Integrating Adopted Children into the Family

Depending on your child's age, you can use a variety of methods to claim him and help him feel connected to you and the rest of your family. Start with his specific stage and work backward, if necessary, adapting specific techniques for his developmental age. In addition to these methods, it is important to take time at the beginning of your family's adoption journey to allow bonds to develop.

Cocooning

In addition to rituals such as claiming and naming your child, another claiming technique that is recommended by adoption experts is cocooning when your child is first placed with you. Cocooning refers to pulling away a bit from the outside world and focusing your time and attention on your immediate family. This allows you to build bonds that will lead to secure attachment.

How you cocoon will depend on your child's age and your family's needs. You could, for example, plan to stay home together for an entire week without answering the phone or turning on the TV. You could declare that each night after six is family time and is a time for games, stories, and sharing. You could take a month and avoid any social outings, instead taking the time to just be a family together.

If you've adopted an infant, you will want to spend a lot of time just holding him. If you have adopted an older child who is more self-sufficient than an infant, he may not be interested in being physically held for long periods of time. However, he will benefit greatly by you giving just as much undivided attention to him as you would an infant.

Essential

Delores and Tim wanted to adopt sisters. They held a family council with their children — three girls and a boy. The three girls were enthusiastic, but the boy sat mutely. Finally, Tim managed to get him to blurt out, “There's too many girls in this family, already!” He wanted a brother, not more sisters. Eventually, they adopted two boys. Be sure that the decision to add more children to the family through adoption is supported by the entire family.

When you cocoon, you may need to explain to those outside your immediate family, that you will welcome visits in a few weeks, but right now you're going to concentrate on your child. Ask your extended family for help in this process if necessary. Grandma or grandpa, uncles and aunts can run errands, do grocery shopping, help with housework, and in other ways give you the time and space to learn about your child.

Even though you didn't go through pregnancy and birth, you, your partner, and your child need the bonding time most families take when a baby is born to them.

Have Fun Together as a Family

Other than meeting basic needs of care and survival, giggling and enjoying each other's company is the single best way to build secure attachment. Enjoy games, cartoons, and funny stories with your child. Laughter, smiles, and other positive emotions release feel-good chemicals into your child's brain and into yours.

Be open to seeing the silly or humorous side of mistakes or mishaps. You will be modeling appropriate responses to unfortunate happenings that were either accidents or unavoidable. An older child whose early experiences with adults may have involved anger, will learn to trust you much more quickly if you can laugh at yourself and see the funny side of things. Keep one caveat in mind, however — never laugh at your child, only with him, and avoid sarcasm or teasing at all costs.

Shared Experiences Are Key

You can joke around with your children and cocoon for the first few weeks, but if you don't take the time to be a family through all the stages of your child's life, you will not develop close bonds. It is one thing to know you are part of a family, but it is another to experience it on a daily basis. Yes, you as a parent may have a job, friends, activities, hobbies, and responsibilities, but your family must be one of the primary focuses of your life for your child to really experience family life.

This doesn't mean you must spend the rest of your life saying, “Okay, today we're going to focus on our family togetherness, everyone!” It does mean that you stay involved in your child's life, keep him involved in yours, and create a wide variety of ways in which you regularly interact with each other and share things.

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