Creating a Life Book For Your Adoptive/Foster Child

 

 

 

Creating Lifebooks for our children is one of those things in life that some parents follow through better than others, like sending out Christmas cards. The desire is there, we’ve pictured the outcome, we understand the appreciation it will bring others, and some have gotten as far as making a Shutterfly account. But then, before we know it, it’s December 24th, December 25th, January 1st, January 30th and we’ve convinced ourselves that next year we will do better.

I get it, life is busy, especially now that we’re parenting. But unlike Christmas Cards, that are eventually thrown away or tossed into a drawer, Lifebooks serve as  lifelong tools for our children. It connects a child with their past. It helps them make sense of their experiences, the good and painful. It’s a vehicle that facilitates discussion about the often-messy circumstances leading to their adoption, helps navigate their grief of losses and past traumas, and aids to dispel magical thinking or false beliefs that somehow they caused the separation from their birth family.  All of which, if handled correctly, contributes to strengthening a child’s positive self-identify.

Through a quick internet search, you can find a lot of wonderful resources about creating a Lifebook for your adoptive/foster child. Most of the blogs and articles are better than I could ever recreate. Here are some of the highlights that I’ve learned from my thirteen years working in the adoptions and foster care field.

 

  1. Lifebooks are not reserved for the Pinterest parent. Lifebooks are not meant to be perfect or even pretty. They are filled photos, artwork, words, historic information and journal entries. No Shutterfly account needed. Use a book were pages can be added and rearranged, such as a three-ring binder.
  2. Don’t know where to begin? Start with important dates and places. Stuck again? Search the web for template pages and ideas. Iowa’s Foster and Adoptive Parent Association IFAPA has created over seventy free life book pages for foster and adoptive families and social workers to use. http://www.ifapa.org/publications/ifapa_lifebook_pages.asp
  3. Do a little legwork. I know of one fost/adopt family whose daughter attended twelve schools in only eight years. To help fill in her story, they retrieved the names of the schools from former case workers and spent one summer visiting each school, taking photographs of the schools and asking the school offices for their daughter’s yearbook picture.
  4. Involved the masses. Contact important individuals from your child’s past and ask them to contribute notes and memories. These people may include case workers, foster parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc. Even if you don’t have many contacts from your child’s past, you must have had contact with a social worker who facilitated your adoption.
  5. Involve your child. The life book is for your child and in order for it to be a useful therapeutic too., they must contribute. When they are young it may be a drawing they made of their birth family. As they get older they can contribute more. They also must be allowed to handle it, carry it around, land ook at it when they please.
  6. Remain honest. A Lifebook should provide a child the truth about their own life history. The story can become more sophisticated as the child grows older. As painful as it may be, recording the reasons for the child’s adoption is important because truth dispels false beliefs that a child may otherwise have that they caused the circumstances that led them to be separated from their birth family and false guilt that may affect their self-worth. Lifebooks also allow for feelings, complicated and real, such as how much a child loves their birth parents and positive memories living with their birth family even when those parents may have been neglectful, abusive or primarily absent
  7. Leave lots of blank pages to continue to document your child’s growth, development, school progress, hobbies, and relationships etc.

The simple fact is there is no right or wrong way to make a Lifebook, but by not doing a Lifebook you’re missing a powerful way to positively impact your child’s sense of self and the way they view their past, present and future. It’s also a great way to deepen the parent/child relationship. The Christmas cards can wait until next year, your child’s Lifebook should not.

3 Things I Learned from Dr. Karyn Purvis

 

 

As most families and agencies would say, Dr. Karyn Purvis, who lost her valiant battle with cancer on April 12, 2016, has been one of the most influential teachers for adoptive families. There are few conversations I have with adoptive families where I do not reference her words, wisdom, and expertise. “Be gentle”, “Are you asking or telling?”, and “Use your words” are so ingrained in me that they come out to just about any child (or adult) that I come across, in my adoption world or not. As a TBRI Educator, I was beyond blessed to sit and learn from Dr. Purvis at their intensive training, countless conferences, and Empowered to Connect before her passing. Each time I read her words, whether in the book The Connected Child or notes from past trainings, her lessons sink deeper, and I hope that I can turn to our clients and impart even a fraction of her wisdom as they care for their children from hard places. I took some time to reflect on all that I learned from Dr. Purvis and want to share those words with you today.

Adult Attachment Inventory

“We can only lead a child to a place of healing if we know the way ourselves.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Dr. Purvis’s instruction on evaluating adult attachment has not only been instrumental in my own personal journey, but is crucial for adoptive families to explore. As we consider taking children into our homes that have experienced trauma, we must give space and time to our own healing journey. These children are likely to trigger our own past wounds, no matter how big or small, and as the quote says above, we must lead the way into healing.

I took a flight a few days ago where I was struck again by the instructions to place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping a child. The idea here is that you cannot help a child if you are passed out or harmed yourself by the lack of oxygen. If oxygen is flowing to you, you can quickly come to the aid of a child, calming them down and providing the oxygen they need to survive. The same principle applies to our own healing journeys. You cannot help a child if you are preoccupied with your own needs. You cannot guide a child toward healing if you don’t know what a healthy, secure person looks like for yourself. How do you know where to lead them? How do you teach them secure relationships if you are not secure yourself?

