Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reading Update: Toddler Adoption


Perhaps one of the most unique times to adopt a child is during the toddler years. Toddlers are just old enough to begin developing their own desires and dislikes, yet too young to verbally communicate them in the strange and often overwhelming context of a brand-new family. As the author Mary Hopkins-Best writes:
"At the precise age when he is beginning to organize his world so that it makes sense and can be acted upon, events beyond his control prevent him from doing so. It is no wonder that the single most important developmental task of his first year of life - learning to trust - is undermined or eroded."
This book was written in response to the author's own experience with international toddler adoption and the lack of resources and research she encountered while searching for guidance. It is intended for "prospective parents considering the adoption of a child between twelve and thirty-six months old, as well as for parents who have already adopted and now may be seeking explanations for problems their children may be experiencing."

It was my intention to read the book prior to my toddler sons' arrival from Haiti, but to be honest I was at first overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information it contained. Not until after the boys had been home for a year and when I began to read it in 5-10 minutes chunks a day, did I begin to process and apply what I was learning. I found the second half of the book and the personal experiences shared by various families to be most helpful.

The following quotes and thoughts are from pages I "dog-eared" because they resonated with our own personal experience. While every child and family is different, the information provided in the book is broad and complete enough that there is surely something to encourage and challenge everyone who reads it.
The "resilient" toddler is one who is characterized by certain factors which seem to protect him against adverse experiences. These factors include the capacity to be independent; initiative; intuition; humor and creativity; and morality as seen in compassion for peers, among others. (pages 104-107)

"Memories during the first two years of life are stored according to sensory and movement input. After age two, children's brains undergo a tremendous explosion of interconnectedness and they move into a new stage of memory retention. Because early life memories are stored in an essentially different system, it is very challenging for the individual or the therapist to access those early life memories." (pages 149-150) Also related to this, "Unconscious memories seem to revisit many toddlers during their dreams." (page 167)

Regarding separation anxiety the author writes, "Children who were the most securely attached to a birth parent or foster parent prior to their adoption display the earliest and most overt separation anxiety ... A number of families described their children's terror and despair if they even left the room to go to the bathroom." (page 167)

"Becoming distant and unapproachable is a coping mechanism humans use in situations where they feel helpless and powerless ... These [include] lack of eye contact or averted eyes, a lack of facial expression, and unusual body posture such as limpness ..." (page 170)

Structure/predictability/routines are reassuring to toddlers. Schedules should be consistent and parents should be reliable to return when expected. Also, parents should "make every effort to delay making additional major life changes ... until new routines are firm and secure." (page 176)

Grief is a reality and will need to be revisited with our children as they grow and mature. Each new stage of life and cognitive development may precipitate new questions and understandings. Also significant life changes and losses, even sights/sounds/smells may trigger feelings of bereavement. Parents need to be prepared to provide satisfactory answers to their children's questions as they arise. (pages 177-178)

"Perhaps adopted toddlers show such a strong desire to control their world because they have experienced the ultimate loss of control for a young child ..." (page 193)

"The ability to delay gratification is an outgrowth of the attachment process." (page 193)

" ... one striking difference between adopting an older child and adopting a toddler is the lack of honeymoon period." (page 195)

The author strongly reminds readers that "techniques of temporary segregation and isolation" (ie, time outs) are for children who are already securely attached. In contrast, during the attachment period with our new children we should "always assume that a request for parental contact and comforting represents a need for a toddler struggling to develop attachment and meet that need on demand, day or night." (page 198)

"Parents must be as assertive and persistent as necessary to strengthen attachment through appropriate touch. Parents claim their children, communicate their love, and manage their young children's behavior through touch." (page 201)

Parent in a positive fashion - with more praise than correction; more "yes's" than "no's;" corrective instruction ("do's" rather than "don'ts") and speaking positively of our children in front of or within earshot of them. (pages 236-237)

1 comment:

Singing Pilgrim said...

This is very cool. I'm not an adoptive mom, but I hope to be someday. I also think I'll link this to a friend of mine who is adopting a toddler. Thank you!