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Adopting an Older Child: The Joys and the Challenges (part 4- conclusion) . . .

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Physical scars . . . we all have them, don’t we? I have two. One is on my right shin area from when I once drove in a demolition derby (and won!). The price for winning was seven stitches in my punctured leg. My second scar is on my right elbow from when I fell off a moving trash truck and kissed the concrete many years ago in college—I won’t elaborate on that one.

Seriously though, we all have scars, and not all of them are physical. Like physical scars, our emotional scars may or may not fade away with the passing of time. These are the scars we suffer from traumatic events like the sudden loss of a loved one, surviving a natural disaster, or for some of us, some form of past abuse. Our emotional scars may not necessarily inhibit our quality of life, but still, they’re present, often in the back of our minds.

When adopting an older child, we must be aware that his or her emotional scars are unique. Their scars are often linked to feelings of abandonment and deep sadness, which can manifest themselves in symptoms like anger and depression. Often, they also suffer feelings of ambiguous loss, not knowing if their parents are still alive or not. More so, they may not even recall what their parents looked like, and may also wonder, “Do I look like them?”

Adoptive dads and moms, do not be dismayed about your child’s scars, for there are practical things you can do to help your son or daughter. True, you cannot erase their scars (as much as you long to do so), but you can help them in their struggles with their scars. Create a “life book” for your child to help him or her have a sense of personal history. If appropriate and affordable take her on a trip to her homeland to reconnect with her cultural and ethnic roots. (I highly recommend waiting until a child is at least 11 or 12 years old to do this. Also, I recommend group trips with your adoption agency. They often include professional counselors to help you child if she happens to struggle emotionally with some aspects of the trip). Encourage your child to write a letter to his or her birth parents that you may or may not read together (sometimes this is also best done with the input and guidance of a professional therapist). Most of all, don’t discourage your child from talking about his birth parents, especially if he or she expresses anger at them. Be all ears. Verbally reflect to him what you hear him saying. Give lots of hugs. His expression of anger may well be the most therapeutic thing he can do to address his scars.

Scars, both physical and emotional are a part of real life. The emotional ones do not have to be debilitating for your child if you as the parent are comfortable with helping your him recognize, acknowledge and if needed, address them.

Photo on Unsplash by Jonathan Borba.


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