Welcome back! Last week we discussed what we know about Identity Development in our adopted kiddos. This week we’re going to dive in a little deeper to understand how we as parents of adopted children can do to foster positive identity development in our children.
And, as promised, (especially if you attended my Camp Chat and are tired of listening to me ramble on) below are the two recipes I promised you!
Part 2 – What can we do as parents of internationally adopted children to foster a positive identity in our children?
- Birth country travel. Make sure your adopted child is able to enjoy positive cross-cultural experiences whenever possible. Not every family can afford to visit their child’s birth country several times but experts agree, if you can go, go as often as you can — even without birth family reunions! Visiting your child’s birth country allows your adopted child to identify with their culture on an entirely different level. Having purposeful and well-planned experiences in country that connect your family more deeply, foster rich cultural interactions, and build self-esteem is the coup d’état.
- Heritage camps.Heritage camps help children feel ‘similar to’ rather than ‘different from’ everyone else. When our children see other families that are the same as theirs, they realize that other families/other children have similar problems, fears, questions, etc. And that’s huge. Finding friends at camp that share similar multi-cultural family dynamics is also important. It gives our children that deep sense of belonging that few things can. Let’s face it, knowing you’re not alone is one of the greatest factors in developing a positive sense of self.
- Seek out diversity.Surround your child with positive people from a variety of backgrounds. Develop relationships with racially and culturally diverse children and adults, as well as nontraditional families and role models from their native ethnic group — and especially seek out other adoptive families! This inclusivity will give your child a sense of belonging while also illustrating that all people have value and that differences should be celebrated.
- Recognize forces beyond our control. No child or family lives in isolation. Internationally and/or transracially adopted children will experience racism and tolerance, discrimination and equality, exclusion and acceptance, difference and sameness. Children whose parents not only provide them with strategies to cope with racism but actively discuss, discrimination, exclusion and difference, are better able to develop a positive sense of self.
- Encourage your child to be who they want to be, NOT who you want them to be. As an adoptive family, your child may not always share your tastes and hobbies. Whenever possible, allow your child to make choices about the foods they like to eat, the clothes they like to wear, and the things they like to do. Expose your child to a variety of activities and encourage them to pursue their individual interests. Ask them to teach you something new that they learned, and get involved in the activities they choose. By supporting the things that matter to your child, you are encouraging them to be confident in their emerging identity!
- Recognize your child’s strengths. Compliment your child’s natural abilities and celebrate their achievements, whether they are academic, artistic, athletic or otherwise. Suggest opportunities for your child to further explore his or her talents, even if they differ from your own.
- Be respectful of your child’s birth parents and their story. Remember that your child’s birth parents have contributed significantly to who your child is as a person. Experts generally agree that it is beneficial to establish and maintain a relationship with your child’s birth parent(s) when it’s healthy to do so. When this isn’t possible, you should always make your child’s birth parents an important part of your family’s conversations about adoption. Reinforce that adoption was a positive choice. Don’t write a narrative about your child’s adoption if you don’t know the history. Just be honest. It’s ok to say, “I don’t know but I am willing to find out when you are ready”. Bottom line; keep discussing topics even when they are difficult!
- Be purposeful about integrating your child’s heritage into your household. Establish cultural traditions, celebrate culturally specific holidays, etc. By making sure your child is able to enjoy cross-cultural experiences often, you are validating the differences, shining a positive light on their heritage and promoting a multi-cultural dynamic in your family.
- Be present when your child needs/wants to talk.
- Have direct eye contact.
- Put down your phone!
- Be sympathetic. Positive affirmations make a huge difference.
- Be an active listener. Active listening requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand and validate what is being said, defer judgment, respond accordingly, remember what was said.
- Honesty, ALWAYS.
- Share your own experiences, struggles, fears and talk about how you work through them. If you want your child to come to you to talk, be there when they are ready. Also, let them know they can talk to other adults, friends, counselors, etc. and it will not upset you!
- Talk positively and openly about adoption,as well as any other issues that may impact your child’s sense of identity. Give your child plenty of opportunities to ask questions and to express their own thoughts and feelings without making judgments. Constructive conversations will help your child develop a healthy self-esteem, as well as a positive view of adoption.
- As our kids get older, be a manger/guide, not always the boss.
Ultimately, every person will develop his or her sense of identity by discovering their interests, talents, passions and beliefs on their own. Your child is no exception. The best thing we can do as adoptive parents is to be there for our child/children. When we are fully there for our child, he or she will be more secure in their identity simply knowing that you love them and support them exactly as they are.
So remember … our adopted children need to know they are not on this journey alone! There are other families and individuals that are experiencing feelings similar to theirs. When we validate those feelings, we build trust and show our children that we are there for them. Exposure to positive cultural experiences, embracing the fact that our families are not the same as every other family and a willingness to discuss issues openly and honestly with our children will go far in helping our children develop a positive identity.
Creamy Guatemalan Guacamole: https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/creamy-guacamole
Note: This recipe is not exactly the recipe Jac and I learned last year but it is the most similar one I could find online. Jac adds the olive oil directly to our guacamole and we rarely add any cilantro (not everyone loves it at our house). You can also add some chopped tomatoes if you have to have them (we rarely do that either) or chopped jalapeños – yummmmm!
Gallo Pinto: https://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/gallo-pinto-475109
Note: Again, this recipe is not the exact one I use, mainly because I make stuff up, but it’s a great starting point! I would definitely sauté the onion and red (and/or yellow and orange and jalepeño peppers) together with the garlic before I add the other spices. I cook my rice a day in advance so it’s completely cooled (otherwise it clumps and gets soggy) and softened. You want your rice to be individual grains. I often double or even triple the recipe so we can freeze some, everyone in my house loves this stuff. Lastly, if you can get your hands on traditional Sala Lizano from Costa Rica, that’s the best. Worchestershire sauce is only a substitute. My son loves this for breakfast and what would be traditional in Guatemala would be to serve it with a friend egg on top! Oooo la la! You’re going to love this and so will your kiddos!
Enjoy the recipes and helping your kiddos grow into healthy, happy adults that will take what you teach them and make the world a better place!
When you are ready to explore the world with your family, please schedule a 30-minute Discovery Session with me at www.calendly.com/bambi. I’d LOVE to help!
Sending much love to you all,
Bambi Wineland is the mother of two internationally adopted children, a traveler, a Certified Professional Coach, and the Founder and CEO of Motherland Travel. Motherland Travel began by designing Heritage Journeys for families with internationally adopted children. The emphasis of those Heritage Journeys has always been on deepening family connections, building self-esteem and cultivating pride in a family’s multi-cultural heritage. Motherland Travel also uses the philosophies of transformative Travel for designing family trips with purpose – building rich connections, with each other and the world! Read more about her here >> http://motherlandtravel.com/
Identity Development in Adopted Children, American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Adoptions; American Academy of Pediatrics, 1971
Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption; Evan B. Donaldson Institute, June 2009
5 Ways to Help Your Adopted Child Develop a Strong Sense of Identity; American Adoption News, May 2017
Adoption Statistics, US Department of State; https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/Intercountry-Adoption/adopt_ref/adoption-statistics.html