I got a wonderful e-mail question last week asking about what to do on your newly adopted child’s first day home.
When bringing home a newborn, most people are well versed in what to do and if they aren’t, there are a myriad of books and advice available. But what about bringing home a two year old or a six year old or an eleven year old or even a fifteen year old? There aren’t many books to address how to begin your parenting journey with a toddler, preschooler, tween or teen.
During our eight years as foster parents, we experienced the “first day” many times and we experienced it again as adoptive parents to older children a few years ago. While each situation has its own unique circumstances, there are some things you can do to make that first day easier for you and for your new child.
1. Introduce yourself. This may seem like an obvious one, but the child will likely be feeling overwhelmed and scared and even if someone else has tried to explain who you are before the meeting or if they have met you before, they may be unsure of what to call you.
Depending on the age of the child, you may wish to involve them in this decision. With a toddler, it is probably best if you introduce yourself as “mommy” and “daddy” or whatever version you want to be called. With an older child, they may be more comfortable calling you “auntie” or by your first name until they feel ready to call you “mom”. But be sure that the choices you give them are ones that you are comfortable with. If you give them the choice to call you by your first name, they may continue to do that for quite some time and you need to be sure that you are okay with that before presenting them with that option.
2. Give them a tour. Take them on a short tour of your home, being sure to point out important areas such as the bathroom(s), where they will be sleeping, where you will be sleeping and if it’s okay to come to your room or call out to you in the night if they are afraid.
Let them know where things like towels and extra toilet paper are. Also show them where to put their things. If they are used to temporary foster homes, they may be used to living out of a suitcase or more likely, out of a plastic bag. Pointing out the dresser drawers and closet space where they can unpack their clothing will help them to feel a bit more stable. It can also be a nice touch to have a gift waiting to welcome them in their room.
3. Feed them. Very quickly after arriving in your home, your new child should be given something to eat and reassured that there will be food available. Many older children coming into an adoption situation have experienced hunger whether it be through neglect or poverty and will need a lot of assurance that food will be readily available.
I always liked to open the pantry and fridge for them so that they had a visual of the food as well as letting them know that we would always have breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks. I also told them that they were welcome to help themselves to fruits and vegetables at any time. This is also a good time to ask them if there are foods that they especially like or foods that they don’t like or are allergic to. (as this first day is an exhausting, emotional one for you too, I suggest jotting their food preferences down so that you don’t forget)
4. House rules. Take time to go over the basic house rules. This is not the time to go over every nuance and detail, but to have a sit down mini meeting that lays out the non-negotioable house rules and clearly states what the consequences would be for breaking them. I cannot state the importance of this enough. Many people don’t want to talk about this on the first day because they want things to be as warm and welcoming as possible for the child, but this is actually something your child WANTS and NEEDS to know.
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They may have come from a situation where they experienced abuse or a very chaotic life. Setting boundaries will make them feel safe while laying out the consequences for breaking the rules will begin to address the fears they may have about being abused in your home. I suggest no more than five rules for this meeting and that the rules and consequences be written out and then hung up in an area where they can be seen. With tweens and teens, you may also want to have them sign the page.
5. Cocoon. For many parents, the wait for an adoptive child has been a long one and they are excited to have their family and friends meet their new child. While this is understandable, having visitors over or going out will only add to the feelings of insecurity and being overwhelmed that the child is already experiencing.
Be prepared to cocoon for an extended period of time especially when adopting older children. This not only allows the child to begin to understand the permanence of this (adoptive) placement, but it sets the foundation for healthy attachment to begin. For those not familiar with cocooning, please read the three part series explaining why to cocoon, what cocooning is and how friends and family can support you during this time of transition.
Even with a new foster child, a period of cocooning is a good idea as they adjust to their new surroundings and new reality.
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