Tuesday Topic: Meeting Your Child for the First Time

Hello Friends!  It feels great to be posting a Tuesday Topic this week.  I am craving “normal” although I’m not quite sure what that is going to look like this summer.  It has been so nice to have Russ and Samuel home from Kenya and the weekend has been full of friends, both of old and new.

Yesterday we celebrated Noah’s 20th birthday!  It was a nice afternoon of grilling steaks, skewering vegetables, making great salads, frosting his cake, and then feasting.  This morning as I was snuggled under the warm covers of my bed, I remembered the extremely hot temperatures and unbelievable humidity we had in Ithaca, NY, the week that Noah was born.  He was our first son and an extremely happy baby – a great blessing to us then and now.

I recently got this question from a reader who asked,

My husband and I will soon be bringing home our new daughter.  She is 6 years old, but developmentally functioning as a three year old.  She is currently in a foster home (in another country) and I just can’t even imagine what that first meeting is going to be like for her.  While we are so excited to meet her and love her, what will be going on in her mind seems like it would be so scary.  (These different looking, tall, pale, people who are babbling jibberish are taking me away.)  I just don’t know what is the best way for us to behave.

I would love to hear your thoughts and I know that many of you can share from your own experiences.  Please take a moment to share and encourage a fellow adoptive parent.

I hope your Tuesday is off to a great start.

Encourage one another,


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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.


  1. Lauren
    May 31, 2011

    {If you haven't already, read: The Connected Child and How to Really Love Your Child, by Dr. Ross Campbell}
    We had a very positive adoption process (with two boys aged nearly 4 and 2 1/2), and so we blessed to able do these things: Treat her as a baby in many ways: respond to needs immediately, lots of cuddling and singing and rocking. Talk to her; play the "where is you nose" game with gentle touching. Provide lots of soft loving eye contact with gentle smiles. Determine which healthy foods she likes and provide them abundantly. Encourage and praise. Read similar books and have a routine so she feels security in knowing what comes next. Tell how much God and Jesus love her, and how much you love her; recite a "Who loves you list" with her.

  2. Leah
    June 1, 2011

    The first meeting is so awkward and unusual. There is nothing in life that is similar and so there is no comparison or preparation. I think the best thing to keep in mind is to GO SLOW. This mantra applies well to the first two year after home coming. Restructure your life commitments so you can meet the needs of your daughter at her pass not the FAST pass of American living. It was hard to look at my almost 7 year old daughter and play baby games with her but that is how we began to fall in love. Play the games, read the baby books, get her into a preschool or the church nursery so she can play with all the baby toys. But mostly just go slow!

  3. learningpatience
    June 1, 2011

    When we met our children for the first time, we had such mixed responses. The almost-two year old screamed and wretched his body in terror, while the five year old (who was really emotionally younger than five) RAN to us with her arms outstretched. The younger spent the next few days somewhere in between shock and terror and came home to throw constant tantrums (with scream, biting, and drooling) only to adjust rather well in the long run (three years later I'm saying this, mind you). The older smiled and smiled and smiled but was apparently melting on the inside; adjustment has been a longer process for her – longer and quieter and "deeper." He has forgotten much of his angst, I believe, while she remembers the brokenness and hurt.

    There is no way to tell how your child will react, but meet her needs whatever they are. You might need to hold her while she screams or you might need to be sensitive to her need for space while also purposely getting her used to meaningful and loving touch. She might be all smiles or completely terrified. There's so many scenarios that can play out – just go into it all with a lot of prayer, and open mind, and determination to do what is best for her! (and like the first comment, read, read, read!)

