If you are preparing to bring your child home, or have recently arrived home
with your child, there are a number of things that are important to understand:
First and foremost, keep in mind that while you have spent months, perhaps
years, preparing your minds and hearts to welcome this child into your lives and
become a family, your child has had little, if any, preparation for this
incredibly huge and significant change in his or her life.
Your child was going along with the daily routine when one day, there was an
introduction to this person who is to be their new Mom or Dad. Certainly nothing
told to them in the way of preparation makes sense to them. Cognitively, most of
them are too young to understand that they are getting a new family, and most of
them have no reference point for "family." If you have lived all but the first
month or two of your life in an orphanage, you have no real understanding of
what family means. If your child is older and has memories of a dysfunctional or
unstable family life, those memories won't be an accurate reflection of the new
relationship ahead with your family.
Don't be too upset or surprised if your child doesn't react to you the way
you expected or hoped. Don't take it personally. It takes time to fall in love.
It takes time to become a family - to learn how to interact with each other's
personalities, temperaments, etc.
In addition, orphanage life requires different skills than family life. In
fact, survival skills for life in an orphanage may be "dysfunctional" in a
family or American school system.
Consider these points:
Life in institutions is often based on
submissive/dominance models; therefore, your child at home may seem too
aggressive or too passive.
If a child had to be very self-sufficient for
survival, or was older and became a caretaker for younger children in the
institution, it will be hard for the child to let you be the parent.
extremely routinized life in institutions does not equip children with skills to
In an institution, everything is outer regulated: when
you sleep, when you eat, when you go to the bathroom - so a child doesn't have
any opportunities to learn self-regulation or deal with choices.
institution, there are many changes over which a child has no control - staff,
changes in what room he/she lives in because of age. This can create control
issues and/or a lag in developing trust.
Living with multiple caregivers may
result in indiscriminate friendliness. This is not the same as attachment
There are times when attachment disorder is an issue - but it can
be dealt with successfully with appropriate intervention.
The children will
not be used to having things of their own. It will take time to learn the
concept of personal property.
There are positives and negatives to each of the above points. The important
thing is that understanding where a behavior may be coming from helps you deal
with it appropriately.
Your child may be coming home at 8 months, 18 months, or 28 months, but you
will have to teach her/him how to be in a family, how to have social
Lastly, remember that this is a huge transition for your child. Everything -
smells, foods, sounds, textures, language, faces - is going to be radically
different from what they are used to and recognize. Respect that by going slowly
in introducing them to new things (people, places, toys, foods, etc.).
Practical Suggestions for Parents
While You Wait
Educate yourself about the effects of institutionalization
Examine what expectations you have for your child, for
yourself as a parent, and for your new family - and consider how realistic they
Try to get a clear understanding of the developmental stage /
capabilities typical of the specific age of your child.
If your child is
older than two years, try to learn some simple phrases in her/his native
Try to have ongoing contact during this waiting period - send
pictures, letters... involve siblings in drawing pictures, etc.
bring a transition object - a small stuffed animal, a blanket. Hopefully
orphanage staff will share photos or letters with your child but they may not.
You can ask them to send drawings if your child is older. This may not happen
either but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Saying Goodbye at the Orphanage
Try to have time to say goodbye properly,
not rushed. Bring something the child can give to caretakers.
with an instant camera and give them to caretakers. Take photos of your child
with caretakers, others children, the orphanage, and the town to take home.
Bring a transition object (in case the one you sent got lost).
activities for the plane.
Transition at Home
Presume your child's development will be delayed in at
least one area, maybe more. Early childhood specialists agree that there is
about a 1 month delay for every 3 months in an institution.
Be aware that
socially and emotionally your child may be operating on the level of a child
younger than her/his chronological age.
Avoid sensory overload - keep
gatherings low-key, don't fill their room with "stuff."
Make sure you are
the one doing all the "parenting" tasks such as bathing, feeding, putting to
sleep - no matter how much grandparents or aunts/uncles want to do it.
to be fairly consistent with structure and routine.
If possible, allow your
child to have a transitional object - a picture of friends from the orphanage, a
stuffed dog or blanket you brought with you when you went to get them in their
If at all possible, take as much time as you can off from work to
be with your child during this transition time, not just for the time you need
to be in their country, but when you come home as well.
bonding doesn't "just happen." Provide experiences and interactions that will
Think about testing and finding appropriate school
Again, give yourself and your child time to fall in love.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Guest: What do you think about sleeping arrangements for when you first come
home with the baby - same room?
