The only holiday that is really “perfect” is one where everyone is warmly loved and unconditionally accepted — and knows it. In that spirit, I wish you and your family the most “perfect” of holiday seasons.
  • What works in your family at the holidays? Send your suggestions in the Comments section, or by email to me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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