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Caring for Your Child Overseas

By Jean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen

You will be caring for your child in his or her native country for two weeks or several months, depending on the country you are adopting from and the length of wait for the final adoption decree. This is a stressful period for most people. It takes a lot of fortitude to focus on the adoption proceedings, to get to know your child, and to begin to win his or her trust.

For children over one, use a hand puppet. The puppet can act out ideas for both of you as well as provide some comic relief. If your child is too large to be carried and held a lot, giving the child smiles, pats, and light back massages when he or she is sitting or standing near you is an excellent way to give the child a feeling of closeness.

New children are fearful, but they may cover it up. Since they were rejected once, they may be again, or so they may reason. Boys and girls who begged on the streets and lived in orphanages have learned some survival techniques, some of which will probably stay with them forever.

Older children need to believe that you will be there for support when they have problems - when something good happens or something bad happens. Be creative these first few days to start winning their trust. Attachment begins when you acknowledge their feelings and share their experiences. Shared laughter and shared tears are the glue of parent-child relationships.

We tend to treat Third World orphans as First World kids, overwhelming them with toys, furniture, and clothes. However, they have never even had the luxury of making personal choices regarding style and color. And, if they had the leisure to play, they probably made their own toys from stones, sticks, and paper. Your carefully chosen educational or trendy toys will probably be played with for five minutes and then carefully put back in the toy box. That was our experience with Omar, and countless other adoptive parents have reported similar behavior. Most psychologists agree that parents should separate a child’s rights from a child’s rewards. After you provide the basics, teach your child that rewards and privileges must be earned.

Your child has likely been eating the cheapest food available with little variety and no second helpings. Each child responds to this situation differently. They may eat the crumbs off the floor and hoard food. At home, your refrigerator and pantry will become a source of wonder and pride. The child may eat twice as much as you do, creating worries about obesity. Such concerns are usually unfounded. Let the child overeat for several months. You can control the calories by carefully shopping for meals and snacks. Children are no different than adults when it comes to seeing food as a comforter. Since their emotional needs have not been met, food soothes the soul, as well as the stomach. As children become more secure, food will lose its importance. Other children may eat very little and be suspicious of new foods. Introduce new foods a tablespoon at a time. Don't worry or fuss about it. In a few months, things will change. Concentrate on meal time as a happy family time. Turn off the TV and get to know your child. Struggles over food can hurt your relationship.

Many parents also report incidents of bedwetting. If you discover your child is a bedwetter (nocturnal enuresis), do not despair. Most Third World children are beaten for this problem, thus they will probably try to hide the evidence. Help is available as soon as you get home in the form of behavior modification, bed alarms available from Sears, or large size disposable diapers for nighttime for a while. See a doctor; the condition often responds to treatment within a few weeks.

Book review | Author interview | Purchase 'How to Adopt Internationally'

How to Adopt on AmazonJean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen are the authors of How to Adopt Internationally, a hands-on book loaded with practical information for families who seek to complete an international adoption. The Erichsons are the founders of the Los Ninos International Adoption Center in Texas and the parents of four children adopted from South America.

© Copyright by Mesa House Publishing. This article was published in How to Adopt Internationally 2000-2002: A Guide for Agency-Directed and Independent Adoptions by Jean and Heino Erichsen. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.  For more information, contact Mesa House Publishing. Phone at 888-306-0060 (toll-free).
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