If you've adopted a teen, you might be giving him his first stable opportunity to form a loving bond with an adult. He may have entered foster care as a result of physical or emotional abuse, or the inability of his parents to take care of him. But some foster teens find it hard to transition into a permanent family. Twenty five percent of teen adoptions fail before they're finalized, according to Time Magazine. It takes flexibility to make teen adoptions work, along with families who are willing to give unconditional love, while still setting limits and using discipline, according to psychiatric social worker Annie Erickson.
Encourage open and honest communication. Let him know that you're available to talk about his experiences in foster homes, his feelings about his birth parents or any other subject. You might say "When you're ready to talk, I'm always here for you." Adopted teens may have trouble expressing what they're feeling, and experience emotions such as anger and sadness without understanding why, according to the North American Council on Adoptable Children. To help teach self-expression, ask his opinion on mundane issues, such as a movie, a book or a recent event in the news. Ask questions that require more than a one-word answer. You might say, "What's your favorite part about science class?" or "What's your new friend like?".
Take an interest in his hobbies and interests. Ask him to teach you photography, painting or another skill in which he excels. Attend his baseball game or sit in the front row when he's in the school play. Share with him your own special skills or talents -- teach him how to fix cars or plant a vegetable garden. Adopted teens who had negligent or abusive backgrounds need to interact with others rather than spend time in front of the computer or TV, according to Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Spend time with your adopted teen. Plan fun outings and activities around shared interests. Go bowling or to a baseball game. Plan weekend camping, canoeing or ski trips. Take a drive to the science museum or antiques show. Attend a movie or play. Explore yard sales. Choose one day or evening each week to be away from others in the family. Make the planning of the activity a joint decision by asking him what he'd like to do or see.
Build trust by being a good listener. When he begins opening up, give him your full, undivided attention. If he talks about painful experiences in foster homes or with his birth parents, listen with empathy and understanding. Allow him to vent any angry feelings without interrupting or trying to control him. Don't put down or criticize his birth parents, even if he does. You might say, "That period must have been really rough for you. I'm so sorry you had to go through all that." Always praise him after he talks to you by saying, "I really appreciate that you shared your feelings -- I know it wasn't easy."
- Reassure your adopted teen that even if he makes mistakes or misbehaves, you'll always love him unconditionally.
- Time Magazine: When Foster Teens Find a Home
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Parenting Your Adopted Teen
- Thrivingfamily.com: Bonding With an Adopted Teen
- AdoptiveFamilies: Adopting an Older Child
- North American Council on Adoptable Children: Talking with Your Adopted Teen: It's Possible and Important
- A Family for Every Child: Can I Adopt a Teen?
- Children Uniting Nations: Foster Care Statistics
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