Considering the Adoption of an Older Child?

Adoptive mother holding the hand of her adopted child while walking
Adopting an older child is defined as the adoption of any child who is no longer a newborn.

Adopting older children can have its own blessings and its own challenges because every older child comes with a past. Even children under the age of one may have difficulties adjusting in a new family. I believe with much love, focused attention and security, a child of any age will flourish.

A family considering adopting older children must be able to let the child vent safely, and be there to offer comfort and acceptance. An older child should have someone to see them off to school in the morning and be there when they come home from school whenever possible. That means that one parent should probably not work full time, but work while their children are in school only. A part-time or stay at home parent would be best during the early years.

It often takes a period of time for an older child to realize they are safe and are in their forever home. Some adoptive parents may find that an older child might hoard food because in their past they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. I encourage families to hug their child and let them know that they love them and they are safe. It is helpful if the parents have a spiritual foundation to offer their child. Attending church on a regular basis will help with their spiritual growth and socialization with other kids their own age.

Siblings that are part of the pre-adoption planning often find it easier to open their arms to their new brother or sister and have patience. This will make the transition easier for everyone. Just being there, loving the child, and allowing him or her to feel comfortable helps. It may take months, or in some cases years, however, before your child feels comfortable in his or her new family. It is a lifelong commitment and a big responsibility for any family to adopt an older child.

Steps to Adopting an Older Child

1. Ask yourself “What can I give an older child?”

Older children have preconceived ideas of who they are and what they can do. Can you give the child patience? Quality time? A stable family life? Sometimes older children can be trying. Begin by speaking to families who have adopted older children. Ask for advice and consider the challenges they encountered.

2. Decide where and who you will be working with to locate your child.

There are many avenues and resources: state, county, private agencies, adoption attorneys and facilitators like myself who can help you adopt children.

3. Prepare other family and friends for your new family member.

Answer questions about the adoption. However, I don’t encourage you to share personal details about your child’s past or his biological parents. If for instance your child was a drug exposed baby, well meaning people or family members may use this to explain the actions of your child, even when it may just be due to his or her age. Keep your child’s past between yourself and your child and physician. Remember to respect their privacy.

4. Don’t expect too much and put unrealistic pressures on yourself or your child. Everything will be new to your child and an adjustment for your lifestyle. Every child has his or her own clock indicating when he or she is ready to take each new step in the relationship. Be sensitive and listen to what your child says and doesn’t say. Patience helps create a smooth transition. Practice avoiding making judgmental comments and asking for help when you need it.

Tell your child every day (or more often) that they are loved. When our adopted son Cory came to live with us, I told him over and over that I loved him. Even today, many years later, he never tires of hearing it. Many times, with older children, the families they came from never gave any indication that they loved or cared for them.

Let them know they are special and you are proud to have them as part of the family. We have a tradition in our family called “Chosen Day,” a type of birthday, celebrating the day our son came to live with us. If you are interested in adopting a child a good way to start is by filling out Lifetime’s Free Application to Adopt.


About The Author

Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P., is an adoptive mother, award-winning author, and an internationally recognized adoption professional. Founding Lifetime Adoption Center in 1986, she has helped complete thousands of adoptions nationwide. Caldwell often reminds prospective parents that “there is a baby for you,” acknowledging that there is truly a child for everyone who seeks to adopt. Her adoption center accepts applications at no cost from parents seeking to adopt.

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“In the meantime, we have participated in a few webinars located on Lifetime’s website. We’ve found the following webinars to hold valuable information: Managing your Expectations, Coaching Call: Your First Conversation with a Potential BM, and Understanding Non-Newborn (Older Child) Adoptions.”
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