On Adopting Older Children

What to Watch Out for
When You Bring Post-Institutionalized Kids Home

by Eileen Haas-Linde

[Parents who bring older children home from Eastern European orphanages face challenges right away -- if not serious ones like attachment disorder or learning disabilities, practical ones like car doors opening at high speeds and all property becoming community property. Here, a veteran of older-child adoption recalls the little things no one ever warned her about.]

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Anything with a button will be pushed, repeatedly. (My six-year-old daughter kept pushing the call button for the stewardess on the plane.) They will figure out your VCR and your remote control within minutes.

That also goes for handles. Make sure that the car door is locked, or it will be opened in traffic. She turned on all the burners on the stove. She opened the emergency door on the back of the school bus, while the bus was in traffic! She would just go out the front door if we didn't watch her constantly. Watch them in the bathroom, because they will either not wipe at all, or they will use a huge amount of toilet paper and stop up the toilet.

Put away things that you don't want to be touched. They don't understand "mine." (Or be prepared to see your six-year-old wearing your makeup and your jewelry!)

Do NOT put all of their clothes in their closet. They will not want to wear the corduroy pants a second time if they see a sundress hanging there, even if it is 10 below zero. They will probably have difficulty managing toys with small parts that have to be organized or put back in the box. Try not to let people overwhelm them with gifts.

Kids may be terrified that they won't be fed. Mine didn't understand the process of cooking and that food wasn't immediately available. I had bowls of fruit out, and they would eat eight oranges at a sitting. I had to give my older daughter something to eat (like a chicken leg, or a hot dog) the second that we got home, and then have dinner with us later. Eventually I was able to phase out that extra meal. She even got upset if I stopped for gas on the way home -- she was afraid that I would forget to feed her! And every time we went out, she packed herself a little snack with a drink (even when we went to the grocery store). We did not take them to stores (other than grocery stores) for about two years, seriously. I just bought clothes for them, and brought them home. I even bought shoes in several sizes, and returned the ones that didn't fit. It saved me a lot of aggravation.

Do not be alarmed by aggressive behavior. My daughter had a black eye when she left the orphanage, but she had given some pretty good ones back (it looked like she had managed to get to every boy before she left). It may take a little time for them to realize that is NOT okay here, because it has been a way of life for them for so long.

Finally, don't be afraid to set limits with other adults. Friends and relatives don't understand attachment. I had to take my daughter to work one day, and she was sitting on co-workers laps, etc. You want to try to avoid these situations whenever possible.

I miss those early years. It was like the Wild West, but it was fun!

copyright (c) 2004 by Eileen Haas-Linde 

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