International adoptions generally involved children who have lived in orphanages traveling home with parents they have only just met. Children are separated from everything and everyone they have ever known and whisked away by virtual strangers through the confusion of international travel to a new place where nothing is the same and no one speaks their language. Some children are able to adjust better to these many, many changes than others, and with a more affable disposition. Other children are completely distraught and in considerable shock. Most children fall somewhere in between on any given day.
The behaviors children when they first arrive home vary widely, but there is one overall statement that can be made: children take time to make true attachments. Attachments are not fully formed at the first meeting or even in the weeks that follow; this is the introduction of the interactions that nurture attachments. Some children are more open to accepting positive interactions; some children need time to grieve their losses; some children are resistant to new attachments (or attachments in general) and need assistance. But in the first few weeks and months of being part of a family, children are still checking out these new parents; relationship have the potential to grow depending upon the combination of both child and parent experiences and flexibility.
Because new parents must take the lead in encouraging attachments with their child, preparation for international adoption includes information, insights, and approaches on, first, helping children with the transition to a new home and then, second, encouraging healthy attachments. Parents have the task of figuring out what their children need at any point in time and then adapting what they have learned to respond to those needs. This can seem a daunting task, and feel overwhelming at times. The support and encouragement of agency and other adoptive parents can be a tremendous help to new parents.
In the beginning, there are a number of different behaviors a child might display that are typical for children separated from the familiar. These can be considered normal for the situation, not necessarily part of attachment problems. Not yet being attached to parents just met is not the same as being an unattached child. One describes a child being at the beginning of an important but not yet established relationship, the other a child who has serious difficulties with making attachments. Whether these typical reactions to separation and loss will depend on how intense and long lasting these symptoms are for a particular child, whether there are other critical symptoms, and how resistant these are to interventions. Remember that in most cases, parents begin to fall in love with them.
Attachment and International Adoption. From Choices and Challenges in International Adoption by Joan McNamara ©2009