How to help Adopted Children Grieve

Dealing with grief is hard enough as an adult, but when a child grieves, it is the adult’s job to help him or her through the pain. Children grieve when friends move away, they find their goldfish floating, or after losing a ball game. For adopted children though, grieving takes on new meaning. Most adopted children find themselves thrust into a new home, new school, and a new family. Despite knowing they are in a good home, grief can overcome adopted children once they realize what they have left behind in return for a new family.

How do you help your adopted child through this pain? You start with opening the lines of communication. Let your adopted child know it is okay to cry, get mad, and express their grief. Do not be afraid or ashamed to cry with your adopted child. He or she needs to see that crying is okay, not just hear you say it. Your child may come from a home where crying was not acceptable, or it was seen as a sign of weakness. Many adopted children question what behaviors might cause him or her to be removed from this home, and the child may fear that crying or grieving for the life they no longer have is unacceptable.

Too many adoptive parents believe once their new child is home, life will go on as before, but with a wonderful new addition to the family. Unless you adopt a newborn or small toddler, you will face the daunting challenge of watching your child grieve. Remember that this grief is in no way an insult to you; only sadness for what has been lost. For older children, an adoptive parent’s refusal to discuss “life before” will ultimately push the child further away from family unity. If you are having difficulty developing communication with your child, consider finding a family therapist who specializes in grief counseling as well.

Does your adopted child enjoy writing? Help them pick out a journal or diary that he or she can use to write about emotions, memories, or whatever else makes the grief easier. Making a scrapbook is another excellent way to preserve memories, and if your child allows you to help, he or she can share stories of their life with you. Not only will this help your adopted child grieve, but you will learn more about them and the things he or she likes to do. Alternatively, if your child has an interest in sports or other recreational activity, get them involved. Perhaps you have time to help coach the team, allowing for more togetherness and bonding time.

Above all, your child needs to know that you want him or her to grieve. Remember though to follow your child’s lead. Do not harp on the past or attempt to push him or her past the grief. Depending on each individual child, the grieving process may take weeks, or even years. If you have adopted siblings, one may deal with the grief better than the other. Be strong and know that, with time, your child will gradually overcome the grief and become whole again. It just takes patience and time from both you and your adopted child.