Tuesday Topic: Help for Parents of Newly Adopted Baby

This week’s question is from a couple who recently adopted a young baby. This is what they wrote,

We recently adopted a 9 month old baby girl from Ethiopia. Ever since we’ve had her, it was been a struggle to do diaper changes. She screams every time. It’s so bad that she starts fussing as soon as she see’s us grab a diaper. We have tried things such as putting her in front of the TV while changing, giving her a toy, talking to her, but nothing seems to distract her enough to keep her from screaming. We’ve had 2 children from birth and have not ever experienced anything like this. Do you have any recommendations?

Okay, all of you parents out there – what are your thoughts? What are your suggestions? Any encouraging words for them? Please take a moment to leave a comment to support and encourage them.

I am going to Spokane today and will be without my computer, but I’ll check in as often as I can to approve your comments. If they don’t show up for awhile, know that I am on the road or without internet access.

Ladybug and Sunshine are both getting their braces off this morning. Sunshine’s were her first phase of treatment, so braces will come around again. Ladybug should be all done. They are both quite excited.

I am ready for some more Tuesday Topic questions. If you have something you would like to ask, please email it to me at [email protected] Please put “Tuesday Topic” in the subject line. All questions are welcome.

And don’t forget to enter the drawing for the $100 Shell gift card! One of you is going to win it and I can’t wait to see who it is.

Encourage one another,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

16 Comments

  1. Mary
    May 21, 2013

    I love the image Dr. Purvis uses of a jungle that needs a path. Every time we walk down the same little path, it gets worn down until it is clear and easily traveled. Starting the path is difficult, but keep on walking down the same path in the same way and one day, it will not be difficult. Rather than trying a bunch of different things, maybe pick one routine. Try a little script, "Mommy loves you and needs to take care of you. Let me get you all clean. Here we go." Then just explain what you are doing in the same way, in the same voice–steady and not panicky (hard when a little one is screaming :). Use the same script and the same voice every time. She will probably be screaming her way through the whole time. But if you keep calm and do the same thing over and over and over again, I would guess she will start to ease up and recognize this is not hurting her and you are there to help her. Who knows what has led to her fear. But you can show her another way with calm repetition. At the end of the diaper change, you might try a little game like itsy bitsy spider if she will let you. Or, if she is not in the mood for touching, hide and seek or find a book. Just try to keep it the exact same day in and day out.
    When my kids panic, I tend to panic. And I start flinging new ideas at them constantly. I am learning that when I devote myself to the same, simple script, they learn quite quickly and we move on to bigger and better things much more quickly than when we did the panic dance all together.

    Reply
    1. Elaine
      May 21, 2013

      I agree with this 100%. I would talk to her as though she can understand everything you are saying and make yourself believe it, too.

      Reply
    2. Kel
      May 21, 2013

      Me, too. Our little guy (adopted at 13 months) did this for months. We did this and eventually it subsided, but he always needed a toy from the stash I had near the changing area. Silver lining – I think his dislike of diaper changes eventually served as a motivator for potty training!

      Reply
    3. Rachel Davis
      May 22, 2013

      This is precisely the route we've taken with haircuts for our son (now 4 with Down Syndrome, adopted at age 2 1/2): He was genuinely terrified of haircuts and they were so miserable and traumatic every time. Eventually, we decided to focus on getting them done with "nothing bad happening every time" but otherwise just hunker down, restrain him appropriately and get it done. There was no pain and it was the same process each time. It took awhile, but he now just fusses and does not panic at all any more. What a relief!

      Reply
    4. Laura
      May 22, 2013

      I love your explanation! I am not a parent but I work in early intervention and often help problem solve this routine, and many other routines, with parents. You so nicely highlighted the beauty of consistency in routines. It communicates to children that you are predictable, and consistent. Those two things translate to a safe caregiver who you can trust.. so important for every little one to know, but especially little ones who may have not known that yet and are working hard to develop a healthy attachment. Avoiding the urge to distract and use different tricks and methods to get through hard routines (diaper changing, leaving the house, seperation) is hard to resist, but so worth it when you think about what it communicates.

      Reply
  2. Kerry
    May 21, 2013

    Hello,
    This is my first time commenting but I hope to give some helpful advice! As foster parents, my husband and I have had many children enter our home with an issue like this. Our approach has always been this: change the baby as quickly as possible, and unless there is a diaper rash forget about any cream/lotion/Vaseline etc. That only adds time and more grief for the baby. A wet diaper can be changed in 10 seconds or less! Have easy clothes on the baby to make the diaper change as quickly as possible. Avoid any other stimulation such as t.v., toys, mobiles, etc. We abandoned a specified change table/area after our first child and just toss a receiving blanket on the floor or a bed and make it a fast exchange. Having varied changing "areas" does not give the baby enough time to work themselves up if diaper changes are spontaneous. Giving the child the cue of a change table may just cause them to react as they did last time and the time before that. Of course, the dirty diapers take a bit longer but just have everything at hand and move as quickly as possible. We use cloth diapers as often as we can, but in situations like this we have just gone with the disposable diapers as everything is often quicker. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Rachel Davis
      May 22, 2013

      Yes! When we do haircuts with our son, which started out as a traumatic experience for him, we go for swiftness… anything to just get it done quickly so that the panic doesn't have time to grow. Then it's over before he knows it and he finds himself wondering… what was it I was crying about?

