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Written by Nancy S
on September 29, 2023

The day has finally come after months of preparing and loads of paperwork, you are about to meet your adopted child for the first time! This will be a time filled with emotions for both you and your child.

 How are you going to feel?

  • Anxious
  • Uncertain
  • Fearful
  • Worried
  • Excited
  • Overwhelmed
  • A sense of sadness for the loss your new child will experience

Don't forget that as you are riding this roller coaster of emotions,  your child is going through this as well.

For as much joy as you are feeling, your child may be feeling:  

  • Scared
  • Overwhelmed
  • Confused
  • Frightened
  • Sad
  • Worried
  • Nervous
  • Anxious
  • Disoriented
  • Grieving over the immense loss they are feeling

Why is happy not on this list?

You have to remember that as exciting as this is for you, this child is being taken from the only thing they have known.  Everything surrounding them is unfamiliar and new. Just remember that this adoption has removed the child from the only home that they are familiar with. The transition has changed their idea of "normal." Now, the child is experiencing so many new things; smells, people, food, language and all in a country that they have never known. 

 This is scary. Frightening. And upsetting.

 

Most often the first meeting and the day or two after are filled with confusing emotions and vast adjustments for you and your child.  Everyone experiences this first meeting differently.  

They may exhibit any of three different emotional responses to this life changing moment..

 Falling in love– you and your child melt into each other’s arms and feel instantly bonded.  few families have this experience and this is not a typical reaction to the first meeting.

Fight and/or Flight– these children will cry and cannot be consoled, they will push away from you, and may even kick their feet in an effort to express their emotional unrest. These children may struggle to get away from their stressful situation and want to escape because they are overwhelmed with emotion.  They may try to crawl away, push away, or wander from their new parents.  They may sit away from their new parents in an effort to avoid contact with them.

Or Freeze– these children may be so distraught by the emotions of the experience that they shut down and become unresponsive emotionally.  They may avoid eye contact, not respond to toys, withdraw, and even sleep most of the time.  This is the physical response to the overwhelming emotions they are feeling.

 

All of these are normal coping mechanisms to a very difficult emotional situation.  Each child is different and the length of time they use one of these coping mechanisms to deal with their situation will vary.  An older child will typically take longer to work through their emotions and their reaction may be stronger. 

 

There are many things that can play into the coping mechanisms a child uses.. 

  • Age of the child
  • Health of the child
  • Length of time in non-family care
  • Strength of the bond with the caregivers
  • Personality of the child
  • Temperament of the child
  • Developmental abilities of the child
  • Past abuse or neglect

These coping mechanism behaviors typically start to disappear within 24 to 48 hours of  meeting your child.  You will soon begin to discover your child's individual personality.

How can YOU help make this transition easier for your child?

  • try to put yourself in your child’s place
  • Be understanding of the reasons for their emotions
  • Respect their use of coping mechanisms whatever they may be
  • Take your child’s lead and listen to the cues they give you
  • Playing a simple game of peek-a-boo, or singing a lullaby will show them you care
  • Simply feeding them on time and when they are hungry shows they can trust you to give them what they need.
  • Spend time taking a walk in the park, playing a game or looking at pictures in a book
  • Feel confident and positive about this transition time, your child will read your emotions and learn from them
  • Choose to enjoy these special moments together regardless of their reaction
  • Allowing family and friends to support you with meals and housework will free you to spend time with your child and help you both adjust to your newly formed family.

 If you are interested in learning more about international adoption, Family Connections, Inc. is an authorized New York State adoption agency, who has achieved Hague Accreditation. Family Connections offers a full range of adoption services for international adoption. We would be glad to meet with you to discuss your adoption options. You can reach our staff at 607-756-6574 or info@adoptfamilyconnections.org

 

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