Question 12: I see many of your children came home as toddlers, any advice for those of us adopting toddlers?
E-2.5 years old
C-2 years old
T-2 years old
J-3 years old
My biggest advice is to read Toddler Adoption: A Weaver's Craft. It is awesome! Here is the link:
Here are our top 10 strategies that we found really help with transitioning and bonding:
1) HIBERNATE! This is vitally important. Most children adopted from institutions have never left a single room in their life, at the very least they have never left the institution. Typically American life can be very overwhelming and over stimulating. This leads to the brain going into "fight or flight" mode. This makes bonding and adjustments very difficult. For the first month that the toddler is home, you should STAY HOME. If you have to leave, divide and conquer, have dad stay home while you run errands or vica versa. Say NO to as many commitments and activities as you can. Really the only outings you should be making with the child the first month are necessary doctor's appointments. Once you start taking the child "out into the world" do so slowly. First, take a walk around the neighborhood or go to a nice tranquil park. The very last places you should go, only do so after they are bonded and feel comfortable in their new family, is places with a lot of colors, sounds, choices and people. We have found the WORST places for newly adopted post-institutionalized toddlers are 1) Grocery stores, Walmart or the mall, 2) Church 3)The theater 4) Family parties. These places are just brimming with too much stimulation. By keeping the child's senses calm, and the routine predictable and mellow, this will allow the child's brain to be dedicated to the most important job it has, bonding and adjusting to a new life.
2) Learn basic Golden Retriever in the child's native tongue. It is not necessary to become fluent. Toddlers who are adopted internationally become fluent in the new tongue in 1 to 3 months for every year they are old. For example, a 2 year old will be fluent in 2-6 months. MUCH faster then you. But it is very helpful to learn the basic Golden Retriever language skills. For example, come, sit, stay, no, yes, I love you, time for bed, are you hungry, potty, be nice, good, bad, etc. These will help you navigate the day to day interactions until your toddler catches up. Within days they will understand very basic English. It really is amazing.
3) Food is POWERFUL. Food is an amazing, powerful force for bonding. Don't waste it! Whenever possible, feed your child. Yes, even a typical 3 year old. Consider bottle or sippy cup feeding while snugging. Use lots of eye contact while you are feeding. Food should always come from mom or dad, NO ONE ELSE. And only give small amounts at a time so they have to keep asking you for more. Never deny food in the beginning. Give them as much as they want (even to the point of vomitting). They need to learn that you are the source of food and that you will respond to their request. Babies and toddlers in orphanages have not learned to bond adequately because they have not had their needs met when expressed. It is at best, on schedule. Toddlers need to learn that you will care for them, respond to their needs, rush to their rescue when hurt, etc, this creates bonding.
4) See hording as a positive thing. Often children who come home from institutionalization have known hunger, lots of hunger. They have also learned that just because you have food today, does not mean you will tomorrow. To the horror of many newly adoptive parents, many of these children will hide and hoard food. Not so bad you say? Wait until you find a lump of month old bread in your child's pillowcase or meat loaf under the couch. The key is to recognize what brilliant emergency prepardness experts these kids are. Good for them, saving for a rainy day! You just need to give them a way to do it that does not bug you and is socially more acceptable (not to mention healthier). Every newly adopted toddler from an orphanage should be given their own mini 72 hour kit in a small backpack they can keep on all the time. In this backpack, you need to put non-perishable foods such as fruit snacks, granola bars, etc. Also good items are bandaids, a small water bottle, etc. Allow the child to put other "precious" items in that are important to them like a stuffed animal or match box cars. Keep it light weight and allow the child to keep this backpack with them 24/7. Not only will this completely stop the hoarding (they do not need to, have have food always at hand) but will also allow them to let go of their food anxieties which can be severe. As an added benefit, when things go missing, it gives you a great place to look ;). Another great way to help end the food anxiety and hoarding is to alway have lots of food out where it is visable and available all the time. For example, a fruit bowel on the table that is always full. Take your canned and boxed food items out of the cupboard and display them on the counter to show the child, we have food! Lots and lots of food. As the child learns that in America there is always food, they will begin to relax and will eventually abandon the backpack and their anxiety.