So what are the characteristics of a securely attached adult? Dr. Purvis outlines them simply as an adult that is able to:

  • give care to another
  • receive care from another
  • be autonomous
  • negotiate their own needs

Do you struggle with any of these areas? I can give care very easily but receiving that care from another person is quite difficult. Parents must be honest with themselves about their own childhood experiences and how that impacts you as an adult. Take some time to give real consideration to the list above that describe a securely attached adult. Which of these areas do you struggle with in your romantic, family, and friend relationships? If you struggle to receive care, you won’t be able to receive the love your child wants to extend to you. If you don’t know how to negotiate your needs, you will lean toward anger or distrust in your relationships. Perhaps you don’t trust that someone will meet your needs if you say them out loud, so you stay silent and grow resentful.

I encourage you to be honest with yourself and give grace and kindness to the areas where you struggle. This will make you better in all of your relationships, especially with your adopted child. When you learn to give love in a healthier way, your child learns to receive real love. If you can learn to be autonomous your child learns to trust others and trust themselves. Seek out the perspective of a counselor, pastor, friend, or spouse to identify the reasons you struggle with any of these areas. Journal, pray, and bring it to God to start your own healing journey to mark the path for your child to follow.

Finding and Giving Voice

“Tell your children ‘you are precious, you are valuable, and nobody else is created like you’” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

I have heard people speak of going into orphanages in Eastern Europe, filled with babies and toddlers, and describe the eerie silence. Is that what you would expect to hear from a room full of 2 year olds? What was discovered is that neglected children will stop crying once they learn that their cries are not attended to. If no one will respond and connect with you when you cry out, why take the time to cry out and feel that repeated rejection? Crying is a way of expressing a need, especially for a child that is not old enough to put their needs into words. If they experience neglect or abuse as a young child, they begin to feel as if they do not have a voice. As I mentioned above, learning to negotiate your needs requires an environment where you feel safe to express your needs and trust that you and your needs will be valued by a response. This cycle starts for us when as infants. You cried when you were hungry, your mother heard your cries, and fed you. This creates a cycle of trust, value, and love. Our children from hard places often have that cycle disrupted which solidifies the message that their needs are not important and no one will respond with care for them. As they grow, they stop speaking out their needs and develop strategies to meet their own needs. This often manifests in negative behaviors such as lying, stealing, manipulation, or aggression.

“Use your words” is one of my favorite catch phrases from Dr. Purvis because it teaches children to ask for what they need instead of using tantrums, lying, or acting out to communicate. It reinforces that their words, over negative behaviors, have power to get their needs met. They don’t need to hoard food if they learn they can ask for a snack and food will be provided to them. They don’t need to steal toys from their siblings if they learn they can ask to play with them.

Dr. Purvis encourages families to learn how to say “yes” over always saying “no”. This does not mean you become a pushover that spoils your child. You can learn to say yes to your child, even while technically saying no. For example, let’s say your child wants to watch a TV show or play with a particular toy but you are in a situation where they cannot do that in that moment. Instead of saying “no, we don’t have time for that” you can instead say, “right now we are doing this activity but tonight after dinner you can watch that TV show”. This message still keeps you on track for what you are doing in that moment while also telling the child that you heard their need (or want) and will meet that need, just not in that exact moment. Think over the last few days and all the times you said “no” to your child. Sometimes you must say “no” in situations where they are trying to run into the street or touching something that could harm them. However, I bet there are at least a few things that could be easily rephrased to turn your “no” into a “yes” and reinforce connection, trust, and security between you and your child.

Sensory Integration Disorder

“Deprivation and harm suffered early in life impact all the ways that a child develops – coordinator, ability to learn, social skills, size, and even the neurochemical pathways in the brain.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Dr. Purvis identifies 6 risk factors for children from hard places. Abuse, neglect, and trauma are the first factors that most people identify but Dr. Purvis also emphasizes earlier exposure to risk for the child in a difficult pregnancy, difficult birth, and early hospitalization. These risk factors influence the way children think, trust, and connect with others and these will impact our children regardless of the age they are adopted. One main area that these risk factors can hinder is our ability to process sensory input. Dr. Purvis states that our senses serve four primary functions:

  • To alert the body and brain to important cues
  • To protect the body and brain from becoming overwhelmed
  • To select what is important to pay attention to
  • To organize the brain automatically

We take in the world around us through our senses – taste, smell, see, hear, and touch. We will add to this list common list the senses of proprioceptive (deep tactile pressure) and vestibular (balance, body in relation to the earth). Our senses help us take in input from our environment, organize that input, and send us a message. For example, if we smell something burning, our brain very quickly processes that smell by telling us what the smell is (burning food or burning materials) and tells our body how to respond (look for fire in the house, run away from danger, stay calm because it is just a campfire, etc). When our children have a breakdown in processing, their brain is not able to compute the input their senses are giving them as quickly or in the same way are someone with typically functioning sensory processing.

