When we first brought our son home from the hospital after a domestic adoption, our hearts were filled with joy and expectation. We were finally parents and this sweet baby in our arms was the fulfillment of a dream. But, as is often the case in adoption, all too soon our expectations were dashed. By 2 our son showed signs of sensory seeking, by 3 speech and motor delays, by 4 inattention and focus delays, and by 5 anger, frustration, and learning disabilities. Four tubes surgeries, countless therapies and struggles later, we are still on a hard road. And those expectations, long gone.
For many adopted children who have come into families later in life and have been exposed, be it in the womb or after, to all manner of struggle, the one constant is a perpetual series of disruptions and foundational lack of stability. This can look like attachment struggles, PTSD, anxiety, anger, lying, stealing, manipulating, learning disabilities and delays, and depression. And these struggles can leave parents feeling lost, without hope, desperate for answers and the “right path.” While we often cannot find one right way to parent children from hard places, there are steps that we can all take to heal a hurting heart and mend what is broken so that an adopted child can learn, grow, and thrive.
Why Homeschool Post Placement?
For parents of adopted children, it’s critically important that they be laser-focused on providing their child with a loving, stable, and disruption free home. For many parents this means being present as much as possible in your child’s life, including their education. For some of you this choice is a natural one. For others, homeschooling may seem like the most foreign and unwanted lifestyle possible. But, keeping your child home post placement can provide the stability, care, and connection that they so desperately need. And, while they will benefit greatly from a home learning environment, emotional growth and connection play a more important role in the healing of your child.
Let’s be frank, I know as well as anyone that the decision to homeschool your adopted child will not be an easy one. It means more time with a child who may be hard to be around, giving up jobs, free time, etc. It means loss for you as their parent so that your child can gain. But I can personally assure you that the benefits to your child will far outweigh the struggles.
There are some critical emotional benefits to homeschooling adopted children. First, you’re able to personally show them mom and dad are the ones who will meet their needs and provide them with love and support around the clock. Often, children who are institutionalized don’t understand the concept of one mom and one dad. It’s incredibly important to communicate this concept early on, especially with older adopted children, so they know they can always turn to you when they need help and support. When homeschooling you’ll be there when they are hungry, tired, upset, anxious, etc. and can meet their needs immediately.
Second, you’ll have more opportunities for attachment, bonding, and correcting throughout the day. Adopted children often struggle with control, anger, frustration, and other tough emotional issues stemming from trauma. When you homeschool, you’ll get to participate in the times of triumph and take control during much needed times of correction so that the necessary coping and communication skills begin to take root. Simply put, more time with your child will solidify you as their primary caregiver, their need meter, their greatest champion, their parent.
Homeschooling can also protect your child from further struggle and hardship in the form of peer pressure, bullying, and academic frustrations. Schools often don’t understand attachment and anxiety disorders that stem from disruption or institutionalization. As a result, often times the way that schools want to handle an adopted child is inappropriate and can further damage the child’s sense of security and growth. Children who are “different” are often the brunt of cruel jokes and bullying. And, internationally adopted children unjustly are easy targets because of their language struggles and cultural differences. If they have a medical struggle or diagnosis the struggles can be even deeper.
In contrast, homeschooling gives parents the opportunity to control their child’s environment and help in minimizing the various challenges they are exposed to at an early age, allowing students to develop the proper coping skills and the emotional confidence they need for potentially confronting bullying or peer pressure situations on their own. Let’s face it, children who are adopted often have more challenges already, navigating the school environment with its added social, academic, and emotional requirements can often be too much too soon.
But, how else can homeschooling help an adopted child? And how do you empower yourself as a parent to gain the confidence to successfully homeschool your child?
Find support groups
I strongly suggest adoptive parents join a support group of homeschooling parents who’ve also adopted and are on a similar journey. I often think back to homeschooling my first adopted son, and how many questions I had. Finding a local support group of parents in similar situations helped me answer my nagging questions, gave me confidence when it was lacking and a support network when I felt unsure of myself. They often know about great local resources you can tap into, fun cultural events in your area, and are indispensable for leaning on for support and questions.
Customize your child’s learning
The biggest benefit homeschooling can give to your adopted child is the ability to match their new curriculum directly to their academic proficiency and learning style. Like I mentioned above, adopted children who are enrolled in public education too soon can suffer from bullying and depression but can also continue to fall behind academically because they are not full English speakers. Homeschooling allows you to identify the gaps in a child’s academics and fill them in before moving them ahead.
And there’s an added emotional benefit to this. Providing them with a safe learning environment early on will help with emotional maturity growth and personal confidence later in life. Not only that, but you’ll be able to pinpoint your child’s interests or gaps in learning and tailor their education to help them excel in their gifts and abilities instead of constantly focusing on their needs.
Find translation help
Communication is key for any new relationship to work, especially during adoption. This is why I recommend parents of internationally adopted children look into translation support for children 5 and over. Children younger than that can develop language skills very quickly. For those parents I usually recommend they focus solely on language, attachment, and bonding for the first 6 months. Grow the bonds of communication and attachment and your child will have the right foundation to learn.
However, parents shouldn’t rely on translators so much that it becomes a crutch. But it’s helpful if your child is having a hard time describing their emotions, or a memory they have from their first home, or even having a particularly hard time getting through a phonics lesson. Translators can help to unlock not just words, but the emotional safety that being understood brings.
At the end of the day, adoptive parents have two jobs for their child: minimize struggles while maximizing progress. Adopted children have often had troubles beyond what we can imagine, the best thing you can do for them is to minimize frustration and focus on bonding. This will create the foundation they need to grow, mend, and face life with a sense of purpose and belonging.