Identifying, Understanding and Helping Your Child With Adoption Issues During...

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This is the fourth in a series of articles on the adoptee during the middle-childhood years, roughly between six and eleven years of age. This article will focus on the child's growing cognitive abilities and how the attainment of a higher level of thinking influences the child's sense of himself and his adoptive status. Some of the material that follows has been used in previous articles. I include it below because I believe it is of such importance that it bears repeating.

During middle-childhood, adoptees often express feelings of not being "like" their adoptive parents. To understand the basis for these very real and sometimes over-whelming feelings we must recognize the manner in which young children classify objects. At this age, children use physical characteristics and appearance to classify who and/or what fits together and what does not. In other words, having blond hair and blue eyes in a family in which everyone else has black hair and brown eyes may diminish a child's sense of belonging.

You can help your child by pointing out the many ways members of your family ARE alike. One technique, called claiming, can be especially helpful.

All of us use claiming behaviors, perhaps intentionally, perhaps without intent. Claiming statements point to similarities and differences between objects or people. You can use claiming statements and behaviors to help your child feel "like you." Review the statements below and before reading further, take a few moments, grab a piece of paper and write down claiming statements that "fit" for your family.

"Joey, you tie your shoes by making bunny ears! That's how I did it too when I was your age."
"Susie likes to read in bed before turning out her light. I enjoy that too."
"Marcie is good at taking things apart and putting them back together. My brother was always doing that when we were kids."
"Our family gets nervous before tryouts."
Using claiming statements helps children feel connected to you by highlighting behavioral or personality characteristics, likes and dislikes, facial expressions, even fears and pleasures that are shared. While this likeness is not due to any genetic connection, it does enhance the child's sense of belonging, as the emphasis is on how people in your family are similar.

Children between the ages of six and eleven spend a lot of time comparing themselves to their peers; who is smarter, more athletic, prettier, richer, the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, what they are trying to figure out is who is better and who is worse

According to Holly van Gulden, through this appraisal process of self and peers, the differences in the ways in which adoptive families and genetically related families are formed becomes apparent to the adopted child. If adopted children believe that these differences mean their family and they themselves are inferior, they are less likely to try as hard to achieve in other areas.

One way to help is to give your child opportunities to feel like other kids. Be sure that your circle of family friends includes as many other adoptive families as possible. Work to identify other adoptees in your child's class, gymnastics program, or soccer team. Having others in our lives that are like us helps everyone feel normal.

Middle childhood is often the time when adoption is first seen as a problem.

As the child's cognitive ability grows, he begins to understand adoption in a very different way. Now the child comes to see the other side of the chosen baby story-that is, that in order to have been chosen, "I had to first be given away." While some children breeze through this time, others begin to wonder what that means about themselves.

Is there something wrong with me?
Was there something wrong with my birth mother?
Was I a bad baby?
Is she (the birth mother) a mean mommy?
At the same time that the child is struggling with these difficult emotional issues, peers may be taunting him with hurtful questions such as, "What's wrong with you, why didn't your real mother keep you?"

It is very very hard to listen to our children's pain. And even though it is extremely difficult to hear the pain, the very best gift you can offer your child is the opportunity to talk about his feelings and to be heard. Prepare yourself, through education and getting a firm grasp on the notion that your child's feelings may be directed at you (of course the birth parents aren't available) but ARE NOT ABOUT YOU. You are the safe one; you can hear the feelings and not turn away. Listen to your child with empathic understanding. Don't try to fix the feeling or take it away. Just listen.
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