Socialization Takes Time.
In an incredible act of sheer lunacy I scheduled a trip to Disney World, the land of sensory overload, three months post-adoption. Then I was somehow surprised when I found Jaclyn head first in a fountain congratulating herself on her good luck in finding so many coins that others had left behind. Later in the day her older sister tattled that Jaclyn was chewing gum. My husband and I exchanged puzzled glances as neither of us had given her any. Then finally the light bulb went off - she was happily chomping on gum that she had scraped off the bathroom floor! I reprimanded her severely and was sure that this matter was taken care of … until the next day when her sister reported once again that Jaclyn had gum. Of course she was clueless as to how to behave and what was expected of her! Only much later was she able to explain to me how confusing this had been for her. When they told her at school that food on the floor was dirty and had germs she puzzled over it and then concluded: "In China there no such thing as germs! You find food on the floor, it your lucky day!"
Some thoughts on this:
Review Expectations. In any and every new situation, you need to tell the child what behavior is expected. Be specific on what is OK and what will not be tolerated. Expand the list as you go along because it is nearly impossible to think of all the 'don't dos'.
Watch Their Reactions. Unlike other children her age who had been socialized in the US, Jaclyn was terrified of many things that she had never been exposed to; she simply didn't understand what would happen next. When she was ready to get on the bus to go to school she asked: "Mama, will I ever come back from kindergarten?"
Explain, Explain, Explain. For a period of time I thought of my life as a continual game of 'Jeopardy' as I tried to answer all the questions of one very short contestant. They need to understand; show them how things work. Just like you need to explain to a toddler the fridge door must be kept shut, many older adoptees need to be told these things too.
Be On Guard for Sensory Overload. TV, cars, movies, the circus - all of them may be new experiences. Advance preparation on what to expect is helpful but also ease them into new stimuli.
The materials for this course have been reprinted with permission from the book Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox Building Connections, edited by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae Copyright © 2006 EMK Press, all rights reserved. The complete 520 page book covering all aspects of becoming and being an adoptive family is available at Amazon.com.