Create a Feeling of Safety
An adopted child's greatest fear is that those who are supposed to love and care for him will disappear. For many children adopted from foster care or internationally, this fear has become reality in the past. Safety is more than physical safety — it pertains to emotions as well.
Your primary purpose is to develop attachments between your child and you, your partner or spouse, and other children in the family. To do so, you need accurate information about your child's prenatal and early experiences, so you can understand behavior in context. You need to know what has happened in the past so you can make plans about how to handle the future.
If your child's birth family is going to be involved in your child's life (if you've adopted a relative's child or a stepchild or signed an open adoption agreement), you and they must agree on boundaries that will facilitate attachment for you and your child. An open or kinship adoption is not a coparenting arrangement. There should be no doubt about who is the parent and who is an important adult in the child's life.
Most experienced adoptive parents describe the birth mother or father's role in a completely open adoption as similar to that of an aunt or uncle. You have the right to parent according to your own values and style, without interference from the birth family. The birth family is there to provide some extra love and attention for your child, but is not involved in day-to-day parenting.
If your child is a toddler or older when adopted, he will probably have experienced at least one devastating loss and maybe several. Because of this, you will need to use concrete methods for teaching your child how your family functions and that it is a safe place.
It can be helpful to be as visual as possible, as well as repetitive, as you teach your child what it means to be in your family. Make a poster with pictures of everybody in the family. Put your picture and your spouse's at the top. Then write “Mom and Dad set the rules, provide the food, and give love” under your pictures. You can write similar statements for each sibling and your child or use words on the poster such as “Everybody will be safe in our family,” “We eat together and share hugs,” “We all have jobs to do,” and so on.
You will probably have to verbalize such things as, “Daddy goes to work to get money to buy food and he always comes home again” or “Big people do not hurt children in our family.” You will have to say these things over and over again, probably for months or even years.
If you are interested in learning about the effect of adoption on birth mothers, read