The first year or two after the placement of a child with an attachment issue is very difficult on the child and the family. I equate it to a trauma treated in an emergency room. It is not pretty and there are some extreme measure that need to be taken to stabilize the patient. Having gone through this myself a couple of times, I wish I had had something I could have given to the people around me to help them know how they could help (actually not working against me would have been fine too). I wrote this list so that adoptive parent can have something to hand to their support network. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments below.
1. Don’t offer unsolicited advice. You were a wonderful parent. However, adopting an older/special needs child is different. The child acts different around the adoptive parents than they do around anyone else. You probably think advice will help, but when you offer advice all the parent really hears is, “You aren’t very good at this.” If the parents feel their decisions are being scrutinized, it creates an added pressure. Instead of thinking about what would be best for the child in a given situation, they’ll be wondering how others are going to judge them. If you really want to help, see 6 & 7 below.
2. Remember, it really is NOT the same as raising your own children. The child/children being adopted are seriously wounded. The parents have no bond with the child on which to rely for motivation. In fact, experts agree that TRADITIONAL PARENTING TECHNIQUES DO NOT WORK with kids with attachment issues. I know all parenting is tough, but for a while it will be harder, more tiring, and more challenging than raising a child that has been with you since birth.
3. Please do NOT nurture, mentor, hug, kiss, or give sweets to the child. The kids have been looking to have this need fulfilled by every adult they have come into contact with since they began to be abused/neglected. Now they have parents, and to facilitate this bond, all of the aforementioned activities need to be done solely by the new parents until a secure bond has taken place.
4. Don’t be manipulated by the child. After the honeymoon period, children are likely to make up stories about their new parents. Don’t believe them. In fact, in many cases, you are best to believe that everything coming from the child mouth is a lie. In many cases the kids are still shopping for parents. As they get closer to their parents, they may try to sabotage the relationship.
5. Please DO encourage the parent(s) regularly. They will need it.
6. Please DO be creative with how to help. Hey, these parents are exhausted because of constant testing by the kids and trying to learn how this child is wired up. It is work that only they can do. But there are plenty of things you can do to free up time for them to focus on the kids. Clean their house, mow their lawn, drop off a frozen meal, offer to watch the kids for a couple hours so they can take a break, fix the car, go grocery shopping, etc.
7. Make it your goal to help the parents, not help the kids. These kids have had counselors, teachers, therapists, case managers, foster parents and more helping them through some pretty tough times. The one thing that has been missing is permanent people who have committed to them for the rest of their lives. The most important relationship now is the parent child relationship, and the kids need to begin to understand that this “Parent Person” is who takes care of me now. Remember, help the parents, so they can help the kids.”