Preparing Children to be Adopted

Obviously, how you prepare a child depends a lot on the child’s age. For newborn adoptions, all you can do is support the birth mother as much as possible in the transition from her to you and be as responsive as possible to the baby’s need once he’s in your home.

You can do more to help prepare older kids being adopted either domestically through foster care or from abroad. It is hard to prepare a child for the total destruction of what they have thought of as being permanent. The child’s (and parent’s) temperament plays a huge role in how they handle this huge change. Some kids will go with the flow regardless of the presence or absence of preparation, and some will be thrown for a complete loop. No matter what temperament, try to help prepare your child.

In an ideal world, the social worker, foster parents, and orphanage workers/caretakers would play an active role in preparing the kids. While that may happen often here in the US, it is still the exception in most foreign countries.

Preparing the Adopted Child Before you Bring them Home

  • Spend time with the child in person in his environment if possible. This will likely be required if you are adopting an older child in the US. Even if you are adopting internationally, if you can afford the extra trip and if it is allowed in the country from which you are adopting, go ahead of time to meet and hang out with your child in his environment.
  • Make Skype video calls if possible
    • Introduce family members
    • Introduce pets
    • Take tour of the house by carrying the computer from room to room.
  • If your child is being adopted from another country, if possible, hire an English tutor to start giving her language lessons.
  • Parents should learn simple phrases in child’s language. For example;
    • Are you hungry?
    • I will take care of you.
    • Do you need to use the bathroom?
    • Show me.
    • Watch me.
    • I love you.
    • Time to go to bed.
    • Stop, please.
  • Ask child to send pictures she has drawn and put them on the refrigerator for them to see when they get home.
  • Send letters regularly to the child.
  • Send a note to the child’s foster parent or caretaker letting her know something about you, and how excited you are to meet the child and have her become a part of your family. Thank the caretaker for all they are doing for your child. Consider asking the following:
    • Begin to call you mom and dad
    • If you are changing the name, maybe hyphenate the old name with the new name. Make sure you include how to pronounce the new name.
  • Send care packages, which can include:
    • Laminated pictures for the child to carry around (family, child’s room, pantry/refrigerator, pets)
    • Photo book – translate ahead of time
    • Video of family and home, if orphanage or foster family has ability to play
    • Blanket-wash it and let mom or primary caregiver sleep with it so that it picks up her scent.
    • Stuffed animal
    • Drawing from siblings

Preparing the Child When you Meet Her:

  • Make minimal changes at first.
  • Take baby steps-move at child’s pace-let the child lead.
  • Don’t change food immediately, although may want to start introducing American food slowly if adopting from abroad and if the child is willing.
  • Let them wear their old clothes if they want to.
  • Bring a small gift, but don’t shower them with toys.
  • If your child is old enough, give them an inexpensive camera to take pictures of what and who is important to them.
  • Let child say good bye properly to their old life.
  • Assume the child has not received your care package. Bring the same things you put in it.
  • When you gain custody of the child, establish a bed time routine. Start by following the routine the child has had, if you know it. Decide if it’s in everyone’s best interest to start introducing a new routine.
  • Bring photos/videos from home.
  • Have an entrustment/transfer ceremony with those who have been important in your child’s life.

Image credit: Tony Tran