Rita: Over the years my thinking on this has
altered. I used to believe start out in their own room right away, now I really
think it is a call you have to make considering your temperament and your
child's. Going from sleeping with a room full of other kids to being by
themselves is really hard. I'd see how stressed your child is being in their own
room and then if it is too stressful move the bed in your room, or the child can
sleep with you but then be prepared to take a long time to change that
arrangement. How old is your child?
Guest: We still have not traveled yet...
hoping for under 18 mo from Russia.
Rita: Sleep is a difficult issue for most
of our kids... if you can try to give him/her a transitional comfort object as
soon as you take her/him from the orphanage... a blanket, a cuddly bear.
Guest: I hear a lot of people talk about children becoming hysterical at
bedtime, nap time. What causes this and what can you do to help? These seem to
be kids that are fine/happy during rest of day.
Rita: Bedtime, sleep time is
scary for most kids. It is a time when they feel out of control. Some may fear
you won't be there when they wake up or that they will moved to a different
place. The best thing to do is help them transition by having regular routines
around bedtime. Be there as a comforting presence. Have nap times at the same
time every day if possible. Don't get them all excited like roughhousing before
bedtime (Dads like to do that some time... it's great but not before sleepy
Guest: Can you talk a little about food transitions?
Rita: At first,
because they have never had enough, make food accessible - like having lots of
fruit out and around.
Guest: That's interesting... I hadn't heard that yet.
Rita: You might try to make some things that have the flavoring they are
used to, but a child 18 months will pretty much adapt to any food if it appeals
to their taste buds. Most children from an orphanage are used to eating at a set
time so it might be helpful to find out from the staff when those times were and
keep a fairly regular schedule of meal times as a family. Most children will not
be used to family style meals so you will have to teach your child how your
family has dinner for example - let them know what your expectations are. Also
keep in mind that toddlers have no concept of time and what it takes to prepare
food , so expect some impatience. In an orphanage, the food appears at a certain
time and the are sat down and fed, often toddlers are spoon fed, so you may have
to help your child how to feed themselves. Expect a mess, its part of the
learning process. Many orphanages can only afford mush with trace bits of meat
so your child may come to you slightly malnourished, or underweight, or having
difficulty or dislike of chewing. Chewing takes work and they aren't used to it.
But it is important to develop muscle tone of the mouth muscles so language can
develop. Make a game of chewing, make a song like "chew, chew, swallow" and
Guest: Do you have to worry more about choking/gag reflex because these
babies aren't used to food with textures?
Rita: Not usually unless there is
a medical issue of some sort. Most kids adapt fairly well to textures unless
there is a sensory issue.
Guest: What about giving a toddler a bottle in Russia when they no longer use
Rita: If a child is off the bottle I don't see any reason to go
back. Bottles hinder the development of the muscles for talking and there are
other ways to create nurturing moments, like holding & rocking and singing
lullabies, songs, etc.
Guest: I thought it would improve their sucking
Rita: If your child is going to be around 18 months, you want
them using a sippy cup and learning how to chew, and blowing bubbles and
imitating language - that's your priority, not sucking.
Rita: Good question., I think it's one others often have.
Getting Health/Preferences Information
Guest: In preparing for transition and services, how much information is
really available on the child's history to help the planning process? And are
some countries better than others about providing accurate information?
Rita: As you know the level of information varies greatly in its amount and
accuracy, however most of the info. is medical in nature. To find out your
child's likes, patterns, and even history, your best bet is to get as much info
from the caretaker at the orphanage as possible when you go to get your child.
Not only do countries vary but orphanages within the same country vary in the
amount and type and accuracy of info you will get beforehand, unless you are
adopting a special needs child where you will have a clear idea of your child's
issue beforehand. In all cases, upon arrival home I would suggest an assessment.
It would be great to have info ahead of time but the system just doesn't seem to
function that way.
Guest: For countries requiring 2 visits, do you recommend that parents take
their own videos w/sound to let drs see here at home?
Rita: Yes but you have
to keep in mind not to offend the doctors and caretakers at the orphange who
have expressed to me that they feel disrespected by Americans who measure
children's head circumference and take pictures, etc. It's all in how you do it,
how you approach them. It is best to explain you want to be able to have these
for memories and to watch while you are waiting to return, etc.