How do we smooth the adjustment process for our child who is newly adopted? We returned home with our child (adopted internationally) about three weeks ago. Though she's nearly ten months old, she still isn't sleeping through the night. When she's awake, she's cranky and irritable and cries all the time. Frankly, this is making it very difficult for us to feel connected to her, and we're growing frustrated and tired. What are we doing wrong? How can we get things on the right track?
The first step is to make a concerted effort to understand what your little girl is going through. Parents in your position have to learn how to think in terms of the loss and grief children experience when they leave a familiar environment in order to come home to a new family in the United States. In other words, genuine compassion has to be your touchstone. If you have enough imagination to put yourself inside her head and see the world through her eyes, you'll quickly realize that over the last several weeks she has undergone drastic changes in virtually everything that was comforting and familiar to her: voices, faces, foods, smells, sights, and sounds.
We know from research that it can be hard on a child to move at any time, but this is especially true for infants between eight and twelve months of age. This is the stage at which their first attachments are forming, and as a result it's one of the most critical phases of the entire child development process. Your daughter is going to need lots of nurturing, loving care in order to bridge the gap and weather the storm of the shocking alterations that have rocked her little world. You and your spouse may have been anticipating this period of adjustment for many months, but for her the change has happened overnight.
You can help your child make a successful transition by planning to stay at home with her as much as possible for a minimum of thirty to forty days (three months would be ideal if you can swing it). During this time, your daughter's needs should be the primary focus. By meeting those needs consistently and lovingly, you'll be helping her settle in for a lifetime and giving her a practical understanding of what it means to be part of a loving forever family.
In particular, we'd encourage you to hold her when she cries and take time to be with her in the middle of the night. These next three months will provide you with the best opportunities you'll ever have for helping her develop the foundation for a secure and healthy attachment. Developmentally, this is when she will learn trust ("My parents will meet my needs"), self-worth ("My needs are met, so I must be valuable to someone"), and self-efficacy ("My cries matter because someone comes when I cry"). In that respect, these months are without a doubt the most important you'll ever spend with your child. So take courage – you're making a tremendously important investment in the life of this precious little one, and you can expect to see a marked return on that investment in the not-too-distant future.
If you'd like to discuss these suggestions at greater length with a member of our staff, one of our counselors will be happy to take your call. Each is a committed Christian and a licensed family therapist. You may also be able to find the resources you need by visiting the Web sites of TCU's Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development or Empowered to Connect.
Easing the Transition for a Child Who's Been Adopted: Jim Daly shares why your love and care will make a difference when you welcome a foster or adopted child into your home.
Fostering or Adopting Children from Difficult Backgrounds (resource list)
TCU's Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development
Preparing for Adoption