Tuesday Topic:Transition for Older Children

This week’s Tuesday Topic comes from Karen who wrote:

I am HOPEFULLY going to bring my daughter-to-be home by the end of this year.  She is a little over 5 1/2 years old and has lived in orphanages in Guatemala for 4 1/2 of those years.  She is familiar with me (I visit her every few months) and while she doesn’t necessarily understand that I am her Mommy, she does know that I am called Mommy and am a special person in her life.

My questions are for those that have already brought home older children:  what 3 things did you do that really helped to ease the transition of your child into your family and what 3 things do you wish you had done?

My daughter-to-be has severe developmental delays, being more like a 2 year old than a 5 year old and so even those that have brought home toddlers might have good suggestions for us.  I have done a TON of reading, getting ready for her homecoming, but I would like to hear from those that have been “in the trenches” and have already done it.  I do have two older (ages 7 and 10) daughters which I also adopted from Guatemala, so I’m not new to the adoption “arena.”  I will also add that her comprehension is in spanish, not English, and while my spanish is limited, we do seem to get along ok.  I do have spanish speaking friends that can help if I need to communicate something that is beyond my language capabilities!  🙂

This is a great question and one I’m sure many of you can address.  Don’t hesitate to add your thoughts – last week’s question had a fabulous response.  Let’s brainstorm some great ideas to offer  Karen and other parents preparing to bring home older children.

I’m going to try a different format for the Tuesday Topic this week. Rather than holding your responses until Friday, I’m going to approve responses as they come in.  I’m hoping this will encourage a discussion amongst us and maybe some good thoughts will come of it.  Additionally, I find that devoting two posts a week to Tuesday Topics is limiting the amount of time available to post other things, especially since I often don’t post on the weekends.   I would love your feedback on this because I definitely don’t want to squelch the good things happening with Tuesday Topics.

Thank you for all of your great answers and for being a resource for other parents.

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. Leah
    September 21, 2010

    Albeit only three months into the relationship…I just posted are top three most helpful tools for family's transition at http://forever2young.blogspot.com/2010/09/three-m

  2. Shonni
    September 21, 2010

    I’m looking forward to this topic. Our son that is waiting for us in China is 6 and we have never adopted a child that old. Sometimes I feel peace and at other times I am so scared!

  3. Jen Lee
    September 21, 2010

    I agree! We are adopting three children from Africa: a 5 1/2 year old girl, a 6 year old girl and a younger boy (have not received his referral yet). I too feel peace at times and then feel scared to death at other times. Looking forward to the responses!

  4. learningpatience
    September 21, 2010

    We adopted two at once – a 5yo and an almost-2yo.

    What we did right:
    -cleared the schedule/set aside commitments outside of our home. We were in a place where we were able to clear our routine of everything – no commitments at church, not commitments in the community, few family commitments. This was really helpful, because even though my husband's job was very demanding he was available when he wasn't working . . . and I was available to be there for the kids. This also limited the number of people that our children were exposed to. I was their main caretaker around the clock, and we didn't leave them with anyone else . . . we didn't have to, because we were available (except for two instances that were very out of the ordinary, like a death in the family).
    -We took pictures of our other children to Ethiopia, and we talked about those pictures almost daily while we were there.
    -We prayed for them, and we asked everyone we knew to pray for them (and us.) Prayer is SO powerful, and we saw answer after answer after answer. I would literally ask my group of friends who prayed for us regularly to pray for something, and the answer would come within days! It was amazing, and I became more convinced than ever of the power of prayer!

    What do I wish we had done?
    – Been more patient!
    – Been more loving!
    – Been less stressed!
    I always look back and think on that season as such a stressful exhausting time. I wish it hadn't been; I wish it had been lovely and sunshiney all the time. I wish that I had had the patience and energy and sanity to meet all of their needs and never feel drained. When I think back on it now, I wish I could have seen where we are now; if I knew that everything would turn out as lovely as it has, I would have felt SO much less stressed. I used to lay awake at night and think about how our daughter was never ever going to adjust and our son was going to be a total mess forever. She has; he isn't. It's ok. So in summary, I guess I'm saying I should have just kept my perspective in order.

  5. Jen
    September 22, 2010

    I ABSOLUTELY agree with "learningpatience."

    We adopted 3 sibs from Liberia (3, 5, and 7) and then 6 from foster care (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12) – all w/ RAD issues!

