From ICF Adoption Update November 2012

I want to introduce you to two of the greatest books available for adoptive families and adoption professionals…
Attaching in Adoption & Nurturing Adoptions, both by Deborah Gray. I have been re-reading Nurturing Adoptions the past weekend, (between eating left-overs).
Just some facts… about 80% of families who adopt internationally are motivated by infertility. About half of two-parent families adopting from US foster care are doing so after facing issues of infertility. And, about half of parents adopting older children are first-time parents.
Can you imagine going from zero to 100 miles per hour in less than a minute? That is about what happens when families bring an older child into the home, especially for families who have not yet had the experience of parenting. It is a huge challenge. Most children who come into adoption have had a rough time, emotionally and physically. They probably have not had the mother-child bonding period, where emotional connections are forged. Or, if they did, they lost it, and ended up in an orphanage or foster home.
Emotions are not ephermeral. They live in memory and exist on the physical plane. If you say “I feel…” you are describing in physical terms the content of neurobiological connections in your brain. It’s real. We think of feelings as amorphous. They are not; they are as alive and present as the electricity charging through the wiring in your home. You don’t touch bare electical wire because you know something is there, even if you cannot see it. Emotions are the same. They are there, they exist in the “wiring” of the brain, whether you can see them or not.
The first few months of life are the foundation for a child’s brain to lay the grid that allows the child to give and receive affection, to have empathy, to manage stress, to trust and communicate. Without the love and holding, without the parents attention to the child’s needs, without the child learning how to tolerate the stimulation of life and balance their needs and fears with trust, a child comes forward with emotional handicaps that are no less real than missing a limb. Yet, most adoptive families don’t quite recognize the level of extra work and expansion of their own brains that will be involved to fashion the child’s circuitry to be able to trust and share and recover from trauma. Seems understandable, because it seems invisible. Until you have a child who is withdrawn or acting out, difficult to decipher, belligerent or hostile, it is difficult to appreciate how challenging building a relationship can be.
We all hope that love will heal wounds and certainly it does. What it does not do, without a behavioral strategy, is “re-wire” the brain. If you love and hug and reassure it will not affect wiring UNLESS you have certain skills that augment “re-wiring.”
Children or infants who live in institutions or hostile, indifferent or unpredictable environments are unable to learn the basics of relating or forming attachments.  The task of the adoptive parents is to recreate opportunities for the child to accomplish trust building steps that the child missed early on.  Saying “I love you” does not do that; it’s helpful but it does not address the underlying problem.  Kind of like putting a bandaid on a broken leg.  It is a nice gesture but will not on it’s own repair the damage.
Chapter 8 of Attaching in Adoption, “Emotional Development: Promoting Attachment at Every Phase,” identifies critical tasks, such as learning to depend on adults, entering into fun, self-regulation, signaling needs, relaxing, learning how to interpret cues.  Children need parents who can help them master these tasks.
We really recommend that parents consider adoptive parenting an adventure, particularly a learning adventure.  Wanting to have children comes naturally.  Parenting does not; it is learned.  Take some time over the holidays to expand your parenting skills.  And, be sure to take time to relax!  The holidays are for family.  That word comes from holy days.  This is the time to be together, to connect.  Forget the shopping and the drama and the overstimulation.  It’s a time to share, have quiet moments, learn a new recipe, read a book, read a book to your child, watch the weather, and teach your child to down-play the drama and up-play the value of simply being together.
Have wonderful holidays!
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