Today I want to talk about introductions with an older child, and give some tips from my own experience.
First of all, I want to say that introductions are exciting and exhausting, but also they are very artificial. The real being mum/dad and child won’t begin until your child actually arrives in their new home.
However, introductions are obviously when you meet your child for the first time, even with it being a carefully constructed ‘set up’ situation to make everyone as comfortable as possible. When doing introductions with a school aged child as opposed to a baby, I have a few tips and reassurances for that first week-2 weeks.
Firstly, the time before your very first meeting can be very scary. With an older child who has their own opinions, I remember feeling very nervous and worried that my children would not like me. I had a fear we would meet, I would leave and then they would turn around to their foster mother and say “I don’t like her, I don’t want to go live with her!” This is a pretty natural worry and hope when meeting your older child – you want to be liked. You want your first impression to count, you want your new child to feel “I really like my new mum, now I feel more comfortable about going to live with her”.
However, this worry and desire for you and your child to get on and begin to bond, could lead to a situation where you act more as a friend than as a parent. After all, being as a friend would help your child get on with you, right? My first tip is – as much as you want your child to like you, you must act as their parent first and foremost, even during the early days of introductions. This means that you shouldn’t be afraid to set any necessary boundaries when you go out together, and you shouldn’t be afraid to have words with your child or set a consequence for unacceptable behaviour. This is so much better in the long run. If you allow your child to do anything in the introductions, it will be a great shock for your child when they come home and you suddenly change and act like a parent in control, and your child would be pretty confused.
In addition to this, when you meet your child for the first time, don’t be worried if they are very wary. Rhea hid when I came inthe house, so her foster mother and I went and chatted in the lounge while Rhea slowly inched her way down the stairs towards us, very warily. It was okay. She was a bloody terrified 10 year old, she needed to feel comfortable before coming in to meet me. Kestrel had no such inhibitions which was okay too.
Be reassured that you should be fine :) I have not heard of a child meeting their new parents and refusing to move in with them, it would be very rare. Just go with your childs flow and you are well on the way!
Secondly, pick your battles. Yes, you must set boundaries and consequences, but try to pick your battles carefully. Don’t set your expectations too high. Introductions and the move in are just horrendously stressful on a child, and so whilst good boundaries might help them feel more secure during this time, their behaviour might suffer. They may regress, act silly and push boundaries hard in a way they wouldn’t have been doing a few weeks before. This is where, as a new parent, you go straight in the deep end. But keep calm, and pick your battles. Pick where you put the boundaries. Make allowances and accomodate your child where appropriate. Don’t try to modify lots of behaviours at once, rather put up parental boundaries and enforce consequences only for issues that are very important to you and/or necessary for you and your childs safety. For instance, when I met Kestrel, she could not use cutlery properly. Introductions and the first couple of months home were not the appropriate times to begin trying to teach her how to hold a fork properly – she was under so much stress and struggling to process what was happening that taking her normal eating habits and trying to alter them would not have been right. However I did put up boundaries around aggression and hitting from the very first time she tried to smack me, which was during the last couple of days of our introductions. When she smacked me on the arm, I did not ignore her. I took it as a sign she was getting overwhelmed and I said that hitting was not okay and now we were going to have some ‘calm down time’ together and we would sit out of the fun activity we were supposed to be doing for several minutes (I sat with her).
Thirdly, and this links in to number 1, resist the temptation to buy your child a lot of new belongings and presents. Yes, you are so happy to have a new child and yes, you want to buy your child new things. But buying lots of presents will be overwhelming for your child, and might also lead them to a false expectation of what living with you will be like. One or a couple of new things might be appropriate but not much more than that. Your child should already have quite a few toys and games which will come with them, so they shouldn’t need more toys on top of that. A new heap of toys is more likely to increase their stress levels, than it is to make them feel really happy. Aim to keep things similar to before where possible.
Fourthly, listen to the foster carers. Probably your child has been living there for some time, in which case they know your child better than anyone. They are in the best position to tell you how things will affect your child and give you advice about what works and what doesn’t. Not only that, but they are there when you are not. When your meeting with your child is over and you leave, there may well be fallout, as your child expresses their confused feelings with their foster carers, whom they feel safer with. Basically, the foster carers should know how the introductions are affecting your child. Ask them. Don’t be afraid to hear that yes, X is struggling and had a major tantrum last night. This is normal and when you brieng your child home this stress will come out. Don’t be blindsided by it, expect it. And to any foster carers who are reading – if you are doing introductions and the adoptive parents ask you how your FC was last night, don’t not mention difficulties. Don’t be afraid to say that they are showing real signs of being stressed. As an adoptive parent, I would seriously appreciate this knowledge. I understand that you may not want to burden the parents with this, when your FC’s behaviour wasn’t directed at them. But the thing is, when your FC goes home, all this behaviour will come out and directed at them. So it would be best for the parents if you tried to get them to understand that this move is stressful and affecting the child. If the parents don’t understand or listen to you, at least you tried. Also as an adoptive parent, if I was doing intros and heard from you that my child had a very bad night last night after I left, I would do my best to be very careful about what me and the child do together today. Knowing that their behaviour was badly affected would lead me to avoid doing anything which gives the child too much ‘input’ eg. soft play areas or very noisy places, because I would be aactively trying to keep their stress levels very very low. I mean yes, I would do that anyway but a heads up to be more vigilant nd keep things very low key would be much appreciated.
Fifthly, keep things low key. As I just mentionned in number 4, taking your child out to loud noisy very active places can make them very stressed and overwhelm them. They may not show it to you, because you are a still a stranger to them, but they will probaby show it to their foster carers later, and it will also affect their behaviour when they arrive home.
Sixthly, look after yourself :) Be honest with the foster carers and social workers about your feelings as you go through introductions. When you are back at your home, take advantage of the last opportunities for a long hot bath with no interruptions or anything else you fancy! I also recommend batch cooking, make yourself a big load of sauce at the beginning of intros and then when you arive home exhausted during intros, you barely have to cook for yourself! Just heat up your precooked sauce with some pasta or something. This is also a good idea when your child comes home.
I’ve waffled on so much that this should do it for now – but any adoptive parents reading, do comment to add any other important intros tips you have for prospective parents, and let me know if this would have been helpful to you. And I hope any prospective adopters reading will have got something out of this :)