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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Toddler/preschooler adoption boys and girls (and young boys specific challenges)

If you are interested in adopting older kids, that is older than infant, over 2 years of age..... well, you have likely learned that there are more boys than girls available for adoption in Ethiopia, in every age group, but the largest number are over the age of 3 or 4. When given the choice people often believe a girl will give them less grief and will bond faster. Is this true? Well, I don't really know, but I do know that adopting any child is a risk and you need to be educated before you dive right in, and certainly before your child comes home. I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on bringing boys into our home. If you have boys, well, you already know what to expect. I will say this one thing, any normal boy behavior that is exaggerated is a BIG HUGE sign of attachment and bonding issues as well as grief.  No, they are not just more active or wily or rowdy or whatever you call it, they are having issues with attachment. For those of you who have only girls right now and are considering adding a boy, this is a new ball game! WOW! I thought I was prepared. Wrong. For those of you  for whom this will be your first child. Well, a boy is a wonderful thing, you just have to harness all that wildness into tame and that is a lot of work. You will do just fine.

We adopted two preschool aged boys who were very close in age in 2008. Honestly, the whole process was very fast as they were waiting and older. 5 months sign with agency to home. We have two older daughters. At the time we adopted they were 9 and 10.

Some other posts that may be useful depending on where you are at:
Older child adoption post on blog
Artificial twinning post on  blog

From my reading and experience these are some things you should consider, in my opinion:

Time for toddlers/preschoolers:
*I would highly recommend getting Love and Logic or some sort of action/consequence logic based parenting book/program and knowing it well. Because you have no history with these children, and they are older, and established in behavior, you will need to rely heavily on a parenting technique you choose and be consistent with it. They are coming from chaos and will need a high level of order and consistency and nurture.
*Are you willing and able to stay home with them for the first year they are home? This is critical for attachment and bonding that they have you as their only care giver for this time.
*Example of what we are doing: 6 months home then 1/2 day preschool for 3 mornings a week (BIG HUGE Mistake!!) should have waited until a year home. After a year home  3 mornings of 1/2 day prek a week was ok with Serious mommy time on days home and afternoons home, when we missed this they acted up. We will do 1/2 day kinder. They will not have an entire day away from me until first grade. Due to insecure attachment our younger son will home school prek a second year before going to kinder to solidify the relationship while our oldest son is able to handle 1/2 day kinder all week in the fall.
*At four or five and certainly if older,  it is likely that they have experienced the typical Ethiopian spankings. More like child abuse in my opinion. My boys have unnatural fears and reactions to any form of physical punishment due to this. Even a thump on the hand brings an out of proportion fear and even shaking. Once we realized this we were able to alter things greatly. Time in and thinking times and re-do's have been great. They have fostered trust and responsibility. 
* Boys need a lot of attention, or, rather supervision!

Attachment and Grief toddler/older:
You do not know and may never know the background of these children. If they have had a secure and healthy attachment to their birth mother through age 3 then they will likely have a healthy and secure attachment to transfer to you. You will have to earn it. This takes longer than with younger children. Once it is transferred you will enjoy a great relationship. We have one of these, it took about 1 year and is solid. If your child has only an insecure attachment/unhealthy or none at all, you will be starting from ground zero with this child. Not only will you have to earn them transferring their trust to you but you will have to teach them what a secure and healthy attachment looks like. This involves taking the child back through infancy steps of feeding, dressing and bottle, eye contact, high and intense nurture and dependence. We have one of these too. It is hard work, it is not fun and it is exhausting and sometimes downright discouraging. But, if you devote your all to it  you will succeed. We have come so far at a year and a half and expect that by 3 years we will have that secure and healthy attachment we are working toward with our son. And, he is NOT by any means a terrible child, not RAD (reactive attachment disorder), but he does not know what a healthy attachment is nor how to make one and he, at 3, had his way of living and not trusting down pat. The mind needs time to re form those malformed circuits and lots of re training. It is hard, but worth it. I have a bunch of stuff on attachment on the blog if you want to start there it will give you links and articles to start with.
*Four year olds are perceptive and can remember things that gave them joy and things that hurt them deeply, but they can not articulate it nor can they deal with it. They do not know it has effected them and you have to tell them what they are feeling and why and how to manage those feelings.  Example: our boys have opposite ways of showing they are feeling insecure. With our younger son, he gets really friendly and silly, seeking attention from others, he is also manipulative to control others. We had an out of town visitor. The boys met him once before. The first day he was here the boys were unruly and disobedient and wild. Normal boy behavior on the excessive side. I took them to preschool and told the teacher today may be bad. I picked them up and our youngest had sat in the thinking chair nearly the entire morning. I altered our time together back to the intense and deliberate first year stuff and they are fine now. They needed reassurance that it was all ok. They were great at school the next day.
* We use attachment terms with out boys on their level. This is how we do it: Strong boys can give and receive love, they give and get hugs and say I love you and receive I love you. Strong boys look right in the eyes when talking with someone. Strong boys tell the truth. Strong boys use their words to help not hurt. Strong boys use their hands/feet to help and not hurt. Strong boys are strong enough to obey. Strong boys control themselves not others. Etc.............If they show weak boy behaviors then they get to go practice strong boy behaviors. It works like a charm. They want nothing more than to be strong.

