Lessons From the Connected Child

This book was written by staff at the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University for parents who have welcomed home children from other countries, troubled backgrounds, and/or with special behavioral or emotional needs.

The text begins with changes that can be expected when an adopted child is welcomed into a family. It outlines the importance of always being near your child as they adapt to their new environment. A great way to make your child feel at ease is to watch their behavior and mimick it. For example, if they are reserved with eye contact initially then you should maintain your distance and not expect that from them. New parents want to nurture their adopted child as soon as they arrive home but it is best to balance nurturing and structure in order to give your child a sense of safety and trust, as well as, the capacity to try new behaviors. Giving your child a sense of security is important to adjust appropriately to their new environment. To give them this sense of security, parents need to focus on spending a lot of time with our child; spend time in play assists in developing that bond, and teaching life skills. In play, quantity is more important then quality. Any type of activity that would isolate or inhibit bonding must be strictly limited. Time spent watching television or playing video games only caters to short attention spans and is isolating.

Since these children likely suffered deprivation and isolation as babies, their brain chemistry is altered. They have not properly learned how to bond with a caregiver. Nurturing and providing consistent structure are ways to help bolster a healthy brain chemistry. Good nutrition is important since healthy eating habits can maintain blood sugar levels and support brain health.

Discipline techniques should be considered before the child arrives and frequently after their arrival. Since we may likely not be informed on how our child was disciplined before they came home it is best to look for options that allow a child to feel safe. Spanking or other types of physical discipline are not healthy approaches to disciplining an adopted child. Time outs are very popular, effective, and if altered, are great ways to discipline your new child. Instead of sending a child to a secluded spot to be alone to think about their behaviors, place them in a spot in the room close to you. When their time is up, talk with them about their actions, your disappointment in the behavior, and hug them to show approval of them as a person.

The way you handle discipline and the importance you place on nutrition will also aid in disarming the fear response. Chronic fear can cause a child to behave poorly; we can help to eliminate that by providing “felt safety”. To provide this felt safety we need to arrange our environment and adjust our behaviors, so our child can feel truly safe in their home with their new family. When a child feels hungry or tired their primitive brain takes control; their primitive brain tells them to use survival skills causing them to manipulate and misbehave. Helping a child feel safe relaxes and disarms the primitive part of the brain; when that happens the parts of the brain that control higher learning can operate. Another way to help disarm the fear response is to offer choices and make your child aware of what is to come. Routines are helpful in making your child aware of what the day holds. Time warnings are great to ease transitions and minimize behavior problems; start with ten, five, and two minute warnings.

Parenting an adopted child can be very similar to parenting a biological child. However, parents need to be observant to learn their new child’s personality and behavior patterns, and always remember that the start to their life was not a typical, nurtured and loving one.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.