Adoption

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Taken from Growing Concerns -- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota.

Question: Four months ago we adopted a two-year-old boy. He often wakes up crying in the middle of the night, his moods are unpredictable, and, even when he's not fussing or fighting, he rarely smiles. We have given him a stable, loving home but it doesn't seem to be enough.

Answer: The arrival of a new family member is a challenge and a big adjustment under any conditions, but your situation poses some special issues. You do not mention anything about the circumstances of the adoption. Was he removed from an abusive home? Did he lose his parents through death? Was he in a foster home and now has "lost" those parents as a result of his placement with you? Or was he perhaps moved from place to place without any opportunity to form strong relationships?

Whatever his history and whatever the circumstances of the adoption, this little boy brings that history with him. In the first two years of life, children normally are building a sense of trust through their attachments to the adults who love and care for them. When that does not happen, it can take much time and patience to gradually establish that sense of trust. Four months is really not a very long time to undo what happened during the first two years of life. If his experience tells him that people disappear after a while--or that they cannot be counted on to care for him--then he may be very slow to trust in the love you offer him. His crying in the night is an opportunity for you to reassure him that you are there for him.

Beyond the psychological effects of his life history, it is possible that there are physiological effects as well. Poor nutrition, chemical use by parents before or during the pregnancy, and general quality of care can have an impact on a child's behavior. Your pediatrician or family physician can work with you to monitor your son's development carefully, making sure that any problems are identified and addressed as early as possible.

Some of what you are seeing in your son also reflects his stage of development. Most two-year-olds are moody and unpredictable. They are going through rapid changes in motor skills, language ability, and learning what they can and cannot do. They swing from wanting to be big and all-powerful to wanting to just curl up and be little babies. It will take time for your son to learn what is expected of him and to know that you will be there to love and guide him.

All parents need support to see them through the ups and downs of children's development. And adoptive parents need and deserve special support to address the unique issues they face. I'd suggest that you contact the agency through which you adopted the child or a mental health agency in your community and ask about resources for adoptive parents. Many communities offer support groups or can link you with national networks that provide information and support specifically for adoptive parents.

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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