Top 10 tips for adoptive families

November 1, 2018




Last month we looked at emotional intelligence for young people. In aid of Adoption Awareness month the focus this time around is, empowering families with adopted children.


1. Parents are the no.1 role model


Early parental interactions and attachments are predictors for social success and emotional intelligence (Stams, Juffer & Van IJzendoorn 2002). That means if you adopted your child from an early age you are still a key component for how they learn to interact with others and process emotions (Darling & Steinberg 1993). If you adopted your child later on in life do not despair. If you are sensitive to the needs of others then your child will pick up on this and learn how to socialise well. So that means the care you show to your neighbours, work colleagues and the environment act as a "how to" guide for your child.


2. Know the facts


Cognitive theories suggest that when in attachment based situations, past events act as a template for thinking, processing information and relating to others (Bretherton 1991). Therefore it is imperative for you to know if your child has an emotional delay or any other disorder that will effect his or her emotional development. If your child was neglected or abused (by biological parents or initial care givers during infancy) then it is likely that your child's brain, is neurologically different than if he or she had not. The same is to be said for other disorders that affect emotional development such as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (brain injury as a result of infantile addiction). It is important to note that these issues do not necessarily disappear as the child moves into adolescence. Therefore affected children may have difficulties perceiving and processing emotions, even into early adulthood.

If this is the case anticipate that your child will be insecure and hesitant to form intimate relationships with you, other adults or peers. Be sure to explain this to siblings and other members of the family, so that they can begin to understand why your child may prefer to play on his or her own. The key here is to be patient and persistent in demonstrating your love in terms of time, reassurance and acts of kindness.


3. Keep language simple


Your child will not be able to relate to you if you use words like "frustrated" or "disappointed", if they already struggle to articulate their emotions and needs. Remember, age is not an indicator for emotional intelligence. Therefore it is important that you use language, which is appropriate for their emotional developmental level. For instance, a nine year old throws toddler like tantrums, this is an indication that he or she functions at a younger emotional level.

You can help by intervening swiftly and using as few words as possible.

Being aware of this and highlighting how their behaviour is showing everyone. If your child throws a tantrum it is likely that they will not be able to hear you but putting your hand out or flashing a red card quickly communicates that they need to stop.

For children who are functioning at a higher emotional level, you can avoid arguments by offering a way out. A simple "stop we need to get some air outside" will be enough to interrupt their outburst and physically enable them to calm down.


3. Be sensitive


Knowing your child or sibling will struggle to develop emotionally is one thing being able to act on it in the moment is tough. Do not to be too hard on yourself if you stumble along the way. Listen to them, validate the emotions they share with you and then try to help them to mature by offering advice or possible solutions. This lets them know that there is nothing wrong with them or their feelings, whilst also giving you the opportunity to help them to cope.

For example if they throw a book across the room. You acknowledge their feelings by saying "you are angry maybe because you don't understand, why don't I read it with you and see if we can understand it together." verbalising what they feel makes their experience tangible, offing your help lets them know that they are not alone and your suggestion helps to solve their problem.

Being sensitive to the needs of an adopted child requires empathy and flexibility. If they have had a tough day at school maybe you will have to move dinner to a later time, giving them the space they need to shake off their bad mood.

Social situations such as dinner can be more demanding than you think, having to listen to and process each person at the table can be mentally taxing. Giving them one on one time is also a good way to boost a child's confidence, whilst restoring their ability to engage with others. Following a recipe or playing a well loved game also provides comfort. The well-known rules or instructions will be familiar, with a desirable outcome for your child.


4. Support their friendships


Due to past traumas an adopted child may imagine or predict that people are unreliable, unavailable and disinterested in them- so it goes without saying that making friends will be more challenging. So what can you do about it? As mentioned before your child will take their social cues from you even if they are not biologically related (Darling & Steinberg 1993) so involve them in gift buying for others or writing an encouraging note for a sibling. Organise one on one play dates as opposed to group ones. You could speak to your child's teacher and suggest that he or she implement a buddy system or encourage paired work to help your child bond with others. Vetting friends (this includes members of your extended family is also really important. Having trustworthy individuals will reinforce the notion that your child is worthy of having a good family and friends.

Another part of forming insecure attachments, is about being unable to empathise with how the 'other' might be feeling. It is possible that your child may not even consider that other people, do not think in the same way that he or she does. If your child is struggling to understand a friend imagine (out loud) the causes for their friend's behaviour.

Due to the aforementioned reasons it will be harder for your child to maintain friendships. You can help by introducing "Friendship Friday's" where each family member invites someone over for dinner, a games night, etc. Be creative, the aim is for your child to have regular meaningful contact with friends.


8. Play games


Decide which ones are appropriate. If your child is not yet able to tolerate loosing (without having a melt down) then try playing simple games like memory or snap, where all players have the chance to win and loose throughout the game. When you sense your child is ready you can begin to introduce other games such as Ludo or frustration. Games are not just a great way to bond as a family but can also be used to explicitly teach emotional intelligence.

Try picking different feelings a jar and let everyone act them out, be as dramatic and exaggerative as possible, to make it fun.


9. Praise Hard


Always use words of affirmation around your child. Verbally praise them and speak highly of them when in the presence of others. It is fundamental that you instil a sense of worth and self adoration in your child, this is invaluable to their self esteem. Cheer them on and encourage them when completing activities. Hugs and high fives are also a great way to celebrate the smaller things. If you are finding it hard because they are demonstrating challenging behaviour try joining a support group or forum. This way you can vent, get advice and avoid any negative (but well intentioned) interference from concerned friends and family.

If your adopted child is not an only child schedule in one on one time with each of your children to avoid resentment or favouritism. When challenged it is important to explain why the adopted sibling may feel unloved and left out and remind them, that they are always important to you.


And lastly...


10. Commend yourselves!


You did a wonderful thing by choosing to adopt. It is not always easy but there is a lot of joy to be had and you are doing your very best. You must set aside some down time for yourself. Spend twenty minutes reading, take up a sport or meet with a friend weekly so that you do not burn out, when times are rough.


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