      Reply
  3. ahhodgman
    May 21, 2013

    It might be a good idea to have a consult with a pediatric urologist. She'll hate it, I know, but it could rule out scarring that might make her associate diaper-changing with extreme trauma.

    Reply
  4. Kimberly Bock
    May 21, 2013

    She has never worn one. She is crying because she is not a fan. Our daughter hated car seats or any plastic strap in seat. It will take a while. It is ok. You may need to try things that feel looser and more like clothing? Maybe let her play with them or watch you diaper a doll too or give her a treat when she is done or distract her. Your daughter is just freaking out from culture shock probably. Make sure she doesn't have a rash, our Ethiopian daughter never had one because we oiled her after baths. Our daughter is 3 now and the joy of our life, ENJOY HER!!!!!! 🙂 You can also give her free time without a diaper on a baby blanket with a crib mattress pad under it. She might just like the feel of home…

    Reply
  5. findingmagnolia
    May 21, 2013

    The other comments are so helpful, so I just have one thing to suggest, which may or may not be the issue. Are you using wipes every time, and are they disposable wipes? Our baby's skin is sensitive, and all of the usual brands sting her little bottom. We use cloth wipes at home (rolled and put in a warmer, with a solution of water, vitamin E oil, tea tree oil, and baby wash poured over the top), and the only disposable kind that she has not cried with so far is Nature Babycare lightly scented wipes. If cloth wipes are not for you but you don't want to have to special order something, you can also make your own disposable wipes using the solution I mentioned above for cloth wipes, just on soft paper towels instead. Good luck! I know it's nerve wracking!

    Reply
    1. Susie
      May 22, 2013

      Pampers makes sensitive wipes and also diapers. We had to use both with our very sensitive child. The wipes are so awesome. They have them at T arget.

      Reply
      1. Ann
        May 23, 2013

        If wiping hurts, some babies prefer standing (or being held) in the tub and being rinsed off instead. Then a good dose of "air time" is always helpful. This helped our one-year-old after a protracted bout of gastroenteritis.

        Reply
  6. gwenmj
    May 22, 2013

    In these moments I sang- much like the advice of the first post but signing. It was the same routine every time my little one screamed out of what could have been traumatic cry. It took him six years to overcome some of the fears he had (and was only in the harmful environment for 3 months) – luckily they were not all a "necessary" part of the routine.
    I often added a distraction to the non preferred activity as well.

    Reply
  7. Laurel
    May 22, 2013

    I would just say to remember that behavior has meaning. I find as an adoptive parent, it helps me just to try to get an idea of the meaning behind the behavior. We adopted our son from Ethiopia at 8 months old and the thoughts that come to my mind are that diaper changes were probably never a nurturing thing for him. They were probably done quickly and maybe even painfully at times. Our son also had Giardia when we brought him home. Not sure if your daughter has/had this, but it is common with babies adopted from Ethiopia. It is a parasite in the intestine that causes constant diarrhea. So our son had that, and had been having diarrhea for who knows how long before we got him. Things like that could have made diaper changes quite unpleasant for your daughter in the past. It will take time for her to realize diaper changes are a nurturing and loving thing her mom and dad will do for her. So your job is just to keep doing it in a nurturing and loving way.

    Reply
  8. Kirstine
    May 22, 2013

    When I read this I could just hear the voice of my therapist like I knew what she would say: Talk to her and give her words about it – let her know you understand she doesn't like it, and she is scared but it has to be done, and you will do it as easy as you can. Even though she might not understand your words – she may anyway. And the attitude of showing empathy and giving words is always good.
    Hang in there – it will get easier.

    Reply
  9. charity
    May 24, 2013

    I had several kids who hated diapers, the chemicals they use in the absorbent material can irritate, they can be allergic to plastic, one of my kids hated being laid down, I think it was the helpless position, so for all wet diapers, we just swapped them out quickly for a dry one while they were standing, took no more time of effort and took the process out of the equation, I also had one baby who hated diapers from birth, we just potty trained her at 5 weeks, held her over a bowl and then eventually over the toilet, much happier baby…if your little one is 9 months already, why not just potty train now…many societies expect babies to be trained by one year, they are certainly ready for it by then, and you may have a very willing partner if you offer options other than diapers!

    Reply

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