Adopting an older child from foster care or through international adoption is not for the faint of heart. It can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. But it also can be one of the most challenging journeys your family undertakes. Older child adoption requires extra parenting attention, whether through international, foster care, or kinship. When you understand the realities of the challenges and joys of older child adoption, you can grab onto the intention and hope to do it well.
Defining “Older Child”
Before we launch into the practical tips for parenting an older child, it’s helpful to define the terms. When we say “older child,” we are speaking of kids who come to your home around six years old and older. Children younger than this age range have different needs and issues to consider.
We also define older children in this age range because this is when children become harder to place. Many times, helping prospective parents understand and prepare for the unique needs of older children is the biggest hurdle to placing them. Let’s face it, tweens and teens often get a bad rap as challenging, moody, and difficult. However, it’s critical that we remember tremendous joys are in store for the families who open their hearts and homes to older kids.
These practical parenting tips will help you better understand how to form a connection with your children. These tips can also help parenting your older adopted children be more fun and less challenging for your family.
Practical Parenting Tips for Older Child Adoption
1. Line up therapy proactively.
It will help if you assume that you and your new child would benefit from therapy. Research has shown that early intervention with professional services is the most effective for addressing difficult behaviors. So set up therapy or counseling before the child is adopted. CreatingaFamily.org has a resource page to help you find a therapist or counselor for you and your family.
2. Put support in place.
Communicate with your closest friends and family to talk about tangible things they can do to support you, your new child, and your other kids during the transition to your new family dynamics. Think about things they can do to help you focus on this new child in the early days, like laundry or yard work, or time spent with your resident children.
Look for an in-person or online parent support group before the child arrives home so your support network is in place. If your agency doesn’t offer support groups or regular opportunities for creating a community, consider other options in your community. CreatingaFamily.org has an active online community where all adoption and foster community members learn together and support each other.
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3. Take a positive approach.
When parenting an older child who has experienced challenges and trauma, your parenting techniques should focus on forging connections and creating felt safety. Implementing positive parenting techniques will almost always be more effective. Your efforts and interactions should focus on building attachment through rewarding positive behaviors rather than punishing negative behaviors.
Adoptive parenting might represent a significant shift in style for your home, so consider learning as much as possible about trauma, attachment-focused parenting, and helping children heal.
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4. Be flexible.
Older children come to our homes with many life experiences under their belts. Their personalities and temperaments are well-on-the-way to being formed, as are their tastes and preferences. It will help if you experiment to see what works best to connect with your newly adopted child. If you observe that something isn’t quite clicking with them or isn’t working, you will need to be willing and agile to shift course. Being open to new ideas will be challenging for the child, but you can model that life skill by adjusting to their needs quickly and making them feel safe while you do.
5. Laugh together.
We’ve said it before, but having fun together is often the glue that holds a family together. Try to maintain your sense of humor – or at least find something funny to laugh about together, even in challenging moments. When life throws you a wrench in the works, sometimes all you can do is laugh. You are modeling excellent coping skills and resilience for this child when you can laugh together.
6. Keep Learning!
Raising older adopted children is best supported when parents are open and willing to learn as their family grows and encounters new stages or challenges. We love to connect families with new resources and research on how to parent well.
CreatingaFamily.org has an excellent variety of recommendations and resources to support your education about older child adoption:
- Adopting Older Children: A Practical Guide to Adopting and Parenting Children Over Age Four*, book by Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero, Gloria Russo Wassell, and Dr. Victor Groza
- Practical Guide to Adopting Kids Over Age Four, a classic CreatingaFamily.org podcast featuring author Dr. Victor Groza
- Panel of Parents Adopting Older Kids: Surviving that First Year, a classic podcast from CreatingaFamily.org
- Adopting Older Kids: Things to Consider, a CreatingaFamilyEd.org online parenting course
- Adopting/Fostering a Child Who Identifies as LGBTQ, a CreatingaFamilyEd.org online parenting course
- Parenting Tweens and Teens, a CreatingaFamilyEd.org online parenting course
Set Yourselves Up for Success
Adopting older kids is a great way to create your family. When you bear in mind that they had experienced life before adoption, which included trauma and other significant challenges, you can prepare yourself to meet their needs. These preparations, before, during, and after adoption, can set you and your family up to thrive together.
Did you adopt an older child? What tip or suggestion would you offer from that experience? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Trinity Kubassek; Yan Krukau; Sam Lion
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