I took my 10-month-old grandson, George, to get his first new shoes this past weekend. He is just beginning to try to walk and I wanted to be sure he had good shoes that provided all the support he needs. He normally easily accepts going to new places and he enjoys seeing other children, but I noticed that he was making a more-than-normal effort to examine his surroundings and the new people in the store. With trepidation, he let the salesman check his size but only because his dad was holding him, and he could look at Daddy throughout the process. After his dad and I had selected several pairs of shoes, we began getting him ready to try them on. He let the salesman know immediately that he only wanted daddy or Mumzi to do this. With both of us, he curled his feet and toes into a ball each time we tried to get the shoe on……repeatedly. This was his way of putting up resistance to a new activity in the only way he knew how to do so. We laughed, and he laughed. Finally, with some planned redirection and both of us taking on a task, we got the shoes properly on his feet. It was teamwork at its best and our little one accepted the new shoes! Still, the newness of actually wearing a shoe made him stand cautiously and he did not want to try to walk at all. This experience was just too different for what he was used to, and we could see that he wanted to go slow until he developed a comfort level with them.
This experience made me think of the many adjustments that our adopted children must make to new surroundings, foods, people, language, countries, and rules. What a huge change for them! I know it can be very overwhelming for these children who have been adopted internationally, as they have left the home and friends they knew, began seeing new people and places, are learning new family rules and expectations, are trying to learn a completely new language and understand what is being said to them in English, are sleeping on an unfamiliar bed, and are starting to eat foods that were either prepared differently from what their palate was used to or were new foods altogether. Can YOU imagine having to do this all at once? It really is overwhelming!
It is normal for your child to put up barriers to these many changes to their life. Whether mild objections, slight resistance or full tantrums, your child is telling you that something is just not right. They may not understand what is going on or they may simply be afraid. How they react is based upon their past history of trauma and the preservation techniques they have already developed. It is up to you, as the parent, to calmly and patiently help your child adjust. If you are a two-parent household, you should both be working in tandem so that your child understands you are both there for him or her. Understand their fear or frustration and acknowledge it with your child in an accepting manner. Explain any new processes to them ahead of time. Offer opportunities to try something first. Model the behavior you want from your child. If they are very young, use play or distraction to help your child reduce their fear and rigidity to a task. Help with language learning constantly through on-line translations, language classes, interpreters, books and programs with their foreign language included, and house rules printed in their native language. Introduce new foods one at a time to see how they will react. Watch for potential allergies. Remember that texture is often a concern as well. Help them adjust to sleeping in a new bed and offer support by being in the room yourself, using a nightlight or allowing them in your room for a short time to adjust to the new sounds, space, smells, and even the new feeling of the textiles being used. Try to put yourself in your child’s place. Know that their fears are real.
Change is hard for all of us no matter who we are, how old we are or where we are. Give your child some grace and help them to consciously develop a comfort level with the many new adjustments in their life. Use patience, humor, kindness, and calmness while on this adjustment journey with them. Just remember, sometimes it is hard to walk in new shoes!