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How to Help Your Internationally Adopted Child Adjust to a New Home

Maintaining a daily routine and bringing some of their past home can be comforting to adopted children who struggle to adapt to new surroundings.
A parent and child holding hands.

The process of international adoption is tedious, tiring and challenging for adoptive parents. However, imagine it from the child's point of view. Strangers show up who look, smell and talk differently from anything they've known before. These strangers take them away from what is familiar and they're on an airplane heading into an entirely new world.

Children are resilient and survive international adoption very well. However, the transition isn't automatic. Adoptive parents, focused on their joy at having a new child in the family, are often surprised at how fussy and unhappy the child is. The child is frightened of the strangers and the unknown. Here are some steps adoptive parents can take to help the child transition from their homeland to their new family.

1) Ask if you can keep a toy, blanket or article of clothing that your child has been using in the foster home or orphanage. Choose something that retains the scent of the child and foster home, and do not wash it. The item and its scent provide something familiar and comforting to your child. Because funds are low for foster care homes and orphanages, offer to replace the item with something new.

2) Take pictures (if allowed) of other children, staff and rooms of the foster home or orphanage. Like the item above, these offer a familiar reference for your child. Plus, they make great keepsakes for your child's scrapbook.

3) Learn important words and phrases in your child's native language. Common phrases like "I love you," and "Are you hungry?" will help you communicate with your child until she learns the language spoken in your household. If possible, learn a bedtime song or nursery rhyme you can sing when your child is fretful.

4) Serve your child food from her home country. If you have ever eaten foreign food, you know how different it can be in taste, smell and consistency from what you are used to eating. The same is true for your child. That does not mean you should serve Kimchi to your Korean child. Instead, ask what the foster family or orphanage serves. You do not need to prepare foreign food for every meal, but again, having something familiar will help your child's transition.

5) Develop a routine. One reason adoption is so difficult for children is that their routine has been disrupted. Establish a regular schedule that your child can count on to help her settle into your family's life. Have your child wake up, eat meals, and go to bed at set times each day. If the schedule has to change, let them know in advance so they can prepare emotionally.

6) Be patient. Your child is in a completely new environment and is frightened. As a result, they will fuss, cry and possibly be inconsolable. Offer support including coddling during your first weeks home. Do not allow your friends and family to visit for the first month. Seeing new people might make them fearful of being passed off again. Plus, limiting their exposure to other people assists in the bonding process with you.

The first few days and weeks home will likely be the most trying as you and your child get to know each other and become a family. You can make this transition easier for your child by providing sights, sounds, and scents that are familiar to them.

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