Home Woo Hyuk
Stages of Adjustment in a Toddler Adoption
By Barb Burke
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‘testing phase’ is often described as a period of time where a child misbehaves
on purpose to see if the adopting parents will continue to parent them
anyway despite their behavior. Although it can strain the patience of
the adoptive parents, most parents do survive this period. Finally the
child will assimilate into the family and seem like a regular member,
not overstressing the family but making reasonable demands on it."
Encyclopedia Of Adoption by Christine Adamec and William L. Pierce,
Those first couple of weeks Woo Hyuk needed to be watched very carefully
or he would run into trouble. He had not formed a full attachment to any
of us, and could easily slip off in public, and was more than willing
to go off with another person and not look back. He was intensely exploring
his new environment at home and was into everything! I would go and clean
up his recent mess in one room, while he was in another room making a
new one! We decided to restrict him from parts of the house by closing
the doors of bedrooms and bathrooms. He had a frenzied, way of going from
thing to thing, never really playing with any one thing fully. His restlessness
was a result of feeling unsettled in his new surroundings and with us.
I think the hardest part is to spend the entire day with a child, nurturing
and caring for their needs, and getting nothing in return. There were
a couple of moments that I wondered what were we thinking of adopting
this child. I felt like our entire family was turned upside down. In retrospect,
I can see where I should have prepared the children in the family more
regarding Woo Hyuk’s initial reaction into our home. The children waited
with anxious anticipation for his arrival, and had no knowledge that he
would at first, balk at accepting us. My daughter, who has always been
a great communicator regarding her feelings, cried a lot those first couple
of days. She thought that she was not a good big sister to Woo Hyuk and
blamed herself for his unhappiness. I tell parent’s now, who have children
in the home, to explain to their children that the new child may initially
be very unhappy because they are sad over the loss of what they had to
say good-bye to in their birth country.
Hyuk would test us by deliberately doing things he had already learned
the family rules about and had been following. An example of that would
be pouring water over the side of the tub, never looking at the water
spilling on the floor, but intently looking at you and seeking a reaction.
Before that, he had learned NOT to do this and was compliant. He did the
same with throwing food at the dinner table.
At night, he remained in our room, sleeping in the toddler bed and went
down nicely at 7:30pm and sleep soundly through the night. Again, this
little ‘creature of habit’ needed many routine rituals to be followed
to the letter "T" before going down. He needed his bottle of
water, his music box, a good night kiss from everyone, his bath at the
same time after dinner, and a little play after in the family room before
going off to bed. If one were missing, he’d let you know about it!
this happened, it was genuine and real and there was no mistaking it.
He started to fall in love with each member of the family, one at a time.
Mom was first, since she was his full time caregiver. Woo Hyuk had come
down with his first cold and this started some positive change of events.
He came to me and accepted more cuddling and rocking, and was tired enough
to take a nap without putting up a struggle. That was his first nap and
he has continued to take a nap to this day. When he woke up from his nap
the day he was sick, he immediately started calling my name and I overheard
him at bed that night whispering, "mommy, mommy…" in a loving
way. After that day, he settled in and the phase of testing seemed to
vanish over night.
During that time, I did use the time-out approach by having him sit in
the living room reading chair for 3 minutes to help reinforce my "don’t
touch" or "don’t hit" discipline. Where communication lagged,
the time-out chair definitely made its point! Firmness and consistency
were the key to getting to the point we are at today. I knew he was ‘testing
the water’ and had no idea what we’d tolerate from him. The only way he
could learn was by ‘trial & error’. Somewhere I once read, a child
has to taste a food 9x’s before he is comfortable with it and learns to
like it. That seems to hold true somewhat with discipline. It was only
through consistency that he was able to bide by the family rules. Things
became easier with his acceptance of us because he was more willing to
want to please.
bring this up because a child’s appetite is closely related to his emotions
and does have adjustment issues of its own. The first day or two, Woo
Hyuk got by with very little to eat. He was too distraught over the loss
of oma to have any interest in eating. What he did eat, he did so quickly,
just to take the edge off his hunger. After those initial days, our little
boy had a tremendous appetite. At first we thought it was great. He was
a good solid looking child and we had read from his Korean reports that
he enjoyed food.
We started to become concerned, however, when we saw that he had an ‘endless
appetite’ and was eating as much at the dinner table as our two sons,
both of whom are over six feet. He had food on his mind all the time.
