Preparing Kids for Adoption

Dawn Davenport


Preparing Kids for Adoption

It’s important to prepare kids for adoption as well as yourself.

We parents spend a lot of time getting ready to adopt. We think about it, we talk about it, we read about it, we blog about it, we listen to podcast about it.  It’s true that we may not be totally prepared, but for most of us, it’s not for a lack of trying.  However, we aren’t the only ones involved in the adoption equation—there are of course the kids. Both the child to be adopted, as well as the children already in your home, need to be clued in on what is going to happen, but today I’ll talk about preparing the child that will be adopted. It is hard to prepare a child for the total destruction of what they have thought of as being permanent, but there are things you can do.

Preparing kids 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.

Older kids being adopted either domestically through foster care or from abroad need more preparation, and fortunately you can do more to help prepare them.  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 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. Here are some suggestions, part of which came from a terrific session on this topic at the National Adoption Conference last week.

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.
  • Take a 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. Ask them to call you mom and dad when talking with the child.  If you are changing the child’s 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).
    • Books – 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.

These are just a few suggestions of what you can do to help prepare your child for being adopted. What else can you add?  What worked for you?


Image credit: sean dreilinger

19/06/2012 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 3 Comments

3 Responses to Preparing Kids for Adoption

  1. Deb Waldman Deb Waldman says:

    This is so great Dawn. I wish you had written this post before we left to meet our 7 year old in Ghana earlier this month!!! We just got back from our first trip….some of these suggestions would have been really good to have had in advance of traveling. Thank you for writing the post. I think it will help a lot of people.

  2. Avatar Delana Stewart says:

    Excellent Tips! I especially like the one about not assuming that your child was given the photos! But also realize that even if they WERE given the photos that their understanding of what is happening is so difficult to comprehend. Our daughter was 6 years old. She saw photos and was talked to for several weeks before we came to get her. We visited and played together at the orphanage. She enjoyed being with us. Then it came time to get in the taxi to go to the hotel. She panicked–Big Time! That first night together was incredibly difficult.

    I share about it in my book Nine Year Pregnancy. I also read a book by Trish Maskew that has some great preparation when adopting a child 2 or older. You can find out more in a post on my website–

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