For our children from hard places, a disruption in sensory processing often results in frustration, overstimulation, or dysregulation. If your child is oversensitive in one or more of their senses, they are taking in too much information and their brain cannot organize it in a way to keep us calm and understanding. These are children that cannot wear certain fabrics in their clothing because the feeling on their body is overstimulating. They may not be able to say to you this issue is occurring but if their brain is preoccupied with the feel of their clothes, they are not able to compartmentalize that input and are unable to focus in school or at the dinner table. They may be too easily startled by loud noises and their brain is not able to calm them down as quickly or interpret any loud noise they hear as a threat. Other children may be under stimulated by sensory input and need stronger or more intense input in order to organize their world and thoughts.

Children that have experienced any of the 6 risk factors that Dr. Purvis outlines are at risk of Sensory Processing Disorder. These children will often display these struggles with sensory input in their behavior and parents should keep watch this. Perhaps your child is aggressive when others come too close, shriek when their hair is brushed, or refuse to participate in certain activities. If your child has a complete meltdown when eating certain textures of food or certain articles of clothing, this could be misbehavior, but it likely indicates an issue with sensory processing.

Here are some things you can do if you think your child may be struggling with sensory input:

  • Keep a log of your child’s odd or problematic behavior to see if there are patterns. Perhaps your child always has aggressive behavior after you come home from a crowded activity (party, church, grocery store, shopping, etc). This could indicate your child was overstimulated by the noise or bumping into others and their brain is not able to calm them down like it should once they are away from the overstimulation.
  • Give your child lots of sensory rich activities each day. This will help them meet their sensory needs and teach their brain to sense, organize, and respond to sensory input. You can search online for sensory activities you can do at home with your child.
  • Have your child evaluated for Sensory Processing Disorder by an Occupational Therapist. They will do an evaluation and treatment plan to help your child learn to regulate and get sensory needs met.

These three lessons are simple concepts but take a lot of intention and practice for you as a parent. Contact us at the Post Adoption Connection Center to learn more about how to integrate these concepts into your parenting, especially if you are experiencing difficulties with your child.

Adoption Support: What Is Helpful from Family and Friends?

So… you are parents and you’re in your home loving on your baby.  Friends and family are excited and want to celebrate with you, however, they may not quite know how to support you during this time.  They may wonder if it’s okay to stop by, deliver a meal or offer to babysit.  They may have additional questions as to what you need.  While I’m an advocate of telling people what you need, not all people hear when there’s a baby involved!  Let’s look at a few ways family and friends can support you while you bond and spend time snuggling with your little one.

In asking several adoptive parents how they either received support or would have liked to receive support, I compiled a list of things to consider as your family and friends champion you and your child:

  • DO pray!
  • DO accept our decision to adopt without question and how we choose to share about our personal life and decisions.
  • DO accept our choice of a child regardless of their race, heritage or age.
  • DO offer practical help if you don’t mind giving us your time.
  • DO respect that we need bonding time with our child.
  • DO respect our parenting style.
  • DO speak of the birth family with favorable words – We want to honor them with our words and our actions. Speaking negatively of our child(ren)’s biology can transfer to them.
  • DO be willing to learn and educate yourself about adoption.
  • DO show our child unconditional love.
  • DON’T feel sorry for our adopted child.
  • DON’T tell us that now that we’ve adopted we’ll get pregnant with a child of “our own”.
  • DON’T make demands for our time and attention during our adjustment to this new phase.

One adoptive mother’s story:  When we brought our child home (directly from the hospital) we had very few items.  We struggled for years with infertility and it was too painful to have baby items in our home.  Our child was born a month early (we had no idea of gender prior to birth) so we stopped at Babies R Us (while traveling home) to get what we needed.  Upon arriving home, I borrowed from friends (bottles and necessary items) to get through until a baby shower was planned.  I think everyone thought we must have everything that we needed (despite being registered at Babies R Us!) because at the baby shower we received only clothes and small items.  In addition, not one person brought us a meal or offered to help out in any other way.  I also didn’t get paid maternity leave!  We were not angry, we never expected anything from anyone, but I was hurt.  For years I had been supportive, excited, and giving (of time and resources) when my friends welcomed their children into the world.  In fact, when I confided in one friend about how sleep deprived I was she stated “well, isn’t this what you wanted?”.  This was what I wanted, but I was tired!  Everyone thought I should spring right in to motherhood, but I didn’t.  I was struggling terribly (with what later was pointed out to me, by an adoption worker, as post adoption blues).  I didn’t feel worthy of being my baby’s mom.  I would stay awake at night wondering if his birth mother was hurting, missing him.  I wondered if he missed her.  If I would ever be good enough.  I was sad, confused, and felt guilty during what should have been one of the happiest times of my life.  So… support me, on my terms.

Let’s work together to help those in the adoption community as they begin this wonderful stage of the journey! Be aware, and be sensitive/understanding and look for ways you can help, so that these new parents feel empowered and prepared to welcome home their new little one.

What Is a Putative Birth Father Registry?

