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Creating Safe Space in Older Child Adoption

Adopting an older child is a much different experience than adopting an infant. While older child adoption typically refers to adopting a child over the age of three, many families find themselves welcoming a child from ages 10-17 that fit perfectly into their family. Families can combine and thrive at any stage of life—what are some ways to ease the transition? 

It’s important to understand your child’s development. Your child had a life before they joined your family—they have an identity, preferences for their daily schedule, childhood memories and experiences, and an opinion on being adopted. Focusing on trust and safety early-on is critical. Bonding takes on a different form, and more time, when integrating an older child. Communication, boundaries, and safe space will help you build the relationship organically and on the child’s terms. 

Put yourself in their shoes. This is an extremely overwhelming situation for everyone involved, but especially a child who is starting a new life. Allow your child to adapt at their own pace—if they are not ready to talk about their wants or expectations, don’t force them. Give them the room to come into these conversations when they’re comfortable, and provide them with other outlets—a journal, counseling, extracurricular activities—so they still have ways to express themself. 

Educate your family about adoption, and maintain open, honest conversations around adoption in the household. Allow everyone to talk about their emotions in a safe space. Set safety and boundary rules so everyone has the space to live in their feelings, express their emotions, and retreat to privacy and safety when necessary.  

Some children are excited and overwhelmed by being adopted, and others will feel a sense of abandonment. Be prepared for these ranges of emotions. It takes a special and unique family to open their home to an older child. The best kind of parent is not built by blood but by love, acceptance, and bonding. For helpful, firsthand advice, we love this piece from Holt International, featuring thoughts from families who have been there.