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How to Support Your Adopted Child As They Adjust to Life in the U.S.

Going to a new place where the language, customs and even smells are different is more than just a little overwhelming for an adopted child. Here are some resources to help adoptive parents provide support for your adopted child as they adjust to a new family and environment.

For an adopted child, the transition from their previous surroundings to a new culture, home and family can be challenging and traumatic. A major part of your family’s first year together is helping your child make the transition from how they were cared for in an orphanage or foster home to how they are cared for in their new adoptive family and providing support to your child as they adjust. This may sound obvious, but when their child arrives home, parents are often surprised of their child’s learned behaviors, fears or comforts and how they may react to experiences that seem ordinary to the adoptive family.

Parents should prepare for children who may be used to communicating in ways they no longer need to. They should also prepare for children expressing grief over the losses they experience when they leave everything they know behind. 

Parents should prepare for children who may be used to communicating in ways they no longer need to. They should also prepare for children expressing grief over the losses they experience when they leave everything they know behind. 

Yi Yi and were both adopted from China by the Spitz family, but the adjustment period was different for each child.

Holt adoptive mother, Jill Spitz, writes that her toddler was well-loved and bonded in her foster home. While these strong emotional bonds would help her child foster healthy attachments throughout her life, when she first joined her family, they resulted in tantrums held out of grief or fear. On the other hand, their son, who spent his first 16 months in an orphanage, had learned that there was no point in crying because no one was going to come soothe him.

It is also possible your child was parented differently by a foster parent and will now need to transition to new ways of interacting with their family. This process will take time and commitment — not days, but weeks and months. Positive discipline, encouragement and setting healthy boundaries and schedules will promote predictability and attachment. Also, providing some of the comforts of their previous environment, for example hearing language or eating food, can help your child feel more at home.

Here are some resources to help you support for your adopted child as they adjust to their new life in the U.S.:

Learn your child’s language and provide access to speakers when possible

By building your capacity to understand your child in their language, either by learning yourselves or through friends or family that can be there frequently to interpret, you are giving your child a voice. It is important to support and help your child express their wants and needs directly. If there is no language or tutoring center where you live, there are many apps, self-study programs and other online resources available.

The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired by Daniel J. Siegel

This book provides valuable information on how parents can help their kids feel secure, as well as how to be a flexible parent who is able to meet their children where they are.

Article about temper tantrums and what causes them

Why Do Kids Have Tantrums? by Lauren M. O’Donnell, PsyD (KidsHealth)

Making Progress

Once your placement is complete, carefully chart effective approaches and expect that you will see gradual progress over time. Remember that there will be setbacks when your child is challenged by new experiences or new transitions and that is completely normal!

Holt Post Adoption Services

At Holt, we have a robust post adoption services team that consists of adoptees, adoptive parents and adoption professionals who can help support and guide your family through your adopted child’s transition to your home. We offer coaching, provide training resources and can connect you with other Holt families.

Gary Sampson MSW, LICSW | Holt Adoption Social Worker (edited by Avery Keller)

photo of adoptive family with adoptive parents holding two daughters

Holt provides support to all adoptive families!

We are here to serve, connect and support all adoptive families! We offer post-adoption coaching and education, summer camps and more.

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