    What we did right:

    Like "learningpatience"
    1. TOTALLY cleared the schedule and our commitments. Especially the second time around! LOL! and we were TOTALLY available to the kiddos almost all of the time. WE were the main caregivers, feeders, holders, etc. . . not other people.

    2. SEVERLY limit media exposure, limit fun "activity" type things like amusement parks, etc. . . and keep the daily life simple, structured, steady – for a LONG time!

    3. Pray for them. Aloud. Over them. With them. Hold them and pray. Pray when they don't want you to pray. Pray.

    4. (too good to pass up). I honestly think that rocking them (yes, even at 5.5) and feeding them sweet (slightly sugared) milk from a bottle EVERY night while working on eye-contact and soft singing or talking was SO helpful to their adjustment and attachment. For at least the first 2-3 months.

    5. Last one (I promise) – It is TOTALLY OK to treat them as the age they seem to be (or even younger!) rather than their physical age. Do not feel pressure to treat them like other 5 y.o.s or make everything "fair" compared to your other kiddos that age. They NEED to go back and experience your love and care in the "infancy" stages first. Do not focus on the academics/sports/etc. . . just work on trust and love right now.

    What I wish we would have done?
    realized that this was going to be a long process, but that it is truly possible for them to heal and bond and trust again. . . and that when that happens, it is like having a different kid. It is just this first part that will be really, really hard.

    Gotten rid of more stuff/clutter. It overwhelms them AND it is too much to deal with. I wish I had more time to devote to the kids and less time to "keeping" house!

    Given myself more grace. realizing that there are no perfect parents – especially when dealing with all of the issues w/ adopting an older child – but there are loving and intentional parents. . . and that, coupled with the love and mercy of God, will be enough!

  6. Bev
    September 22, 2010

    We adopted our daughter in March '09 from China – she had just turned 5 and had lived in an orphanage since she was 14 months old. She's our baby – we have 2 older bio-boys.

    What helped:
    1. DITTO – we totally cleared our schedule! My husband took a month off work. We didn't really go anywhere except church and the grocery store.
    2. She was within an arm's reach of me for at least the first few months. Even when I wanted privacy, she would sit and play on the bathroom floor.
    3. I got out of the house – I went to lunch with a girlfriend, I walked through a store by myself, I sat and drank a latte at Starbucks.

    What I wish we had done:
    1. Been more compassionate/patient/loving/understanding.
    2. Accepted help! Friends offered, but I wish I had let go of my pride and accepted it.
    3. Scheduled one-on-one time with our bio kids -they felt left out. Many days, I felt completely drained by our daughters needs/demands, and I neglected the boys' needs.

    Blessings to you and your family!

  7. Michele
    September 22, 2010

    We have been through 2 adoptions, a 9 year old girl from China and 3 yr old and 1 yr old boys from Ethiopia:

    Things we did right::
    cleared the schedule – all that down time let us become a family
    prayed – over them, around them, with them
    schedule time with each child (we have 7) so they get their own time with Mom and don't feel left out
    let food choices be a lot more relaxed than I had with our bio children. All three adopted children have lots of food issues and it helps to always have healthy snacks with me at ALL times and be willing to let them make choices – even if that choice is oatmeal for every meal for a month 🙂 We even let our 3 year old sleep with a loaf of French Bread every night during his first 6 months home.

    things I wish we should have done:
    1. first adoption I wish I would have said no to public outings, I kept trying to make things work that first year and our daughter was not ready. Restaurant, family parties, holidays, anything with a lot of people was a disaster for the 1st year. Our sons were good in public immediately.
    2. lined up more special needs help a head of time – especially if you already know your daughter has developmental delays. It took a long time to start to see the learning disabilities because we thought it was language issues but it was processing information issues.
    3. Accept help from friends – I did not the first time and I did the second time and it made a world of difference for me.

  8. Kate in NY
    September 22, 2010

    When we adopted our son from Ethiopia 5 years ago (at 6-7ish), we read in the adoption literature something to the effect of: "begin as you will continue." I took this quite literally, and became utterly convinced that if I was "too soft," if I didn't take a firm stand from Day One, that I would lose total parenting control and never get it back (as if we have control over any of our kids! Ha!) So I found myself in endless (losing) control battles with my new son – – – because I feared that if I didn't somehow GET him to follow the rules (sitting while eating, saying thank you and please, etc) that he never would.

