Older Child Adoption Advice

Adding an older child to your family comes with a unique set of joys and challenges. But as experienced families and Holt’s adoption-competent counselor will tell you, expectations are everything. 

A couple with five adopted children, all who were adopted when they were older.
Jeff and SongAe have five adopted children and one biological child, Matthew (19). Caitlin (17), Mark (14) and Faith (12) were adopted from China at ages 14, 13 and 12. Luke (16) and Rachel (14) were adopted as babies from Korea.

“Every experience has been different and challenging, but God has blessed us in remarkable ways each time we’ve stepped out in faith. Time and again we hear adoptive parents make statements like, ‘We cannot believe after 6 months/1 year he/she is still doing this …’ To think that a lifetime of ingrained behavior will be changed so quickly is painfully unrealistic. It is painful for you, as parents, and painful for your child, who will see your disappointment and feel like a failure. Remember to have honest and realistic expectations for your child and carry them daily to the Lord in prayer.”


A China adoptee, and a photo of his family which includes other adoptees. An adoption specialist can help address the unique challenges when adopting older children.
Adopted 9-year-old Milo from China in 2016. Milo is 10 now, and his family includes brothers Monte (15), Malcolm (12), MyLinh (10, Vietnam), Moses (7, Ethiopia), and Mercy (5, China).

The child you meet in their birth country will not be the same child in one year… or even one month. Our prior adoptions should have kept this fresh in our minds. But what a reminder to find the child who anxiously filled his pockets with snacks and in a frenzy flipped every hotel room switch and opened every door, 14 months later is baking muffins with mama and can sit quietly with a book. The child who had never heard English is now singing hymns with his grandparents. What a gift that you will change and grow together.”


Photo of a family that adopted 11 older children from the Philippines.
Karen and Michael had two biological children and then adopted 11 children from the Philippines. The youngest children were 5 when they arrived home. Five of their children arrived home at age 14 or older.

“Embrace your child’s heritage and the life they had prior to entering your family. By doing so you help them to feel secure and whole. Realize that the experiences they have already had have a profound effect on how they react to their current reality. A lot of love, nurturing, patience and guidance does wonders for the transition.”


Abbie Smith, an adoption specialist at Holt who helps parents address the challenges when adopting.

As Holt’s director of clinical services, Abbie Smith has helped dozens of older children join loving families prepared to parent their unique needs. Abbie also advises families considering an older child adoption, and she’s helped them work through fears about the process. Here, Abbie shares some of the most common fears families have expressed about adopting an older child.

I’m worried an older child will be permanently traumatized from their time living in an orphanage.

It’s true that starting life without the loving, nurturing attention of a family can have serious consequences for a child. But how that manifests is different from child to child. If you are willing to learn new parenting techniques, we will arm you with the training and knowledge you need to be successful.

I’m worried an older child could be violent to a sibling who is already a part of our family.

Parents must always be cautious about protecting all of their children. In general, families with young children in the home might be best prepared to parent an older child who has a documented history with younger children. That’s a good indication of how they would respond to a younger sibling. We will prepare you with practical safety tips and universal precautions.

What about language barriers? How will I be able to communicate with my child?

There are so many hand-held translators, cell phone apps and language-learning courses now! You’ll also be surprised at how quickly your adopted child will learn to speak English and how well other children in the home will learn to speak their new brother or sister’s native language.

Won’t an older child be sad to leave their country, foster family and orphanage friends?

Yes. While many older children can articulate in great detail their desire to have a family and home of their own, they will still experience grief. This is especially true for children who have lived with a foster family. You will need fortitude to help them grieve and to help them stay in contact with their former parent figure.

Will an older child fit in with a new family?

The older a child is when they are adopted, the more of their culture and ideology they will bring home. It’s not about the child fitting in to your family or replacing one culture or way of doing things with something new, but the entire family embracing what your son or daughter will bring to your home.

mom adoptive son and dad holding hands and laughing

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We work with families in all 50 states to find loving homes for children from 11 locations around the world!

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