Kate and her husband Mike adopted Sam at the age of three months. For several years they enjoyed building a secure, new relationship with him. Rather than going to daycare while Kate and Mike were working Sam stayed with Kate’s mother who only lived down the street from them. By most accounts it had been an ideal early upbringing for Sam. He had been exposed to many new people, places, and things. Kate and Mike had delighted in learning his facial expressions, thinking about how he would look when he got older, and what he would choose to do as a profession. The months and years passed and before they knew it was time to send Sam to school.
Every new school year thousands of adoptive parents unwittingly send their children to school without a basic understanding of the inherent challenges that their child will face versus other children. For far too many years the medical community has all but ignored the challenges that adoptive families face when it comes to education. This article is written to give adoptive parents sending their children off to school for the first time seven winning tips for educational success.
Tip #1: Sensitivity. Adopted children, regardless of the age when adopted, are by nature of their early experiences more sensitive than other children. Their brains are hard-wired for perceiving stress or threat when others may not. This can often times lead to hyperactivity, overwhelm, withdrawal, or poor attention. Help your child’s teacher to see your child as sensitive to stress rather than as having a behavior problem. This understanding can make a huge difference. If we see a behavior problem then we try to correct the behavior, which oftentimes leads to more stress. However, if we see the child as sensitive then we try to reduce some of the stimulation or create a more secure environment, which in turn will naturally help to correct the behavior.
Tip #2: Fear of Abandonment. Whether you have been raising your adopted child from birth or he came to you as a teenager, many adopted children live with a fear of abandonment. This fear will surface as anxiety about leaving home, insistence on needing to know where you will be, obsession with the unfolding of the day’s events, or in some instances, aggression or withdrawal upon returning home. To combat this, tell your child regardless of age that if he needs anything he can call you. Get the school to agree to this. He may only need to check in for a short period of time but this checking in can quell the deepest anxiety. Also tell your child that he will be coming home and you can’t wait to hear about his day. Occasionally, you might add, “And when you get home all of your stuff will still be here!”
Tip #3: Learning Styles. There are three types of learning styles: Auditory, Visual, and Kinesthetic. Many adopted children who get diagnosed as ADHD are not ADHD at all but rather they are kinesthetic learners. They learn best with movement or tactile stimulation involved. And guess what? Most schools do not teach to kinesthetic learners, but rather to auditory and visual learners! It may behoove you to have an Occupational Therapist assess your child and make recommendations for modifications that can best assist your child’s learning.
Tip #4: Over-Involvement. In Western society we have a hard time with understanding that eight hours of stimulation in school can be exhausting, so we take on all manner of extracurricular activities for after school! Give your child’s system time to adapt and adjust to going to school for an entire day. This time also means being away from you, being sensory overloaded much of the day, and facing every other anxiety that comes with being a child. Once your child has been able to make a successful transition to school by sleeping well, getting up without too much difficulty, and demonstrating some academic success, then introduce an extracurricular activity. But, by all means, go slow!
Tip #5: Share Your Child’s History. Adoption matters! Every experience that your child has had from conception is fundamentally different than that of a biological child. According to Mitch Gaynor, M.D. the author of The Sounds of Healing, the fetus begins to hear as early as the fourth week after conception. Neuropsychiatrist Thomas Verny, author of The Secret Life of Your Child series, informs us that as early as the second trimester the fetus begins to process psychologically. You may not know all of the details of your child’s early life but it is important to share with your child’s teaching team that he was adopted and that there are natural implications regarding sensitivity because of it. You are not sharing in order to handicap your child’s learning experience, but rather to help those around him to fully understand so that they can best accommodate any additional challenges that may arise.
Tip #6: Relationship is Critical. Like every other child, adopted children want to please. However, adopted children can be quite sensitive to perceived rejection. When at all possible make an extra effort to help your child and the teacher to engage outside of normal classroom activities. For example, on meet the teacher night, go early and stay late. Spend extra time in the classroom letting your child hear the teachers voice, get used to her physical presence, maybe see her smile. Join your child’s teacher in a positive way. There is no need to become defensive but rather approach the experience with openness and gratitude. Your child will experience your energy and this will make a big difference.
Tip #7: Emotional Age Comes First. There are three developmental ages: Chronological, Cognitive, and Emotional. Your child may be six but due to his early experiences he may emotionally only be three. It is important to understand this discrepancy. He is not just “acting” immature; he is experiencing an actual developmental discrepancy. It is critical that this be taken into consideration by all involved in his education. In some instances a full day of school right out of the gate may be too much. Don’t be afraid to request an IEP (Individual Education Plan) based on your child’s history. Doing so may help him to truly receive an education that is tailored to his needs while still helping him to fit in with the other children.
Remember, the first days, weeks, months of school create an educational blueprint for all of your child’s future years. Make every effort to help him and those charged with his education get started on the right path. Too many times we approach school with a single-minded focus for the day or year without understanding that these first years are what create the framework for later success.
Have a Great School Year.
Bryan Post was adopted at the age of three months. An Internationally recognized child behavior expert and best-selling author, he has been helping adoptive families find relationship success for the past fifteen years. Learn more at www.postinstitute.com.