Heading off problems in the early days home

You’ve been dreaming of bringing your child home for months, but those early days and weeks together are often very challenging. Your friends and family keep asking you how things are going. Somehow, admitting that your child hasn’t transitioned seamlessly into your family can feel like defeat. It is very common for families to be asking themselves “Did we just make the biggest mistake of our lives?” Here are some ways to prepare for and cope with early problems. These are all things which you hopefully learned during your required adoption education, but it can be difficult to remember when you’re in the thick of it.

*Expect your child to have more medical issues than their file indicated. Children often have minor medical diagnoses that aren’t reported, extreme dental decay, or issues which are incidental to their special need such as difficulty eating for a child with an open cleft palate. Make sure you have educated yourself about your child’s special need, are in contact with other parents who have adopted a child with the same special need for support, and have a way to contact a medical professional while you are in China in case you need a consult.

*Be prepared for your child to be immature for his age. A general rule would be to expect your child to act half of their legal age. Expect your 3 year old to act like an 18 month old or an 8 year old like a 4 year old. If you have biological children, avoid comparing your new child’s development to your children at the same age. Let him develop in his own time, and only compare him to himself. My 5 year old is so behind verbally, but when I look at his progress over the past three years I can see that he has consistently made slow and steady progress.

*Before you travel, refresh your memory on typical orphanage behaviors and the common reactions children have to being handed over to new parents without warning. I suggest the following resources:

*Have a plan for aggressive behaviors towards yourself or other children in your home. I think the biggest thing for people who bring home a new child with other children in the home is that we are hardwired to be very protective of the other children. If your new child pushes your toddler down the stairs, Mama bears says “That kid needs to be gone NOW!” Have a plan in mind for mild to moderate aggression, like biting, kicking, or shoving, towards your other children. Be prepared for an extended time period of jealousy or conflict between your newly adopted child and another child in your home, especially if they are close in age. They might be thick as thieves, but be prepared for the worst case scenario.

Even if your child is not physically aggressive, they can still have very challenging behavior. Defiance and testing boundaries are completely normal. This behavior can be because your child is trying to exert control at a time when she has no control over her life or an attempt to push you away. A child who has lost all of his previously caregivers will not have any idea you will be permanent. Unconsciously, he feels it’s better to chase you away to get the inevitable abandonment over sooner rather than later when he feels attached to you.

*Finally, what wears people down is an extended period of high stress.

  • Have a support system in place. Now is the time to lean on others who offer to help with food, cleaning, transporting children to activities, or whatever makes life easier.
  • Do not hesitate to avoid seeing or talking to people who are causing you stress. This is a time when emotions are running high all around. You can smooth over family relationships once things are more settled at home.
  • Your social worker is one of your best resources. Don’t wait too long to call her up to ask for suggestions.
  • Don’t neglect yourself during this time where you are focused on your new child, her behaviors or medical issues.
  • Stay on top of self care. Don’t say “We have to cocoon” when you really need to get out of the house or lose your sanity.
  • Keep an eye out for depression and address it as soon as possible.
  • Marital conflict is common, too. Don’t be afraid to have a few counseling sessions.


If you are in country or newly home, please try not to panic about these things. You are not alone. These are normal and expected, but that does not make it easy. Get some help, make a plan, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Things will look very different six months from now and even more different a year from now.

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