What to Expect When You Adopt An Older Child

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While all older adopted children are different, there are a few things you might anticipate if you're adopting an older child. The following summary examples are meant to be reference points rather than specifics of how all children act.

First week

During the first week in your home your child will be excited, overwhelmed, sad, and happy. This abundance of emotions may result in tantrums and/or behaviors several years younger than your child's actual age. Your child will probably alternate between happily doing what is asked of her, and staunchly refusing to do anything. Some families experience a honeymoon period where the child acts completely agreeable; other families are tested from day one. If your child is internationally adopted, she may begin saying phrases i.e. "thank you" and "hello" and beginning to count, within a day or two home. Bedtimes may be horrific; tantrums, refusing to stay in room, many requests for attention, etc. Many children are very traumatized by the move to their new home. It might be expressed by poor behavior, meanness, overly quiet, changes in eating habits, and more. Daily interactions with your new child will provide you with smiles, excitement, frustration, and amazement that your child is finally home with you.


-Establish house rules from day one.

-Have them do chores from day one.

-Keep a very regular daily schedule.

-Provide very little stimulation. Stay home, only a handful of toys in their room, limited visits from friends and family, no presents.

-Give them many ways to spend their excess energy: swimming, running, kicking a ball.

-Begin your attachment and bonding immediately with hugs, tickles, hair brushing, dancing together, and reading together.

First month

If your child didn't test and push you the first week, it may happen during the first month. The initial excitement and newness has worn off and your child may begin to feel unsure about how permanent her placement is with you. Telling her it's forever isn't enough; read books on adoption, show them your love, and realize that time is a factor. During the first month, many children begin to grieve for the life they've left: birth parents, foster parents, teachers, friends, foods, language, smells, clothes, and more. If adopted internationally, your child will be understanding a lot said in English, but her expressive language may still be very limited. You may be beginning to feel comfortable with your new life, but your child may not.


-Be very consistent about enforcing rules and consequences.

-Realize that your child may be one age chronologically, and much younger emotionally.

-Keep close supervision on your child's interactions with other children. Don't assume they know how to play appropriately with other children.

-Provide opportunities for your child to talk about her life before living with you.

-Create family rituals i.e. Friday night pizza or Wednesday board game night.

Sixth month

For some families, six months is a turning point in regards to improved behaviors and growing love and acceptance that this truly IS their forever family. Internationally adopted children may be conversationally competent at this point, but will still have an accent and will not yet have complete fluency. If you've worked hard on creating a solid bond with your child, and she doesn't have attachment issues, she will now be more comfortable giving and receiving honest affection. She will be more confident about your commitment to her, but she will have times where she still grieves.


-Slowly allow your child to make more choices.

-Find ways to help your child make connections between her past and her present: conversations, journal writing, lifebook, etc.

-Realize that some children will still need to fill the deficit of love from their past. They may benefit from lots of cuddle time, playing toddler games, or being fed a bottle.

-Begin to introduce additional activities into your child's life, all while being observant as to how she reacts to new stimuli.

Parenting an older adopted child, like parenting children of any age, brings rewards and challenges into your life. During the first six months, remember to balance your excitement and emotional commitment to your new child, with her worries and hopes.

[Susan Ward, founder of Heritage Communications, maintains Older Child Adoption Online Magazine. This regularly updated website includes articles, personal insights, links, books and more. There are special sections on single parenting, reactive attachment disorder, and "Adopted Just Like Me for Kids." Susan is also mama to Hannah, age 9, adopted at age 6 from Russia.]

Credits: Susan Ward

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