 

 

If you have researched domestic infant adoption, you may have heard the terms putative father, putative father registry or birth father registry.  A putative father is a man who is believed to be the biological father of a child when he is not married to the mother at the time of birth.  Unfortunately these men are only known to adoption agencies or attorneys if the birth mother names them.  If the birthmother is unwilling or unable to identify the father of her child, it is impossible to locate him.  As such, this gentleman may not be informed of the child’s birth or the potential adoption process.  In some cases, he may not even know that he has fathered a child.  States are faced with the question of how to protect the parental rights of these men.  A man has the right to know he has fathered a child and the right to choose to parent the child if he desires and is able, just as the birth mother has the right to do so.

 

Each state has its own law on how to proceed with an adoption involving a putative father.  Some states require a man to support the birthmother and be involved in her life during the pregnancy to establish his parental rights.  Generally a set period of time has to pass after the birth of the child without any supportive action from the putative father for a court to proceed with terminating his parental rights.  If a birthfather is unknown, there can be increased legal risk for the adoptive placement.  When a gentleman becomes aware of his child after being placed for adoption, a long legal battle can ensue with possible disruption after a child has attached to their adoptive parents.  The case of baby Jessica [1993], removed from her adoptive parents at the age of 2 years to be placed with her biological father, is an example of this.

 

Many states have responded to this ethical dilemma by using putative birth father registries, which require a man to register if he believes he has fathered a child and would like to assert his parental rights.  Currently over 30 states have such registries and each operates slightly differently.    There is generally a limited time period for him to register after the birth of his potential child.  Registration commonly includes providing his name, verifiable identifying information, location and contact information, as well as any information he has for the woman with whom he was intimate, including approximate date.  During an adoption process, an adoption agency or attorney checks the registry for matches to the birthmother making the adoption plan.  If a match is found, the man is then notified of the birth and the adoption proceedings.  If he does not respond, his parental rights can be terminated along with the birthmother’s so the adoption may proceed.

 

One of the limitations of the current system is that each state operates their putative father registry separately.  If a child is conceived in one state but born in another, a man may not know to register in both states.  It is entirely possible for a child to be born outside of the state where the man is registered and he is therefore never notified.  The Permanency for Children Act of 2017 (HR 3092) proposes a national putative father registry to prevent such issues, assisting states in locating putative fathers in other states.  This bi-partisan bill proposes expanding the use of the Federal Parent Locator Service to cooperate with state systems and cross-reference to exchange information.  The FPLS is currently used to establish paternity and locate parents specifically for child support obligations.  This framework and system is a logical starting point for national cooperation and oversight of a federal putative father system.

 

If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to do the following:

 

  1. Read Mary Beck’s scholarly article “Toward a National Putative Father Registry Database
  2. Review this fact sheet from the National Council for Adoption on the Permanency for Children Act of 2017
  3. Personally call your representative and ask them to support this bill

How Do You Celebrate “Gotcha Day”?

 

The term “Gotcha Day” has been used for many years by adoptive parents to celebrate the day their adopted child became part of their family.  We recognize that not everyone appreciates this term.  Some people instead call this special day “Family Day,” “Adoption Day,” or something similar.  Regardless of what you call it, this is the day that your adopted child became yours for forever.  Why is it important to celebrate this day?  It’s important to celebrate your child and to recognize that your child came to you in a very special way.  It’s important to celebrate the child’s heritage, birth country, and birth parents.  Your child establishes his identity through embracing who he is and where he came from.  Celebrating this day reveals to the child that you are aware of the culture and history of his background.  It also enables you to recognize the importance of the child’s birth parents and their love for him.  Everyone appreciates the opportunity to celebrate their child and the way their child came into their family.

Families choose different days to celebrate.  Some celebrate the first day the child was put in their arms.  Some celebrate the court hearing that made that child officially a part of the family.  Some celebrate the first day that their child met their whole family.  It doesn’t matter what day you choose.

In some families, the child may not be comfortable celebrating at all.  They may have negative feelings associated with the adoption process or parts of it.  In these cases, another option is to celebrate National Adoption Day (the Saturday before Thanksgiving) with family and friends.  The focus in such a celebration can be on adoption in general, and such events can help reduce the stigma surrounding adoption as well.

How do you celebrate “Gotcha Day” or “Family Day”?

The Marvin family celebrates “Family Day” by recognizing their son’s birth country.  In The Congo, people celebrate special days by purchasing Fanta Orange soft drinks in glass bottles.  The family has incorporated this tradition into their “Family Day” to give their son the ability to appreciate his culture.

The Inabinet family recently celebrated their 4-year-old son’s domestic adoption “Gotcha Day” by explaining to him in greater detail his adoption and that he has two mommies and two daddies.  The next day the adoptive and birth families came together to celebrate Preston by spending the day at the zoo together.  Preston was able to celebrate his adoptive family and still recognize and know his birth family.

Other ideas for how to celebrate this special day are as follows:

  • Create a book of the adoption journey and read the book to the child every year.
  • Look at pictures of the child’s birth family or birth country.
  • Go to a restaurant related to your child’s culture.
  • Mail a care package to the orphanage your child spent their early years in.
  • Tell your child stories of your visit to his birth country or the days leading up to his birth.
  • Be intentional on this day to create new memories and record them in a special way.
  • Plant a tree.
  • Take a picture as a family.

