Preparing to Parent an Internationally Adopted Child


Some prospective adoptive parents are just so happy to be on the adoption journey that they actually haven't stopped to think about the actual parenting part. It's like the couple who spends so much time planning the wedding that they forgot to plan the marriage. As a result, many adoptive parents find themselves overwhelmed once the children arrive home. Whether your child will be domestically or internationally adopted, be sure to take the time to get prepared to parent because parenting is a full-time job because parenting is a full-time job.

Training Classes 

Within the United States, it is usually mandatory that prospective adoptive parents take classes before adopting from within the foster care system. Now it's becoming mandatory for some international adoptions as well. This prepares parents for behaviors and issues that may arise while parenting. I highly recommend training for any prospective adoptive parent. Nothing beats experience and no class can prepare one for everything, but there are things that can be learned in a class that will help clue an adoptive parent into what the child is experiencing and why.

Understand the Grieving Process

All adoptions start with a loss, a loss for the birth family and the adoptee. Some children are also very attached to the caregivers within the orphanage or foster home, so learn about grief and try to understand the grief and loss process in children. Know that your child may exhibit unexpected behaviors like self-soothing, defensive tendencies, bad habits and survival techniques. By figuring out what a child is trying to communicate through behavior you can discover the child's underlying need and try to meet that need.

For example, your child is hoarding food. You first see this as an act of stealing. Remember that children communicate needs through behavior. Perhaps your child is hoarding food due to early neglect and a fear of being hungry. The behavior now makes more sense and can be dealt with in a different light. A plastic bowl with a tight-fitting lid may be the answer. The child can keep food within the bowl and the lid will keep out odor and bugs. The child can regulate his/her supply of food and feel good about having it near.​

Learn About the Effects of Fetal Alcohol Exposure and Drug Abuse 

Many of the developmental delays in kids, especially those adopted from Eastern Europe and the foster care system, are due in large part to the effects of the mother drinking while pregnant.

Plan on the Possibility of Developmental Delays

Reasons for the delays may include:

  • Lack of toys and stimulation.
  • Lack of one-on-one time with caregivers.
  • Truancy issues within the birth home or moving from school to school.
  • Some of the children have never left the orphanage grounds.
  • In some orphanages, the staff wears surgical masks to prevent the spread of disease.

Plan for Problems Communicating 

These problems are seen especially in children older than two and able to speak when adopted internationally. Take the time to learn a few phrases in his/her language, or create picture cards for communicating simple needs. A child who is frustrated and having a difficult time communicating may start to act out.

Another issue may be with the child's lack of understanding of some of the basic components of speech. Some foster children also struggle with understanding tone, sarcasm, and slang.

Plan for Post-Adoptive Support 

Start looking into available resources. Ask your agency or look online. This will ultimately become more important as you begin to parent your child. Seek out family and friends who are supportive of your adoption journey or who have already adopted.

Read, Read, Read

Can't say it enough. I'd suggest the following book:

And the following website:

Learn About Your Child's Heritage and Culture

Being sensitive to culture changes can be particularly important for internationally adopted children. From learning about holidays celebrated within your child's birth country to learning how to cook up a few main dishes, maintaining an understanding of your child's culture is important.​

Know that Bonding Takes Time

Learn how to promote bonding whenever you can. There are many strategies and classes that help promote bonding.

Don't have Any Expectations

Don't have any expectations for yourself, your child, your spouse, or family. Every situation is different. 

Plan to Feel Overwhelmed at Times

Know that your child will feel overwhelmed as well. You have had much more preparation time than the child. The child may not even understand the concept of family, and if the child comes from a dysfunctional family, may be fearful.

If after all of the training and reading you feel scared away from the adoption journey, that's OK and very normal. It's the prospective adoptive parents who are not worried that worry me. Take a step back and ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" You will know in your heart the right answer to that question, now to get through the fear of it all.

What is the most important preparation tool from the above list?

Finding Support 

Find support before and after the adoption journey. Do not skimp on support. It is what will get you through the tough times of being a parent. Not everyone will understand your dilemmas, as raising adopted children is different than raising birth children. So look for who really understand you and your family.

Building a family is work so gather your tools and get busy.