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While you wait: developing characteristics of a successful parent

A teenage boy and two parents.

You’ve completed your home study, registered on photolistings like AdoptUSKids, and started inquiring about children. You’re ready—and you’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting….

While you wait, why not get a head start on developing the skills you’ll need to be a successful adoptive parent? With that in mind, we offer five traits and supports you’ll want as an adoptive parent and tips for acquiring them.

1. Being patient

Children who have lived in chaotic or abusive homes may be most familiar with adults who solve problems and face conflict with indifference, anger, or violence. They need caregivers who remain calm in stressful situations and resolve issues in a variety of ways without resorting to threats or violence. These children may also have learning disabilities or challenging behaviors that make parenting somewhat harder.

To practice patience, find ways that work for you. These could include:

  • Counting to 10 before you react during stressful parenting situations.
  • Making time in your day to run, walk, soak in the tub, meditate, or listen to music. Later, you can draw from the inner calm you get from these activities and respond with increased patience.

However you do it, being patient and calm under pressure makes you a better parent and role model for your child.

2. Understanding behaviors and supporting children with special needs

Children in foster care have experienced trauma and often have social, emotional, and learning delays and may have some issues with attachment. They may have learned survival techniques that are difficult to understand or are counterproductive to forming a parent/child bond.

While you wait:

  • Take additional classes, watch videos, read books, and learn about typical child development and the impact of trauma and loss. Understanding why children in foster care sometimes have difficult behaviors can help you develop more effective strategies for responding.
  • Volunteer to work with children who have special needs at a local school or social service agency, or provide child care for a local parent support group.
  • Consider becoming a respite care provider.

In each of these cases, the training provided and watching experienced parents and providers can help you learn new behavior-management strategies.

3. Advocating for your child

Understanding children’s needs is one piece of the equation. Finding and advocating for services—such as physical therapy, psychological or psychiatric care, and special education classes—is the second.

While you wait:

  • Gather information about what types of services are available in your community and find out what the law requires.
  • Ask experienced foster and adoptive parents for help on how to access services.
  • Talk with teachers and counselors at your local schools.
  • Connect with county and local agencies, as well as national advocacy organizations such as the Post-Adoption Center for Educational Resources and the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

4. Understanding cultural differences

While many well-meaning people like to say that race and color do not matter to them, it still does, especially to a child who has already lost so much.

Understanding and respecting a child’s culture—and finding ways to maintain their connections to it—are critical components to helping an adopted child thrive.

  • Learn about resources that are available in your community.
  • Find out where to get support from other transracial families in your area and begin to build relationships with them.
  • Make connections with individuals and groups in communities of color and build relationships.
  • Find ethnic grocery stores, restaurants, community centers, and shops where people of different cultures gather, and begin to make connections with them.
  • If diverse resources are not nearby, be willing to travel and check out those closest to you.

5. Accessing post-adoption support

Parenting children who have been abused or neglected or who have experienced the loss of their birth family is hard to do in isolation. Parents who adopt often tell us they could not succeed without the support of family, friends, their faith community, and other social networks.

People who’ve fostered and adopted can help you understand issues that foster and adopted children face and point you to resources.

  • Stay connected to the people you met in training classes and find post-adoption support groups in your area.
  • Ask your worker about post-adoption support groups that may be offered through their agency and search for support groups in your state on our website.
  • If there are no local groups, consider starting one!

Thank you to our friends at NACAC for allowing us to excerpt content from their longer post, “Developing the Characteristics of Successful Foster or Adoptive Parents.”