How to Help Adopted Children Adjust with an Adoption Welcome BookBy Beth O'Malley, M.Ed., author of LifeBooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child.
How can we best help babies and kids when it's time for them to change worlds? As the adoption community strives to enhance attachment, families and professionals are paying close attention to working on tools to help with initial adjustment. The Welcome Book is one of those tools. Have you heard of it? Folks in the foster care system use it with great success. Read on and learn more about how it applies to international adoption.
What Is the Welcome Book for Adopted Children?
The Welcome Book is a simple book made by you with photos introducing your child to his or her immediate family (including pets) and surroundings (car, yard, house). The Welcome Book consists mainly of photos and short descriptions (whew-no tough text like that lifebook). The length is between 5-9 pages. Details about why the book is important and how to make it are below.
What is the Purpose for Adoptive Families?
The Welcome Book helps your new family member, whether they are two or twelve, prepare for their new life, by showing them photos. Think of the Welcome Book as a preview at the movies - a preview of "life's coming attractions." When your child arrives at his or her new home they can get out of the car and think to themselves, this house looks familiar, and it's not a total shock to their system. If you are lucky enough to have contact with your child while they are still in foster care or in a baby home/orphanage, you can mail a copy of the Welcome Book to that child ahead of time. That way caregivers can help prepare/transition your child. Otherwise, you can give it to them when you meet. If you are making 2 trips you can leave the Welcome Book with your child after your initial meeting.
How Do I Make A Welcome Book for My Adopted Child?
Do what works for you. If you are artsy-be artsy. Like things plain and simple? Great. Either way, you are creating a book of photos with captions. Use magic marker and handwrite the titles if you like. Or spend hours creating elaborate designs on the computer. Time is a luxury for most waiting families. The bottom line is, " Don't stress. Be who you are." Then tape photos into a booklet and describe what they are of. You can use a photo album, blank book, or bound book from a photo service (such as snapfish). Or, you can just staple together construction paper and glue on photos. That's it. In fact, this is a wonderful task for waiting family members to do together. If there are already children in your home, involve them (but you knew that).
Book Suggestions for Adopted Child of Any Age
Special Tips for Older Adopted Children
Certainly if you are adopting an older child, then you would want to include more photos. Include the local playground, future school etc. Add anything you think they will find useful and/or interesting to see ahead of time. Familiarity reduces the fear factor. The less anxiety a child feels, the safer he or she will feel. Feeling safe allows for children to open their hearts. Don't go overboard with trying to show them what a 'good life' they will have. It is a huge temptation to shower your child with toys, clothes and promises of trips to Disney. Let them see what a regular day in their new family will look like. End with a picture of your family. Add an image of your child to a family photo by superimposing them (with a scanner, PhotoShop program or by manually taping their photo) to make a complete family photo.
For Adopted Babies & Toddlers Too?
Yes! Toddlers and even babies (I consider a baby as someone 12 months or younger) can tuck away the images for a short time. You'll have plenty of time to review The Welcome Book in the hotel, airplane, and while finalizing paperwork. By offering some predictability via the pictures, it helps offset some of the new home shock they feel as they arrive. You can mention Scruffy so many times that by the time your child meets the family dog it won't be such a surprise.
Final Benefit for the Adoptive Family: Establishing Trust
You can assure your child with the Welcome Book by saying, "See I showed you what your home would be like and here it is." It is a small project with a huge impact. You can earn credibility with your child and bridge two worlds in a concrete and important fashion. Fast forward a few years and watch as life comes full circle. You might catch your child sitting in the living room looking back at their Welcome Book. My how times flies!
Ms. O'Malley is an adoptee, adoptive Mom, adoption social worker, and the author of LifeBooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child. Sign up for free lifebook lessons and a monthly newsletter at www.adoptionlifebooks.com/signup.htm.
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