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Adoption means giving a child a permanent home, stability, love. In the case of a child who has been in foster care, adoption means giving the child remedial parenting to try to make up for the lack of permanent parenting in the past.
All newborn babies are needy. They require intensive parental care. Sometimes I jokingly refer to a home where a newborn has arrived as a IPCU—an Intensive Parental Care Unit. With newborns after a period of “settling” less parental attention is needed and the unit can be closed.
A child who has been in foster care is a very needy child. Foster care comes about because of what I call the Big, Bad “D’s”: death, disease, disability, detention, desertion, or drugs. Because of one or more of these bad things child’s birth parents were not able or did not choose to care for him. Some children are moved from one foster home to another which makes the child still needier.
Parents must be very sure that they want to adopt and that they want this particular child who comes with this particular history.
The parents must be prepared, as well as both willing and able, to spend a lot of time with this child building trust, trust that you will be there when he needs you. There must be a lot of physical touch and closeness: cuddling, rocking, crooning, talking, playing.
Moving to your home where he is wanted and loved, probably the best thing that could ever happen to this child, is yet another transition in his life and all transitions are difficult. Try to pay for or ask for help in your house (cooking, cleaning, laundry) so that in the beginning you can be available to the child as close to 24-7 as possible. Be encouraging and cheerful. Keep saying how much you love the child and how good your life together is going to be even if the child is too young to understand.
Establish routines, and later rituals. A child needs a predictable life. A good motto is “Predictable Routines and Joyful Surprises.” This child will need those routines to get him used to you and your home.
Introduce new faces (relatives and friends) slowly as he may think the new person is there to whisk him away.
Get to know the child. Observe the personality and temperament. Figure out what the child likes and what he does well. “Niche-pick” instead of nit-picking. Encourage coping skills, quiet-time breaks, and mastery of skills. The quickest way to build ego strength is to empower the child, help the child succeed in small (reaching for a toy or climbing up the slide) and then big ways (good grades at school).
Children who have experienced less than optimal parenting in the early months or years of life may exhibit very clinging behavior. Or, and this is harder for a parent to understand, they can be wary of getting close or “falling in love”again because they are afraid of getting hurt. Time and patience solves most of these problems.
The new adoptive parents need advice too. Take care of yourself (sleep, meals, exercise) so you can be there for the child. That’s why help in the house is so important, maybe more important than when a mother brings home a newborn. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t immediately fall in love with the child, it may take a while but it will happen. The cuddling helps you bond as well as the child.
Adoption gives a needy child a chance to have what every child should have: a permanent, loving home and, in return, brings joy in return.
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