Adopted kids are more likely than their peers to experience difficulties at home or at school. By knowing some of the most common challenges they face, you’ll be in a much better position to help guide them through those difficulties.
Adoption and family therapist Jeanette Yoffe says that adopted children frequently struggle with the following types of emotions. Of course, everyone experiences these feelings — but they are often more intensified in adopted children.
- Sadness — Adopted kids are more prone to despondency than other children. You may notice they seem more sad or depressed around holidays and birthdays. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day may be especially difficult, as they can bring up painful memories or evoke feelings of rejection and abandonment. When these days come around, talk to your child about it. Tell them it’s okay to feel sad and let them know you’re there to support them.
- Anger — Anger is also common among adopted kids. The root of this frustration is usually a deep feeling of powerlessness. Yoffe says it’s important to allow children to express these feelings, as uncomfortable as they may be. Suppressing anger will only cause it to build up and eventually manifest in inappropriate and destructive ways.
- Fear — Adopted kids may also be more fearful than their friends and siblings. They are often afraid of trusting or depending on people since they have been let down in the past. They have likely drawn the conclusion that trusting someone eventually leads to pain and disappointment. This means that it can take a lot of time and effort before an adopted child feels entirely comfortable with his or her new parents. Be mindful of this and provide a steady stream of reassurance that your love is unconditional and permanent.
Other common challenges for adopted children come from trying to find their place within an already-established family.
- Trouble Bonding — It can be hard for adopted kids to mesh with their new siblings. There may be resentments on both sides, so it’s vital to make sure that everyone feels free to voice their feelings. Let all of the children involved know that it’s okay to be uncomfortable or upset and that the ultimate goal is for everyone to feel loved and cared about. Mom and therapist Maureen Donley says that parents should take an active role in helping to bring siblings together. Plan family activities during which the children will spend time doing things they enjoy together. Genuine closeness is achieved over time, and you will have to be patient and continue to create bonding opportunities for the family.
- Feeling Excluded — Coming into an existing family, however welcoming and loving they are, can be a strange and scary experience. It is imperative parents work to make sure an adopted child doesn’t feel like an outsider. These kids need to be told in no uncertain terms that they are a part of the family, no less than the other children. Donley says that making lots of new memories and creating some new traditions together as a family is a great way to get started. She advises that parents tell the story of bringing an adopted child home often and with as much pride as they tell birth stories of biological children.
Psychologist and author David Brodzinsky reminds us that adopted kids are more likely to face these challenges due to circumstances beyond their control. Genetic factors can play a role, as can adverse conditions faced in early life. Kids who have endured abuse or whose biological mothers ingested drugs or alcohol during pregnancy are at an even higher risk. With patience and loving support, you can help your adopted child to develop healthy coping mechanisms and to work through these common struggles.