Behavior and Boys:
Do your reading on normal boy behavior. Basically what you will see with older/preschool/toddler boys is that attachment issues show up in exaggerated normal boy behavior. This makes it tricky to detect issues. It is important to detect and deal with it so that you do not have latent RAD come up when they hit age 9 or 10. Boys are a very different beast than girls. So, you will need to educate yourself on boy development up to age 4 or the supposed age of your child and a bit beyond, and know what is normal and not, etc... Go to play places and watch boys the age of your child to be. Tell parents there that you are adopting a 2-3-4-5-6 year old boy and in general they will answer any questions you may have and for the most part they will not spare you the dirty details of parenting a boy. Very helpful. If you attend a church you could volunteer for that age in the child care department for a few weeks. If you have girls only, it would be a really good idea to expose them to as many ill behaved boys of that age as possible before their brother(s) arrive. It is usually a big shocker for girls who have beforehand  had no brothers. Boys are full of wild energy and it CAN be directed and tamed. We have a book we love on raising boys. It is from a Christian perspective and I don't know where you fall with that so if it is not your cup of tea, just ignore this part. :) The book is called Wild Things. It is really great.

Preschooler boys (and somewhat girls):
*Preschoolers are moving OUT of the dependency and cuddly phase. You will have to force (playfully and gently :) this phase on them again with you as they need it for attachment. Their resistance to this may stem from a physiological rather than psychological stand point. So, be prepared for this and have your plan.
*The bond with dad comes naturally and needs to be tempered until the bond with mom is secure. That is hard for dads. The boys resist mom because they were hurt by mom leaving or dying and the female caregivers at the orphanage may not have helped out with a generous dose of nurture, not too nurturing really, and they did not stick around either. Preschool age makes this harder as they are physiologically ready to identify with dad and are done with the cuddle mom phase. It has to be repeated and dad must wait. This is HARD and worth it. The bond with dad will not suffer at all by doing this, but the bond with mom and therefore the child's lifetime of bonding ability will suffer if it is not done. Some mom's have told me that their biological boys are so loving....... that is great, still waiting for mine. I think we missed that stage by adopting them older. But, the do love mom and I can see that in the fact that they are thoughtful and that is wonderful. They learn and that is gratifying. They help and that is rewarding. I love my boys and you will love yours too.

Age of child:
If the referral is stating that these kids are 4, they may well be 5 or 6. If you are expecting a 7 year old, he could be 9. A two year old could be four, etc. Be sure you are willing to deal with that. After they have been home about 4 months you should be able to assess their ages with a few tools including the Ages and Stages questionnaire your pediatrician will have or you can find it on line. It is unlikely that they would be younger. At referral ours were said to be 2. We determined that they were actually almost 4 and just 3 when we picked them up. That is not terribly off. They are 8 months apart in age. The referral birth estimates and the birth dates on the adoption birth certificates were not even close to the same and we have altered them again at our validation. Your home study needs to say you can take children up to the age they may be because the court may change their age from the referral dates.

Boy competition:
Boys are competitive by nature. Two children the same gender will be even more competitive. This has been a difficulty for us and we have had to firmly and artificially establish a hierarchy based on age and implement things to secure that. We are also holding back the younger one in school because it would be disastrous to have them in the same grade.  You will need to consider what you are willing to do to help them each find their own identity apart from each other.  They are not naturally brothers, and have not had the advantage of getting to know each other from the birth of the younger one. All this has to be learned and it is not easy, it is retraining the brain.  In general the first few months you will have to deal with the male posturing and competing for alpha. It is crazy that you would have to deal with this at this young age but you DO, it is ridiculously real. The competition does not end there though. There is the vying for attention, the bigger item, the more something, the parents attention, etc.  Ok, my girls did all this but NOTHING like the boys. Testosterone is like steroids for all this normal kid behavior.

I am sure lots of you out there have boys and could add tons to this. Please feel free to do so in the comments!!!! The more information the better. If you have girls that would be a really helpful addition as this has a lot about boys and there are plenty of families looking for info on what a toddler/preschool age girl might be like.

Other resources on toddlers and preschoolers:

adopting a toddler
Toddler Adoption: The Weaver's Craft  book

adoption-attachment and infants (applicable to toddlers)
attachment check list by age

1 comment:

  1. Great information, Jill! Bringing Bereket home has been good, and also extremely hard. I can't imagine how hard it would be to bring home two big boys, especially when you already have kids at home. I think our attachment is going extremely well. I am going to do some research about the "larger than life" sort of boy behavior that you indicate might be related to attachment. Usually, we think Bereket is busier/louder/more energetic because he is a boy....but I think I will do some more reading nonetheless.


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