“Gotcha Day” or “Family Day” celebrations do not have to be elaborate, as long as they are meaningful to you and your child.

Supporting BirthParents Through Adoption

 

 

Working with birthparents and seeing the emotions they go through in making the decision to place their child for adoption is not an easy task.  But it is necessary to support them through their adoption.  One way to prepare yourself to support a birth parent is by educating yourself.  There is a book for that! And this book has something for each member of the adoption triad.

 LifeGivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption by James L. Gritter

It is a raw look at the decisions that birthparents make and what could and will occur in the often difficult journey of life lived without the child that she gives birth to.

If you are a Birthparent, I encourage you to read this book.  If you ever wanted to feel validated in the emotion you have felt as a birthparent, you will find it in this book! Guilt, regret, joy, pride, envy, grief, letting go, hanging on, worthiness, self-love, and so on.

In the chapter Why the Public Dislikes Birthparents:
“Pregnancy at an inopportune time in life raises complex moral questions. I believe we learn at least as much about the moral strength of these folks from the way they work through their situations as we do from the circumstances leading to their pregnancies. The adoption choice reveals a great deal about their character and basic values.”

In the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness: 
“How sad that the extraordinary strength underlying the adoption decision is so often mistaken for failure – but that’s the way it is with adoption.” …and goes on to say… “Those who ignore the complicated nature of adoption will never understand its astounding depth and its mysterious capacity to enrich even those who endure loss.”

In the chapter Circumstances of Necessity:
“Women who are thinking about adoption should not base their ideas on propaganda: They deserve a reasonable description of its costs and benefits.” It is so important to educate yourself before entering into adoption. Keep learning to feel what your heart needs to feel in order to live life.

In the chapter Holding On and Letting Go, had this to offer when speaking of a birthparents ambivalence and the heart – head factor:
“…she faces a conflict between mind and heart, between thought and emotion – a potent clash between different internal systems of perception and appraisal.” …and goes on to say … “We find inventive ways to deny, avoid, delay, ignore, and minimize those factors that move us down a difficult trail.”

Adoptive Parents should read this book.  It will help you understand many different factors that birthparents must go through in order to help your family grow. Respect and communication are two factors that are imperative in adoption and the author reaffirms this. This book will help you understand that your child’s birth family will be very important to them.

In the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness:
“The decision to entrust a beloved child to more promising arms requires great strength of character, for it is never easy to stand alone and counter conventional thought.”

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In, when speaking of envy:
“If the hurt and frustration of infertility has not healed to some degree, it will be predictably difficult for adoptive parents to honor and appreciate the importance of the life giving role.” Learning to accept the things you cannot change, and living with what you have been given will play a huge role in your relationship with your birthparents.

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In:
“…children are not confused by the involvement of birthparents (in their lives). To the contrary, open adoption kids are especially well-positioned to figure things out.” … and goes on to say … “And when children feel the unconditional love and affection of all the crucial contributors to their life stories, they are positioned to thrive.” It is crucial for adoptive families to understand this and believe it.

Adoptees should read this book.  It will help you understand the mind of a birthparent.

From the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness, regarding answering those difficult questions from an adoptee:
“A question from his soul deserves an answer from hers, and she prays she can somehow find ways to explain her lonely experience, all the while knowing this is an experience for which there is no adequate language.”  There is hope that understanding will be there.

In the chapter Birthparent Regret:
“An expression of wistful regret that simultaneously wishes things could have been different yet accepts the reality that they cannot be is important and constructive information for an adopted child” … and goes on to say … “It reassures the child that she has always been loved and that she is where she belongs.”

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In:
“Adopted children deserve a firsthand account of their birthparents’ rationale for adoption.” and goes on to say … “So many people are uncomfortable with the pain of adoption that adopted children often learn to deny their feelings of sadness.” I feel very strongly that every adoptee deserves the right to know where they came from. There should be no secrecy about who you are.

I think this book is a wealth of information and could be beneficial to anyone who wants to learn more about a birthparent’s choice.  In adoption, life keeps evolving, growing and shifting with each and every year.

Sensory Processing Disorder: Why Does My Child Struggle With Sensory Issues?

 

I was greeted at the door by a mom and her two year old newly adopted son dressed in a very cute sailor outfit. However, by the time we walked about ten feet into the kitchen and sat down, the child was naked and flooding the bathroom! Although at first glance, one might assume this child had ADHD, when in fact he had a Sensory Processing Disorder. What this mom learned very quickly, is that therapy and the use of some accessible activities can really help calm the senses of children dealing with sensory integration disorder.

Sensory processing disorder (or SPD) is also known as Sensory Integration Disorder—a condition where the individual struggles to process or have appropriate responses to the demands of their environment. Basically a ‘sensory overload’ where the brain becomes overwhelmed with smells, sounds, sights, textures, temperature and other sensory input—affecting a child’s social skills and behavior.

If you have concerns about your child having these issues, speak with your pediatrician. Your child might benefit from a referral to an occupational therapist. They are trained to evaluate and develop a plan of care or interventions that can be helpful for your child.