  4. maggie
    June 1, 2011

    I agree with the earlier comments that you need to go at the pace that is right for your child and give lots of kind touches and engage in one on one play. But on a very practical note – please try to learn some of the language that your child speaks. I tried to learn Chinese before meeting our then 3 1/2 yr old. I can't say that my Chinese is very good but I was able to communicate basic things – time for bed – are you hungry – do you need to go to the bathroom, etc as well as counting to ten, colors and animals. So while my Chinese was and is rudimentary I think that it helped make her feel a little less scared. Although she was very scared and angry with us and had many meltdowns while we were in China – we do have some happy memories of our time there – like how we fed the fish together and I pointed out the big,small, yellow and red fish in Chinese to her, which she now at the age of 5 remembers very clearly.

  5. kristine
    June 1, 2011

    maggie is so right about language. What ever is the most recent language your child has been hearing is a good place to start. Our 3 1/2 year old just came home from Ethiopia 2 months ago. He spoke Amharic for only 6 weeks in Addis (he is a native Sidama speaker) We learned about 20 words/phrases and they have made all the difference. I have said "Don't be afraid" several times and had him stop crying immediately. I think the idea that I knew he was afraid was a huge step in bonding. We also learned words like 'great job!" and "delicious" and "sorry" I also agree with others about going slowly. When we met our son he was very ill. He was shaking, standing in front of us with his chin down and he was biting his bottom lip trying not to cry. He was terrified we were going to take him there and then. The nannies wanted us to hug him but it would have been too much. We got down to his level and very quietly said hello in Amharic. Then we stood up and left him alone. He breathed a huge sigh of relief. We do a lot of repeating games. We make a funny face, he makes a funny face. Then we follow his lead. Also, our son knows a short prayer in Amharic. Every night he leads us in our dinner prayer. He loves this and it is another moment that binds us together. We have a long way to go but we're on our way. Good luck to you!

  6. Marissa
    June 1, 2011

    Just let it be what it will be. It's awkward and scary for both parties. And it all depends on the personalities of everyone involved. When I met my now 8-year-old he jumped into my arms and hugged me. It was awkward and he was scared (and I was too), but it flowed pretty well. Meeting my two older children was completely different. They began making demands of me the moment I met them. 🙂 There were no hugs or affection. In fact, it was absolutely miserable for everyone. My kids and I now talk often about how terrified we were the first time we met, which is very therapudic for us.

    Everyone is different and addresses things differently. You've got to do what works for you and your child. I'm a big believer in keeping expectations very, VERY low. That way you'll be prepared.

  7. Kathrin
    June 1, 2011

    Happy Biethday to Noah! We celebrated my daughters 25th birthday in May. Times flies. All the best.

    As to the first meeting. I recomend to be the parent, know that you are at the right place, do not act insecure, talk to your child (even though she/he dosen't speak your language), tell them you know that they might be scared, angry, … but everything will be ok. Hold and rock them. I would say do not give them too much space becuase they might miss understand.

  8. Lori
    June 2, 2011

    We have adopted three older children internationally (they were 6, 10, and 6 when adopted) – they were all different. The first thing I thought of when I read your question was the first few hours/days when you spend time with your child. Follow her lead. I have heard stories of children who jump into their parents' arms, but that did not happen with us. The kids were all fairly apprehensive upon meeting us. They were shy and probably scared. We placed ourselves in close proximity, but did not push anything. We took puzzles to the orphanage when we first visited so that we could do something together that was nonthreatening. Playing a game was a good way to break the ice. You could have a ball that you could roll back and forth between you to encourage eye contact and interaction.

  9. Margaret
    June 3, 2011

    One of my children was 5, the other 8 when we first met. The meetings were very different, but each was willing (even eager) to hold my hand. They were both VERY quiet (as it turns out, they are not quiet people.) Like other people suggested, I brought little games…my son and I built with Lego for a long time, with my daughter we played cards. Things to do made it possible for us to be together and do reciprocal things without talking or being too close…oh yeah, my son and I rolled cars and balls back and forth too.
    But in both cases, I also started simple rituals, like books and songs as part of bedtime…things that could quickly become predictable, so my children would feel a bit more certain.
    Good luck.


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