Adoption is a delicate process with unique challenges. Everyone involved deals with a different set of difficulties, the parents, the siblings, and the adopted children in an attempt to create a cohesive family unit. Here are the common challenges faced by adopted children.
Challenges faced by adopted children
Adopted children deal with feelings of grief or loss as they mature and try to understand their adoption. They may feel as though they lost their birth parents, siblings, language, or culture. Adopted children are more prone to sadness and despondency than other children. Anger is more common among them as well as fear with adopted children being more fearful and less trusting or dependent on other people. The anger is an expression of their internal frustration.
Being less trusting may be because the child feels like they trusted before and it only led to disappointment. For many adopted children, adoption is synonymous with abandonment. They may also blame themselves and wonder, “What is wrong with me?” or “Will my adoptive parents leave me too?” Adopted children often feel the pressure to be perfect or risk losing this new family as well.
You should allow them and encourage them to express these intense emotions. Suppressing anger or pretending not to be sad only causes a build-up and may even lead to destructive behaviours. Don’t shy away from addressing these uncomfortable feelings. Let them know it’s okay that they have such strong feelings. Be extra supportive during the periods you notice their sadness, such as during holidays like Mother’s and Father’s Day. Reassure them about your presence in their life and your unconditional love for them. Let them know that they are enough that they do not have to be good enough to meet the family’s expectations in order to be loved.
Self-esteem and identity issues
So much of our identity is derived from our family and history. Children also look to their parents to forecast and imagine how their lives will turn out, such as how they will look when they’re older. For adopted children who have limited information about their birth families, these gaps can lead to difficulties in identity development.
It also complicates things like medical care where medical history is important and can provide clues about the risk of certain illnesses.
Adopted children may struggle to find their place and fit in the new family and end up feeling like misfits, outsiders, different from the rest. The identity issues are further complicated if the child’s race or heritage differs from that of the adoptive family. These feelings of being an outsider and internalized rejection can cause them to have low self-esteem issues.
For parents who have adopted cross-culture and race, it would be helpful to educate yourselves about the adopted child’s birth culture and find ways of not only acknowledging it but also incorporating it. You can also establish new family traditions together with adopted children to build that sense of belonging.
Mental health and attachment challenges
Research finds that adopted children are at a higher risk for mental health disorders. In the United States, 12-14% of adopted children between the ages of 8 and 18 are diagnosed with a mental health disorder each year.
Adopted children are almost twice as likely as children brought up by their biological parents to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety, depression, and other behavioural issues. Many adopted children also suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) which is a disorder in which a child is uncomfortable with and avoids being comforted by caretakers. This is often a consequence of not receiving consistent care in their previous living situation. It may also be a response based in fear of rejection.
Adopted children who are struggling with attachment or with mental health issues could benefit from counselling and other support services. This is especially important for children who may have experienced trauma before adoption.
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