Preparing Before the Placement
As with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, you can do much to prepare for your elementary school child ahead of time. The training you received from your agency should have warned you about the high-structure and high-nurturing style of parenting demanded by adoption of older children. It will definitely not be a typical parenting experience.
You must help your child progress through the five levels of attachment that will allow her to begin formal education and move out into the world. Read about these levels so that you understand what to expect. She should:
Trust and expect you to meet her needs (Level 1)
Prefer you over anyone else and look to you for reassurance (Level 2)
Seek your approval and feel guilty when you disapprove (Level 3)
Want hugs and snuggles from you and imitate your behavior (Level 4)
Be able to make friends and be eager to try to master new skills (Level 5)
Note that these levels of attachment are defined by child development specialists and apply to preschoolers as well.
When possible, it is important that you find out why your child became available for adoption, because you must know whether she was abandoned, removed from her biological parents because of their substance abuse or criminal conduct, or if the reason was more benign (as far as attachment goes), such as the illness or death of her parents. Understanding her history will help you understand what she is dealing with and reacting to.
Whatever the reason for your child's being placed for adoption and becoming part of your family, it may cause unique problems stemming from grief over the loss of her biological family and fear of the unknown (which is what you will initially represent).
Children between the ages of five to nine normally develop socially and intellectually at a significant pace. They learn to read, do math, study history and geography, and solve abstract problems. However, your child will likely lag behind her peers, because of disruptions in schooling and or upheavals at home.
As with preschoolers, elementary school-aged children who have not been nourished properly may demonstrate cognitive delays and be underweight and/or shorter than normal. Sometimes, these deficiencies can be overcome with special diets and tutoring. Take your child to a pediatrician who specializes in physical and emotional challenges for children from deprived backgrounds or institutionalization.
Like any child, your child needs love, affection, and safety to develop well. For children of this age, friendships are also important. Your child may not have had the opportunity to develop friendships if she has been frequently moved from home to home. Children raised in orphanages may have formed deep attachments to the other children they were with, and separating from them and trying to make new friends who don't speak the same language or have the same background can be extremely difficult.
Personal space is important for personality development in any growing child, but it doesn't have to be a whole room. Act on your knowledge of your child's background and be sure her room isn't totally isolated from the rest of the family. For example, don't remodel a basement playroom as a bedroom if the rest of the family's rooms are upstairs.
An ideal arrangement could be sharing a room that has a divider that can be closed once in awhile with a sibling of the same gender. “Once in awhile” is the operative phrase; you don't want her to spend extended time alone. Children who have attachment issues have been conditioned to only trust themselves, and the more time they're alone, the more powerfully that point is reinforced.
Set up her room in a welcoming way. Correspond with her and her caretakers to find out her interests, and incorporate those into the decor. For example, if you find out your adopted daughter loves horses, seeing a horse motif in her room may ease the awkwardness of transition.
If your child is having trouble making friends, help her understand the social cues or messages she's sending. Videotape her on the playground and watch the tape together. Help her see how her behavior signals to others whether she's friendly, afraid, or aggressive. It can take repeated conversations and a great amount of practice before your child can easily interact with peers in an age-appropriate manner.
Many adoptable children of elementary school age may never have owned much of anything; consequently, sharing will be a foreign concept. Understanding ownership must happen before your child will be comfortable enough to relinquish control enough for someone to play with one of her toys or even sit near her in a classroom.