Occupational therapists refer to a ‘sensory diet’—activities that are sensory based and help the child to calm down. It might be helpful to keep a diary of your child’s behavior as that will help the professionals identify issues of stress and possible interventions. Be aware of activities or situations that cause your child to go into sensory overload. Avoid them or have ‘escape’ plans with your child, so that your child feels more in control of the situation.

Here is a list of some of the activities or interventions used as part of the treatment for SPD.

  1. Miniature trampoline – jumping can actually help the brain settle down.
  2. Sandbox with Measuring cups and items hidden in the sand to find.
  3. Packing plastic that can be rubbed on the child, or popped.
  4. Weighted blanket – cover the anxious child in a weighted blanket
  5. Weighted vest – sew weights into the pockets
  6. Bubble gum – chewing will help to calm the senses.

Addition Resources:

Websites:

Books:

Nutrition & Your Adopted Child

When children are adopted, they often have had trauma in their lives that can affect many aspects of their lives, with eating being one of them.  In fact, nearly 80% of children with developmental issues also have feeding issues.  So it is no wonder that our children who are adopted, who are often developmentally delayed and have experienced many issues, such as bottle propping as infants and then given mushy and limited number of foods often have eating problems.

These issues do not just apply to internationally adopted children but can be seen in children who have been in foster-care.  If your child was adopted from foster care, she may be normal weight, but she may have been deprived of certain foods, given lots of snack foods, and may not have been provided any structure around meal time.  On the other hand, if your child is from an orphanage, he may have had overly structured meal times and had to consume limited amounts of food very quickly.

In the  book Love Me Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More ,  Katja Rowell, a medical doctor, does not so much  provide nutritional goals for the adopted  child but  she explains the best ways to establish a positive relationship between you and your child.  Food and dietary habits can become an integral part of what Dr. Rowell call the Trust Model for establishing attachment with your child.  This Trust Model helps to provide nurture as well as means of establishing healthy eating habits in your child.  You may be asking, “But what about my other kids who have not had difficult starts in life? How am I going to make meal time different for all my children?  As with any positive attachment and trust model, this model can be used with all children.

This Trust Model promotes shared power: you the parent determine when, where and what your child will eat, and your child gets to determine if and how much to eat based on what foods are there.  This allows you to decide on what nutritional foods your child can select from and where and when your child will eat, but the child gets to decide on what food to select from and how much to eat.  Now, of course, an infant, who has nearly all the power when it comes to feeding, decides the when, where and how much to eat; you, the parent, just decide on what milk to give her.

The Trust Model gives children the structure that they need as they know what to expect. And as with feeding a baby, sometimes you must take your cues from your child.   For example, younger children need to be fed more often, so they will ask for snacks more often in-between meals.  If your child is malnourished, you may need to offer your child food more often until you get to know your child’s signals as to when he is hungry.

Feeding your child with the family helps your child see others eating, sets a model of portions, and to be able to know when he is hungry and full.  At meal time, it is best to have different types of foods at the table—especially those that your child likes based on taste and texture—so that your child can have familiar foods as well as try new foods in a non-coercive setting.

Giving your child a snack—in the afternoon—or perhaps two snacks—can help a child who gets cranky in the afternoon waiting for dinner to feel more relaxed and content  Do not be concerned with a “ruined appetite” before dinner.    Your child may eat less at meal time, but as long as the snacks provide healthful foods, your child will get the nutrients he needs.

Simple but practical solutions for children who come from difficult pasts can help solve food and meal time problems.  However, some children, especially those with medical and sensory problems, may require more therapeutic assistance.  Often an occupational therapist (OT) is the first professional who may become involved, as the OT usually assesses sensory and gross and fine motor skills and the child’s ability to feed herself.  A registered dietitian (RD) may assess the child’s nutritional intake and growth patterns and if more serious steps must be taken, such as tube feedings, are necessary.   As with any type of professional who is going to provide advice and some counseling, certain factors must be taken into consideration.  A mental health counselor would be involved to assess the parents’ and child’s interactions surrounding food and may also assess attachment issues.  The counselor would also work closely with the other professionals such as an OT and RD.

If you, as a parent, are having major food issues with your child, your child’s pediatrician may not give the advice you need, unless your pediatrician is very familiar with adopted children’s needs.  Instead, you may need to consult with a pediatrician at an international clinic for a referral to a feeding clinic or OT.

If you feel that your child is growing steadily but there are still major issues surrounding  eating issues, then you may want to consult with a counselor who has experience with adoption and attachment issues and can help you use trust based approaches in helping you and your child with behavioral issues surrounding food.  If your child is having eating issues and may also have sensory and other issues related to motor skills, then  the  counselor and OT  need to be working together.  The approach needs to be parent focused as adopted children need to be attaching to their parents—not separated from them.

Rowell has a list of questions you may need to ask before working with a professional:

  • How do you help the parents integrate the skills at home?
  • Am going to be involved in the treatment plan, or am I going to be separated from my child? (Parents are the ones who ultimately work with the child.)
  • Do you use negative/positive reinforcement? (Either type of reinforcement can feel like coercion to a child and can result in a power struggle.)
  • Do you require the child to eat food she does not want or hold food in front of the child until she eats it? (This leads to a power a struggle.)
  • What resources do you suggest?

