I realize I wrote briefly about Identity Development and how it relates to attending Heritage Camp a couple of weeks ago but I spoke at camp this past week and dove much deeper into the topic. It’s such an important issue for adoptive families and because it led to such an amazing conversation during my camp chat, I thought I’d share with you all, the deeper version of my Identity Development chat.

I’m going to break it into 2 parts – what we know about Identity Development and what we, as parents of adopted children, can do to foster a positive identity in our children? 

Next week, as I dive in to the ‘hows’, I’m also going to share a couple of amazing recipes that a handful of participants at my Camp Chat asked for – so be sure to come back next week to get the recipes! 

Part 1 – What do we know about Identity Development?

  1. Adoption complicates identity development, especially in international, biracial or transracial adoption.It creates so many questions that the child tends to focus on who he/she is in relation to their journey rather than just who he or she is –  ‘Who are my birthparents?’ ‘What did they look like?’ ‘Do I have siblings?’ ‘How do I fit in with my family, my friends?’ ‘Why do I have to be different?’
  1. Kids have an internal dialogue (their perception) about their place in the world. It doesn’t always represent the facts.Adopted children (particularly internationally adopted children, transracial, biracial or any child that ‘looks’ different than his or her adoptive parents) often see themselves as different, out of place, unwelcome, rejected. If adopted children have difficulty establishing a positive self-image and trusting those that are closest to them, emotional and behavioral problems may develop.
  1. Parents often write a narrative about their child’s history and it becomes the family reality. That story doesn’t always represent the facts.I often hear parents refer to their child’s birth families as being poverty stricken, having potential illnesses, possibly dead, any number of bad circumstances. Unless you know the actual story, don’t make one up. When the truth comes out, it could be damaging to your child to learn that the story was built on assumption. That story can also lead to a child feeling shame with regard to their birth family.
  1. In order to grow up healthy and happy, a child must be secure in his or her identity. They must have a sense of belonging.A child’s identity is an ever changing, life-long process, which requires active decision-making and self-exploration. 
  1. A child’s ethnic identity is their sense of belonging to a particular group of people with a common affiliation (e.g. Guatemalan, African, Chinese). A child’s cultural identity is determined by the society to which the child belongs and is transmitted socially from one’s family and community (e.g. Chinese-American). An internationally adopted child must explore and integrate:
  1. Their ethnic and cultural heritage. 
  2. Their birth family’s and adoptive family’s ethnic and cultural reality.
  3. Their physical appearance.
  4. Their perception by others.
  5. Their personal and society values and beliefs.
  1. For multi-cultural adoption to produce the healthiest possible outcome, the adoptive family must actively foster their child’s uniqueness and encourage them to explore and embrace their identity and culture. 

Come back next week to learn what you can do to help your child develop a positive sense of self as well as get a couple of my favorite recipes that make my Guatemalan born son feel more connected to his culture!

And lastly, when you are ready to explore your child’s birth country with your family, please schedule a 30-minute Discovery Session with me at www.calendly.com/bambi. I’d LOVE to help to help you design a trip that builds self-esteem, fosters rich cultural interactions and builds deeper, richer connections amongst everyone in your family!

All my best,

Bambi Wineland is the mother of two internationally adopted children, a traveler, a writer, 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

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