    Now there are certain aspects to the "begin as you will continue" rule that I DO support. If your family is not one to watch lots of TV, buy toys from the $1 bucket at Target, eat candy for breakfast, etc., then it is probably better not to let your new child think that's how things are going to be. But in general, I think the adoption literature should read: begin with endless love, patience, tolerance . . . provide structure and firmness, but don't engage in control battles . . . with time your child will learn to "follow the rules" (mostly!) – – – but there is way, way more important attachment stuff that needs to happen first."

    I also agree with all the other comments – – – such wise parents on this blog!

    Good Luck!

  9. Margaret
    September 23, 2010

    I adopted a 5 yr old from Ethiopia as a single parent; then an 8 yr old from ET as a married parent with our by then 11 yr old son at home. I agree with many of the above posts: I was able to stay home with each child for about 8 mos.; being flexible about food, being willing to "baby" them, including feeding, snuggling, bathing and also just being around all the time, esp. when they were falling asleep was good. Having many routines was very helpful: both kids had lived in orphanages and unscheduled time was as hard for them to manage as lots of stuff. I am pretty anti-TV, but each child needed some tune out time at the beginning. Our daughter listened to the same Ethiopian CD over and over; our son watched the same DVD of himself and his friends at the orphanage. Having this time built into the schedule helped. Giving them jobs to help with helped. We read a ton of picture books, which was great bonding and for English learning. We had an Amharic/English dictionary and paper around all the time,and we either looked up words or drew pictures during communication snafus. Family therapy or therapy for me was also helpful in the first year.

    I was pretty strict with my son about doing things for himself: I shouldn't have bothered. I didn't get that he just wanted the luxury of being taken care of and was weirdly afraid that he'd forget how to tie or pump a swing. Getting help and taking time for myself (or ourselves) in the case of my husband and me was something I wasn't good at, but getting exercise and being with other grown ups at times made me a better mom.

  10. Julie
    September 24, 2010

    We adopted a 4 1/2 year old in May of '08. You've already gotten lots of great wisdom here. For us, the top three would be:

    1. In the same theme of clearing your schedule and simplifying your life, give your child an empty room – just the bed, linens and one simple toy. Anything more will just overwhelm her (She will already be overwhelmed.) Keep her world very small for the first few months. Box up any valuables in the home that you don't want broken. Have the mindset that you love this child more than anything you own.
    2. Meet her needs immediately. Allow her to go back through the baby stages. In fact, expect a baby. Love her like you would a baby… Sing, rock, warm sugar-milk bottles, diapers, blankets, skin-time. Fill her up with "yes"s as much as possible.
    3. Love her with your eyes and tone of voice, if language is a barrier.

    Things we wish we had done:
    1. I devoted my complete attention to the needy new one, and let my big kids take care of themselves the first few months. I wish I had shown our new daughter that mommy needs to take care of ALL the kids in the house. She developed intense jealousy of her sister when I started to show attention to her. It has been really hard for her to understand that she is not the center of my universe.
    2. I wish we had prepared our older kids better to understand that their little sister would be different than their expectations. Our big boys thought a little sister would be a pain in the neck, so they were not nearly as affected as our young daughter, who was expecting a happy, playful sister. She had teh highest expectations and had the biggest letdown when reality hit.
    3. I wish I had known more Spanish speaking people that I could have called for help. We had a few, but the language barrier was so difficult.

    Bless you,

  11. Jen Lee
    September 26, 2010

    This is an invalualbe treasure of information for me. I cannot thank you (all who posted) enough!

  12. Christen
    October 7, 2010

    My husband and I have recently adopted a 5 year old girl, and I have really enjoyed and am learning from all of your comments.
    -I took of the first 3 months with her and was with my beautiful girl 24 hours a day. I had no idea what a difference this would make. I think a huge factor in attachment is time. You can't get quality time with out quantity time. My sweet little one has attached much more with me just because she had had more time with me than my husband.
    -Give up on the food battle and other useless battles! I try to pick what's really important! It doesn't matter if she eats pepperoni for breakfast as long as she eats! And when she's tired or emotionally exhausted it's not the time to teach her or discipline her.

  13. Christen
    October 7, 2010

    -Along the lines of big public outings – I made the mistake of having a big birthday for her one month after she moved in. Big mistake – she was overwhelmed. I gave her control over who she wanted at her adoption day and that worked better.
    -Forget about anyone's feelings but your child's. If they are friends they will understand that you can't do everything or anything when you are helping your child adjust. You won't regret putting her first.
    I loved all your comments and will try some of your ideas! Thanks a million for this website! It has given me so much hope and helped me feel more "normal"!


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