5) Have the child sleep with you. Imagine if you will, that your whole life you have shared a room with 30 other kids and that the lights are never turned off so that the caregiver can keep an eye on everyone. Most of the time, you have also shared a bed with a couple of other kids. Then these strangers who speak a weird language pick you up from the only home you have ever known, take you to a strange environment and then at night they put you in a bed by yourself, in a room by yourself, turn off the light, close the door and leave you there for 8-10 hours. TERRIFYING! Instead, imagine that they bring you to bed with them in a big super comfy bed and snuggle with you. They are there to comfort you when you are scared or have nightmares, they sing you sweet songs and whisper in hushed tones while rubbing your back. Hmm, which scenerio sounds better for bonding and adjustment? Another added bonus of sleeping with the child is that many children from orphanages aren't used to being hugged, kissed and loved on so they resist it big time. While they are asleep you can do all of these things without protest and it still get registered in their brain, thus desensitizing them to the affection.
6) Don't sweat the small stuff. Let go of all rules and regulations for this child that do not involve serious safety. Your new child has enough on their plate learning their new home, their new family, the new smells, the new food, the new language, etc to possibly learn your rules. Just use kind redirection when they are doing something unacceptable. Once they are adjusted, you can start being the enforcer that you are with your other kids. In other words, cut them some slack. They have had no spoiling for 2-5 years, don't you think they have earned it?
7) Prepare other family members. Have a talk with your other children and let them know that this child will need extra time and attention. That they will get away with things that others won't. That they may not know how to share yet. That they might bite, hit or steal at first. DO NOT tell them how great it is going to be when their new sibling gets home. It may very well be a difficult transition. When the child gets home, lock up the pets and only introduce them slowly after the child feels more comfortable. The only live animals that institutionalized children have seen (if any) are the very mean guard dogs. Pets are often very, very scary. Tell family and friends that they need to stay away while you hibernate. You should only have one visitor a day, they shouldn't stay more then 30-40 minutes and they should not touch the child. Your new child needs to learn who their real family is and having a revolving door of friends and relatives all being affectionate to the child, does not encourage bonding to their immediate family members. Along the same lines, no babysitters for several months.
8) The bigger the priority you make the first months of transition, the easier life will be forever more. The sooner and stronger your child is fully bonded and adjusted, the smoother your life go. Once bonding has happened and you are a real family, the more the child will respsond positively to your rules, affection, sleeping on their own, going out to eat, seeing relatives etc. Remember, this is a very important but temporary time.
9) Give yourself breaks. Often newly adopted kids come home with aggrevating and annoying orphanage behaviors that can be hard to take day in and day out. Make sure you and your husband take turns getting out and having alone time.
10) Love and enjoy! Don't forget why you decided to adopt in the first place. Really sit back and enjoy all the firsts that your child will experience. Laugh and find joy in their excitement.
Bonus 11) Never do time out! When a child has first been adopted, the last thing you want to do is give them some alone time in a corner or room when they are bad. They will then use bad behavior any time they are overstimulated (which will be often at first). Instead use time in. For example, lets say that the child is having a really bad tantrum or is being really mean and out of control, instead of sending them to their room, they have to sit on your lap, while you hold them tight until they calm down and say sorry in a nice voice. Think that is not much of a punishment? Oh believe me, institutionalized kids HATE IT. It is much more affective then time out. But beware, they are going to fight you, thrash about, hit, bite, head but, etc. But you are bigger and stronger, don't give in. You will be amazed at what happens. Once the battle is over and they have calmed down. When you let go, they will not leave you. Instead, they will snuggle in and you will share a sweet moment or two. Great bonding technique.