Adoption and Child Development Issues
It is very common for adopted children to have not just the normal development issues of childhood and adolescence but also some emotional issues related to adoption. Understanding these issues before they arise can allow you to help your family, friends, schools and of course your child handle these issues in the best possible manner.
Adoption Stages of Development
Every parent faces challenges in raising their child. An adopted child often presents challenges and developmental concerns that are different from a non-adopted child. Often these challenges appear similar to those of a non-adopted child, but they may be more focused ar may be magnified due to the adoption process. These special adoption related challenges can occur whether your child was adopted at birth or when they were older, whether they were adopted from foster care, through an agency adoption or a private adoption, or whether they are from a different cultural heritage, race, or country. The challenges and development issue are different solely because the child has been adopted. Some of these adoption related issues are more obvious in all stages of your child's development while others appear at specific times. To think, believe, or hope that your child will never be affected by the adoption and will have issues that are no different than a non-adopted child is to ignore the facts.
Just as many adoptive parents may experience loss, grief and anger that may be related to their infertility, most adoptees also experience these emotions at one or more points in their lives as they struggle with understanding why they were placed for adoption and how that has affected who they are at this point in their life. These feelings may appear, disappear, and then return at different times in the child's development.
Trust and attachment are two other areas that can be problematic especially for children who are placed from foster care or children who have experienced abuse, neglect, or institutionalization prior to joining their adoptive families. These adoptees often need some special help in understanding their history and life experiences.
School problems and school related issues can arise around classroom assignments (such as traditional "family tree" assignments or basic genetics lessons), peer interactions, and insensitivity or lack of adoption awareness on the part of teachers and school personnel.
Adolescents who were adopted at any age may experience more identity problems than their non-adopted peers as they deal with the identity and self-worth issues of most teenagers. Transracial and transcultural adoptees and their parents also face special identity issues.
Certain dates and experiences may trigger adoption related issues. This is especially true of birthdays, adoption-day, holiday's (e.g., mother's and father's day), entering school for the first time, puberty, pregnancy within the family or of a family friend, the adoption or birth of a "sibling", and contacts from the birth mother or birth father.
The article Adoption Stages of Development by the Child Welfare Information Gateway can help you to better understand these special adoption-related developmental concerns. The article looks at issues of separation, loss, grief, anger and identity as the child grows. It looks at what to expect at different ages, the emotional impact of adoption and even the issue of searching for a birth mother or birth father.
Related help can be found in the links Explaining Adoption as well as Adoption Emotional Issues and Adoption and Schools.
When Help is Needed
Even if you have educated yourself about normal child development and behavior at different ages, as your child matures you are sure to find yourself questioning any of your child's behavior that seems out of the ordinary. An adoptive family has the added concern of trying to decide whether or not it is an adoption issue that is troubling the child. If the child is over 6 years of age, it is usually very difficult to distinguish adoption issues from other psychological, social, and educational issues. Because it can be so hard to untangle adoptive issues from those of normal child and adolescent development you may find it helpful to consult a professional who has experience working with adoptees and adoptive families.
Up until the past decade once a child was placed for adoption little else was offered about general child development or child rearing. Adoptive parents, like non-adopting parents, tried to educate themselves through a variety of books or through their friends or by consulting their child health care provider. Now, in addition to the Child Welfare Information Gateway ((703) 352-3488 or 1 (888) 251-0075) and the National Adoption Center (1 (800) TO-ADOPT or (215) 735-9988) there are state and local organizations and programs sponsored by adoption agencies that provide parenting education and other "post adoption" services. There are also adoption support groups and self-help groups that can provide educational and social help.
For additional information about child development, please visit the link Adoption Emotional Issues and Explaining Adoption as well as Adoption and Schools. You may also find help on the website Pregnancy And Children.
If you need or want some specific personal advice, contact your adoption agency social worker, pediatrician, clergy, local mental health center, state child welfare agency or state adoption contact for recommendations of appropriate professionals. You can also call Dr. Vince Berger, a psychologist and adoption professional.
Please visit our home page to read about our commitment to assist adoptive parents like you as well as pregnant women and birth parents.