He was having a bowel movement with every diaper change and showed signs
of definitely getting chunky. We brought this to our social workers attention
on our first post placement visit and she explained to us that this could
also be an adjustment issue and that some toddlers get stuck in an overeating
pattern to compensate from the loss in their life. Once we realized this,
we started limiting Woo Hyuk to a healthy size portion of food, and refused
a second helping. His well baby check found him to be at the 50% for height
and 95% for his weight. We were not concerned he wasn’t getting enough
to eat. He became angry the first and second time we refused him a second
helping, but accepted it after that. He still loves food, but now has
developed preferences and can walk away when full, leaving food on his
I am sure there is a huge variation in language with children the same
age, or any age. Woo Hyuk was a very verbal child, and very language oriented.
When he arrived from Korea at 21 months of age, his reports said he was
speaking in simple sentences and spoke well for his age. He understood
everything said to him. He was talking in our home from day one and would
chant things incessantly in Korean, trying to get us to understand him.
My eldest son was dating an Amerasian girl and her mother was Korean.
She helped a lot with interpreting what he was trying to say. He would
ask for food, for drink, to play, and mostly, "where is oma? He even
got so desperate that he asked us to "take him to the old ladies."
Which we understood, were the many friends depicted in the photo album
of Woo Hyuk and his foster mother on outings at the park.
We have picked up many simple words in Korean, which is not difficult
to speak, and since he was such a language oriented kid, we’d play games
with both the English and Korean words. He seemed to gain comfort by me
repeating whatever he said in Korean. It didn’t seem to matter that I was unable
to answer his questions, as long as I spoke them back to him what he said
to me. His foster mother gave him two large, musical trucks when he came
and he spent endless hours the first few weeks pushing the buttons, hearing
the Korean words and music. I would notice him run from the TV room into
the living room with a determined look and choose one of the trucks to
listen to. It seemed to me like he needed to hear the Korean words for
comfort when the English spoken on the TV got overwhelming for him.
When he made the transition of acceptance, it was visibly obvious that
he no longer wanted to hear Korean spoken to him. He stopped playing with
the trucks, and when my son’s girlfriend’s mom came over and spoke to
him in Korean, he refused to move or look at her. I asked her to ask him
something he would have a hard time not responding to. She asked him if
he was hungry in Korean. He made no response, looking downcast toward
the floor. I asked in English and he jumped for joy saying, "Yum!
Hungry", running to the snack bar.
After two months in his new home, he has all but caught up to what he
spoke in Korean, only now, in English. He is putting 4-5 words together
to form sentences, understands all that is said to him, and does not use
any of his Korean.
Woo Hyuk has been with us now for 3 months. He celebrated his second
birthday last week. His adjustment is complete. He is like any average
2-year-old. Curious and active, filled with wonder over every new thing,
delightful, verbal, fearful, self centered, giving, loving, challenging,
and a joy in our lives. He runs with exuberance for hugs & kisses
at bedtime, and whenever he needs an "owey" kissed away. He
loves with passion and lets his opinions be known with utter defiance.
He speaks in 4-5 word sentences in English, most times starting with
the word, "NO"! He is able to feed himself and has started learning
to undress and dress himself, and is using the potty on prompt.
He has formed a strong attachment to his older siblings and runs to greet
them when they come in from school. He is back to the ‘angelic child’
described of him in his child reports, and is very loving. He asks, "OK?"
with concern when anyone gets hurt. He no longer challenges the family
rules. He is an accepted member of our family, participating joyfully
in family activities. He does his share and helps out by feeding the family
dog dinner every night. He picks up his toys, singing the ‘clean-up’ song
as he works without being reminded. He stays close to family when out
in public, and calls for ‘mommy’ to come and get him up in the morning,
even though he can get out of the toddler bed independently. When he does
need redirection, he always tells us, "good boy, I am".
He is loved. He is cherished. He is family. And he belongs.
Gabe on his second birthday.
Copyright 2001 Barb Burke
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Barb Burke and her husband have
6 children, four joined their family by adoption. She is a wonderful advocate
for children in need of families and children with special needs. Visit
her website www.angelfire.com/journal/adoptionhelp/home.html
for information on her family, special needs of children and an excellent
overview of resources for Financial Assistance for Adoptions.