Friday, November 20, 2009

What I'm Learning: Older Child Adoption and Attachment

We're learning everything we can about older child adoption. We have to complete a certain number of "Parent Education" hours before we can submit our dossier to China. As I dive into these courses, I can see there is a lot to learn.

From what I'm learning, our top priority when we bring Wenxin home will be to begin to develop a mutual strong attachment with him.

This usually happens naturally with a biological child. The baby hears the mom's heartbeat and voice even before birth. Feeding times strengthen the bond. The mom holds the baby close and looks into its eyes. Lots of hugging, snuggling and eye contact. The baby learns that the parents, especially the mom, can be depended on to meet his needs.

We'll be starting this process with Wenxin much later in his life. We know that he'll come to us with a history of loss. He lost his birth family as an infant. He spent a couple of months in an orphanage before entering a foster home. And he'll lose his foster mom as he joins our family. That's a lot of loss.

From what we're learning, it may be a big plus that he was in foster care. Attachment seems to be a learned process. Learning to attach to someone early in life helps form the basis for other attachments later on. So even if Wenxin grieves the loss of his foster mom, if he was attached to her, it greatly increases his chances of attaching to us.

So much of what we are reading deals with strategies to promote and strengthen attachment. Here's a little summary of what I've gotten so far:

That first week in China will be crucial. Wenxin will be scared. And we will have the opportunity to begin to care for him and empathize with him. Even though it will be tempting to rely heavily on the Chinese guides because of the language barrier, it's very important for Mike and I to talk directly to him (even if he doesn't understand), hold his hand, carry him, and do all the caretaking. This is one reason we probably won't take the whole family to China (the other reason - $$$). Having to care for our other children that first week could keep us from focusing on Wenxin.

Physical touch will be really important. We need to find unthreatening ways to touch him. Hugs, pats, letting him sit in our laps to read a book. Swimming together. Helping him brush his teeth and putting lotion on him as he gets ready for bed. Possibly letting him sleep with us.

When we get home, even though he will be seven, we need to structure our lives as if we had a new baby. We need to cut out unnecessary activities. We need to get him on a routine. We need to keep him close. For at least the first year, I don't plan to leave him. If for some reason Mike and I both need to go out of town, we may leave the other kids with grandparents, but Wenxin will need to go with us.

While we will need to set boundaries for Wenxin and help him learn how live in our family, we're learning that some types of discipline aren't appropriate for older adopted kids. Instead of "time out" where the child is isolated from the family, most of the researchers suggest a "time in" where the child sits in a chair in the same room with the parent.

Right now it's all theoretical. It's all something in a book. But very soon, we'll get to try out all these strategies. I'm hoping that some of it works in real life.

The original post did not have a photo of Wenxin due to China's pre-adoption rules.


  1. If I had one piece of advice to give to parents adopting older kids (and to the agencies helping them), it would be to get between the child and the guide. Although we were experienced parents, our "gotcha day" was so traumatic for the kids being adopted that we allowed the guide to take over that first day (and she never looked back). For the 2 weeks we were in Beijing, she would take the girls hands everywhere we went and walk about 15 paces ahead of us. This one thing affected (and is still affecting 4 years later) the bonding we could have been forming with our daughter. So not only did she lose her birthmother and her foster mother (who she'd only know to be her "real" mother), but then she had to lose the guide when we left for Guangzhou. Thankfully, the guide we had in Guangzhou was an experienced parent herself and had her own daughter to care for, so she did not interfere with our parenting. Even if you have no children and are parenting for the first time, don't let the guide/translator act in your stead. Even if you are afraid of screwing up, just remember that there will be many more opportunities for screwing up in the future and your children will survive. There won't be many more opportunities to take back those initial days of bonding, where you can become the life raft your child clings to.

    1. Thank you, Annie. That is amazing advice.


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