Just like adopting a younger child, older child adoption comes with its own set of challenges and joys. Adopted tweens and teens typically have different needs than their younger counterparts, and healthy relationships are especially vital to their growth and well-being. If you’re not quite sure how to go about creating a secure relationship with your adopted tween or teen, then consider starting with some of the tips below:
Support Positive Identity Formation
Adolescence is well-known for being a period where people experiment with their identities. If a tween or teen’s chosen identity is shunned by their parents during this time, they may very well reject their parents rather than giving up their identity. Therefore, you should be open and supportive towards your child’s positive attempts at identity formation. Assure them that you love them no matter what, and encourage them to learn more about their cultural and racial heritage.
Simultaneously, you should affirm their connection to you and the rest of their family by pointing out similarities that you all share. This will show them that although their identity is unique and wonderful, they still have a place within the family. You should also have open, honest conversations with them about important topics such as sexuality and drugs. Letting your teen or tween know where you stand on these topics and encouraging them to practice safe behaviors will be much more effective than “banning” risky activities entirely.
Communicate About Their Adoption
Your teen’s adoption may end up playing a large role in their identity formation. They might experience guilt and uncertainty, or they might express a desire to know more about their birth parents. Regardless of how they feel about their adoption, be prepared to have open, honest conversations with them about it. Provide as much information as you can without causing them harm, and give them opportunities to speak to others about their adoption without you present. Allowing them to join an adoptive teen support group might be especially beneficial.
Establish Boundaries with Room for Independence
Risk-taking is one of the most important techniques that adolescents use to develop their identities. To prevent them from taking negative risks, such as drinking, drug use, or unprotected sex, you should give them plenty of opportunities for them to take positive risks. Encourage them to join new clubs or try new hobbies, and always be available to chat about their interests. Additionally, develop clear, fair boundaries with reasonable consequences for breaking them. Above all, be prepared for a bit of boundary-testing — after all, pushing the limits is how many teenagers discover them!
Practice Trauma-Informed Parenting
In addition to establishing boundaries and supporting healthy identity formation, you should also practice trauma-informed parenting. Many adopted tweens and teens have undergone trauma, and this might cause them to be aggressive or fearful. If your child has experienced trauma, then you should work to identify and minimize their triggers. Furthermore, you should reaffirm your teen or tween’s feelings and give them safe ways to express their negative emotions. Perhaps most importantly, you should be patient and consistent with them, and should seek professional support for both yourself and your child if needed.