Children who have had difficult starts in life had little control in their lives and often feel shame.  So any approach that takes away power from a child (instead of offering shared power with the parent) or shames a child into eating often leads to more problems.

Bad formal therapy is worse than no therapy.    But good therapy need not be formal–it can be done by the parents if the parents can take cues from the child.  The parent can trust the child to do the eating while the child trusts the parent to be “there” for him and builds upon the relationship.

To learn more about your child’s nutritional and feeding needs, these websites provide very valuable information, tools, and even equipment:

 

  • http://adoptionnutrition.org/ This website provides information related to the nutritional needs of adopted children—even by country—as well as addresses some feeding issues such as hoarding and children who will not eat.

 

  • http://mealtimenotions.com/  This site offers stories, articles and information regarding the feeding and nutritional needs of children with special physical and sensory issues.

 

Celebrating Read Across America Day With Your Adopted Child

With the goal of motivating children to read and ultimately creating successful and life-long learners, over 50 organizations and over three million educators partner with the National Education Association to celebrate reading and provide materials and resources to help children continue to read 365 days a year! Through much research, we have learned that “children who are motivated and spend more time reading do better in school.”

The NEA’s website offers a wealth of resources to be able to celebrate throughout the month. Look for the following exciting and helpful resources: an opportunity for families to participate in a Facebook Live Event, an article noting book recommendations written by a diverse group of children’s book authors, a fun Share Your ‘Shelfie’ Challenge, reading resources for each month of the year, and much more!

Read Across America Day provides a great opportunity to introduce your adopted child to some great children’s books that they can relate to and enjoy!  Many are great tools to celebrate with your child their unique and beautiful adoption story. Perhaps you have a family member or friend preparing to adopt a little one—something like this would be a helpful and treasured gift. Below, we have provided some of the book titles that many adoptive families have enjoyed sharing with their children.

Children’s Books for Domestically Adopted Children:

A Blessing from Above: Patti Henderson

A Koala for Katie: Jonathan London

A Mother for Choco: Keiko Kasra

Did My First Mother Love Me: Kathryn Ann Miller

God Gave Us You: Lisa Tawn Bergren and Laura J. Bryant

Families are Forever: Deborah Capone

Horace (Reading Rainbow Book): Holly Keller

Is That Your Sister: Catherine and Sherry Bunin

Just in Case you Ever Wonder: Max Lucado

The Keeping Quilt: Patricia Polacco (September 1994)

Let’s Talk About It: Adoption: Fred Rogers

Little Miss Spider: David Kirk + A Christmas Wish

A Little Story About a Big Turnip: Tatiana Zunshine (ages 2-8)

Megan’s Birthday Tree: A Story about Open Adoption: Laurie Lears

My Special Someone: A Child’s Perspective of Adoption: Brittany and Sherry Kyle

The Mulberry Bird: Anne Braff Brodzinsky

Never, Never, Never Will She Stop Loving You: Jolene Durrant

Oliver: A Story About Adoption: Lois Wickstrom

Our Twitchy: Kes Gray and Mary McQuillan

Sam’s Sister: Juliet Bond

Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born: Jamie Lee Curtis

Through Moon and Stars and Night Skies: Kristine Wise

 

Children’s Books for Internationally Adopted Children:

At Home in This World. . . A China Adoption Story: Jean MacLeod

Just Add One Chinese Sister: Patricia McMahon and Conor Clarke McCarthy

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes:  Rose A. Lewis

Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales:  Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz and The Children’s Museum, Boston

Waiting for May:  Janet Morgan Stoeke

Families Are Forever: Deborah Capone

Horace: Holly Keller

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes: Rose Lewis

Is That Your Sister?: Catherine and Sherry Bunin

Babies Come from Airports: Erin Dealey

 

Children’s Books for Transracially Adoption Children:

The Keeping Quilt: Patricia Polacco

Little Miss Spider: David Kirk

The Little Snowgirl: Carollyn Croll

A Little Story About A Big Turnip: Tatiana Zunshine

A Mother for Choco: Keiko Kasra

Over The Moon: Karen Katz

Seeds of Love: Mary Ebejer Peteryl

Three Cheers for Catherine the Great! : Cari Best

Through Moon and Stars and Night Skies: Kristine Wise

Best of Nightlight: Adopting out of the “Birth Order”

by Laura Godwin

Are you like your siblings? Or do you think that your birth order played more of role in who you are? Or does your genetic make-up determine more of your personality and qualities? Because siblings are raised essentially in the same environment, it stands to reason that we would be more like our brothers and sisters. Yet, reportedly the same home environment makes up only 5-10% of our personality, while genetic factors may have more impact—perhaps up to 50%. This then leaves birth order as another factor that could affect personality. In fact, much research has been done on this subject and quite a few books have been written on the topic of birth order. Most of us have heard that the oldest child is more assertive, conscientious, in addition to being more neurotic, envious, and nervous. Younger siblings are noted to be more creative, open to new ideas as well as rebellious.

