Insights on adopting the older child
I attended a meeting the other night with several parents who have also adopted from Ukraine. The discussion was stimulating and enlightening. I have finally been able to formulate a little philosophy of what I think really works in meeting the needs of these specific children. This is based on my experience and the ideas that are working for other parents. I am by no means any kind of an expert, but If these ideas can prevent someone else a little bit of grief, I will be happy. I will try to be concise.
There are only a few things that the kids really need: Keep in mind that often the things they need the most are the things that they resist the hardest. After an initial resistance period, they embrace what is being offered. This is what I believe they really need:
An understanding of how they will benefit.
Guidance/Frameworks for the future
In a little more detail:
Structure—any child or teenager that has been institutionalized in an orphanage or internat has been told what to do from sun up to sun down as they are herded from one activity to the next. They have had very little opportunity to develop skills in self -direction and self -motivation. They may be street wise and have learned to exude an air of confidence for their own self-preservation (sometimes an overabundant amount,) but they are rarely ever able to even begin to manage a productive life.
They want to be in control of their life but have no idea how to do it. They make very little progress when they are left to their own devices to find their way in the world. They crave the opportunity of having structure that gradually leads to skills in self- direction. Let me illustrate.
We struggled for many months with our newly adopted boys. We wanted them to bond with the family. We were firm on some things and not on others. We found that the things that we were strict and matter of fact about they quickly adopted and conformed to after the initial resistance. Each time there was trouble it seemed to happen during the times of the least structure. We decided to add more structure and voila…amazing results. It took a little more of our time in the beginning to get the ball rolling but now that the structure is in place it is like a well -oiled machine and we feel more free than ever. Here is a sample of a daily schedule at our house
6:00 am arise, shower, make their beds and their own breakfast
6:40 family prayer with parents
6:45 go to school (catch bus etc.)
Attend School where they work hard and maintain good grades. If the grades slip their privileges disappear.
3:00 Begin homework and to do their “list” Each day they are required to read for an hour, Speak to another family member in Russian for 15 minutes and practice the piano for 30 minutes.
Dinner and evening activities
8:00 pm Everyone does their Zones (chores) and prepares for bed
9:15 Family prayer and scripture study
After this they report and account in writing to a parent on the completion of their list.
Does this sound like a rough regimen? … They have never been happier. If only we had known this before the very painful trial and error year.
When there are clear rules and expectations accompanied by consequences delivered in an unemotional way, progress is made. Basically we are all here on earth trying to do the right things and our Creator gave us clear rules and expectations and when we comply we are blessed and when we don’t we face consequences. I can’t think of a more effective model.
Security—We joke about sending the challenging kids back to Ukraine or to another family or to prison but for the most part, anyone who jumps through all of the hoops to actually adopt, is a pretty committed person. The kids need to know that we are ‘All in” we are dedicated to be there for them. No matter what, we will be their parent and they can depend on us. They have most likely been disappointed by adults and those in authority before and so it may take years to be able to really know true security but when they do, miracles will happen.
An understanding of how they will benefit. Let’s face it the environments that shaped our adopted children were of the attitude of “What’s in it in for me.” We were appalled when we were questioned by officials in Ukraine about our intentions in adopting our boys. They could not begin to fathom that we would actually be taking on 2 more children out of the goodness of our hearts. They continually were in search of our ulterior, selfish, and evil motives. Some teachers even told the kids that we planned to sell their body parts or make them slaves or that we would get a lot of money from our country if we adopted them. We didn’t enjoy the scrutiny but it gave us a peek into what attitudes have been surrounding our children. This “every man for himself” and “look out for number 1” mindset is very common in the kids we bring home. When trying to explain what we require and expect of them it makes a lot of sense to speak their language. The sooner they see the long term benefit TO THEM of what we are asking them to do, the quicker they will comply.
When our kids ask why we require them to practice Russian for 15 minutes a day, we sit down and explain that they have to maintain their language or they will lose it. By being bi-lingual they will be able to get a better paying job. We write down how much they can earn by working at a fast food restaurant (minimum wage) and how much they could earn by using their language in a job. (about $10 to $20 more per hour) Money talks and they listen. When they understand that their good grades are not for our benefit but for theirs they can operate on the motivation that is already built in. Reassure them that you are not making them go to church or learn to work or anything else for your benefit. Tell them that you could have hired a maid for a lot less than their adoption cost. Tell them that they need to learn to work so that they can get a good job and marry and buy a nice car and have a happy life. Make it all about them and they will finally get it. I love a quote that says: “tell me sufficiently WHY a thing should be done, and I will move heaven and Earth to do it.”
Guidance/Frameworks for the future—Very few times if ever has anyone sat down with an orphan in Ukraine and made a plan with them for their future and expressed any interest in helping them reach for a successful life. As a result they have learned to focus on the here and now. The extent of their goal making abilities were probably learning a skill that will get them an immediate result. Our biggest contribution could be to help them to see a future and plan and work for upcoming rewards.
They were not born with an ability to see the long term. They have not had any reason to believe that they would even be here long term. They have not dared to even imagine that there is a big picture for them and we get to be the ones to break the good news. We don’t have to do it for them and we don’t have to finance it, but we show that we really love them when we help them take a look at the realities of the future. When we talk daily about the future and empower them to be in control of their own future, a whole new world will open up to them. When we show them examples in the lives of people that they respect and when they understand that success requires long term, consistent effort and when we show them a path of possibility they can really begin to live.
Bare necessities—We are required to provide a roof, a bed, food to sustain life, and a few articles of clothing for our children. There is no rule that says that parents have to finance phones, cars, electronics, video games, furniture, computer access, wardrobes, toys, college educations, entertainment, or any of the other extras for their offspring. The truth is that most children from an orphanage in Ukraine are not equipped to appreciate things anyway. They have not been taught to be grateful, they have only been taught to be entitled. I think that the more basic their existence is and the more they have to “earn” the extras the more they will learn to appreciate and the more real the law of the harvest will be to them.
When we adopted our boys we were disappointed that they didn’t say thank you or even seem to be grateful for the gifts we showered on them. We expected delight but we were sorely disappointed. One of our new sons really wanted an I-pod or an MP3 player. We gave him one for his birthday and after a few days, he purposely broke it and told us that it was broken and that he wanted a different kind this time. He was surprised when we decided that a replacement was not in order.
After quite a few frustrating experiences, we had a discussion with him about being grateful and he said that he didn’t know how to be grateful. We had to start from square one, much like a parent teaches a 2 year old to say “Please and Thank You.” Gratitude is a learned behavior.
I think there is a lot of heartache when parents anticipate gratitude and the kids have no idea what it is and how to show it. Now our son, who didn’t know how to be grateful, has learned all about it and is the first to thank us for a meal or any other small gesture.
Use the extras as incentives to condition behavior. Even though conditioned behavior isn’t the more highly sought after intrinsically motivated behavior, it gives the child the opportunity to feel the feelings that accompany good behavior and often conditioned behavior can evolve into natural behavior.
As a side note, personally I think that video games are a detriment to the development of the adopted children and that TV and media needs to be very carefully monitored. If parents are not able to monitor TV, movies, computer usage, phone usage etc., it should not be available. Many wayward children can trace their first negative influences to those mentioned above. It isn’t possible to monitor what influences every child every moment and they WILL face bad influences but we shouldn’t be the ones responsible for providing it.
I hope these ideas make a dent in someone’s frustrating quest. Feel free to add comments and what may be working that I didn’t mention. Good Luck and God bless your good heart.