So how does birth order affect the adopted child? Does it matter if children are adopted out of the “birth order”? In 1990, researchers wanted to find this out as no study had looked at the impact that an adopted child’s position in the family has on the child’s personality. [1] These researchers studied first-born children placed into the younger child position in the adoptive families. Many such adopted children could fall into this category—the first born child of a birth mother–placed into a family with one or more children. Of course, the reverse is also possible: children could be the second, third, fourth child of a birth mother and the first child of an adoptive couple. In an analysis by these researchers, the rearing order of the children had little impact on personality except for conscientiousness, which was higher for children who were raised as first-born. The child’s sex had more impact than did rearing order.

Although the cited study may be of interest, most adoptive families are not asking what impact rearing order will have on infants who are first born to their biological parents if they enter a home as the second or third child. If a child is an infant, then it is assumed that such a child will have the characteristics associated with the order placed into the adoptive family. What families want to know is what impact adopting children out of age order has on the children already there— especially on the oldest child in the home.

This subject is not found in scientific literature, but common sense and attention to each child’s needs can help in making the decision to adopt out of the rearing order as well as help in the adjustment of the children after the adoption.

First, consider your children’s present ages.  If your children are young, adopting out of order most likely will have less impact on them, than if they are older.

Next, consider sibling rivalry and the need for attention. If you have two young children and are thinking of adopting an 8-year old child, who most likely will need lots of nurturing and attention–especially if the child has more profound attachment issues–you need to consider how a school -age child, who may be more like a 4-year-old emotionally, will affect your life and those of the other children in the home. Although a child may be 8 years old, the child may be physically smaller and much less mature than a 4-year-old child in your home. If the newly adopted child looks like an 8-year-old, it can be easy to see this child as being much older than the other children and expecting more than the child is capable of doing. In fact, most children entering a home are going to have lots of needs and most likely will not be emotionally on par with other children of the same age. You will have to adjust your expectations for such a child. If an 11-year old from an orphanage is an only child, it is easier to treat the child like an 8-year old or younger. However, if you have a 6-year-old in your home, you may find yourself  requiring more of the older child.

Some families have larger age gaps in their children and adopt a child who can fill in the age difference. This means that neither the oldest nor the youngest child’s position in the family is displaced. Again, the chronological age of the child entering the family can be quite different from the child’s emotional age; you may find that this new “middle” child is more like the youngest child in the family.  As stated, it is all about expectations. If you adopt a child who fits nicely into the age range where your children are right now, this  newly adopted child may not blend as well as you had anticipated.

Children, who are older, can also have attachment issues and may have been sexually abused. This means that it can be difficult for such a child to be around younger children. Such children may try to harm the younger children—even if in subtle ways. It is natural for adults  to be protective of younger children. Behavior that parents may tolerate if there are no other children or only older children in the home becomes intolerable when younger children may become victims.

Some therapists indicate that a large percentage of older children coming from orphanages have been sexually abused on some level. (This is also true for children coming from the foster care system.) Precautions need to be put into place, and this will further change the family’s dynamics. The integration of such a child into the family should be done cautiously.  An older child should not be left alone with younger children until a pattern of behavior is well-established. Children should sleep in separate bedrooms and chimes may need to go  also on these doors.

In fact, it is better if a child who has newly arrived sleeps in the room on a cot in the parents’ bedroom for a while so that the child can feel secure. If the child is too old for this, then it would be better if the child has a room adjacent to the parents’ bedroom.

The same precautions that are taken when adopting an older child need to also be taken when adopting a sibling group. Sometimes the older child can harm the younger child. Often, however, the older child is very protective of the younger sibling, as the older child may have “parented”  the younger sibling(s) while in an orphange.

If an older child or sibling group is adopted, and you later plan to adopt younger children, you also need to consider the same issues of having an older child with a younger child in the home.

Experience as parents can also help you decide what age child you feel you can parent. If you are raising pre-school children, jumping to meet the needs of a middle school child can be quite an adjustment. However, if you are around meddle-school age children and feel comfortable with this group, then adopting an older child may be right for your family.

If your children are older, and you will be adopting a child (younger or older), you will want your children’s input on the matter. Although children do not make the ultimate decision on how parents grow their family (what would any “baby” in the family say about being displaced by a younger sibling?), having your children’s input can make them feel more secure and more welcoming of a new sibling. If your children do object to a new sibling, you can discuss with them their concerns and ways that the adjustment can be made better for all.

Asking the question, “Is adopting out the birth order OK?” and seeking advice means that you are seeking ways to make an adoption as successful as possible. Many families have thrived after adopting out of the birth order. It is a matter of preparation, commitment, and, if problems arise, taking appropriate steps to seek support and make adjustments.

For a discussion on adopting out of the birth order and getting advice from other experienced parents go to When Adoptive Parents Adopt Out of Birth Order by Lois Melina in Adoptive Families magazine.

 


[1] Beer, J. M., & Horn, J. M. (2000). The influence of rearing order on personality development within two adoption cohorts. Journal of Personality, 68(4), 689-819.