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Culture Shock and Language Barriers When Adopting Children Overseas

By Kelly Burch ; Updated April 18, 2017
Most adoptive children go through an adjustment period once they are in their new homes.

Many couples wait long and patiently, work hard and maybe even fly around the world in order to adopt a child. When a child adopted from another country is finally in his new home in the United States, however, he and his parents face additional challenges. Culture shock and language barriers can pose unique struggles for families that have chosen to adopt internationally. Your family will likely experience a time of adjustment as your your child learns a new language and culture.

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The Adjustment Process

The first year at home is a time of huge adjustment for a family that has just adopted internationally. Boris Gindis, an Airmont, New York-based adoption psychologist, says that the adjustment can be broken down into three phases. During the honeymoon phase, parents and child are on their best behavior, trying to keep each other happy. The testing-of-the-limits phase may be characterized by the child exploring her new environment, acting out or becoming withdrawn. Eventually, however, the family will enter the phase of gradual mutual acceptance.

Learning English

Learning the language of his new parents is the most important skill that an adopted child needs during his first year after placement, according to Gindis, who says that nearly all school-aged adopted children eventually learn to speak the language without an accent. He recommends, however, that the child's school, community, and parents come together in a structured program to ensure that the child has complete mastery of English.

Culture Shock

All parties in international adoption experience culture shock, according to International Family Services. Parents may experience it during their travel, and the adopted child will experience it as soon as he leaves the place he lived prior to adoption. When your child gets home, even everyday things -- the foods you prepare, your choice of music, bathing schedules, a ringing phone, television, trash collection service or delivery of mail -- can be confusing. Unfamiliar experiences may cause young children to be fussy or unsettled, and older children to become upset or withdrawn. Parents should try to be understanding and allow the child a safe space to express all his emotions, according to the organization.

Importance of a Structured Environment

Parents can help their new child overcome culture shock by creating a highly structured environment, according to Dr. George Rogu, a pediatrician who is medical director for Adoption Doctors. Parents of a newly adopted child should maximize their interactions with the child, but they should also be careful not to overstimulate her. If your child knows what to expect from her new life, she will be better able to adjust to new routines and customs, according to Rogu. This is especially true during the first six months in her new home.

Celebrating All Cultures

Even if your adopted child is the same race as you or your partner, by adopting internationally you have become a multicultural family. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, families that adopt across cultures should celebrate not only their adopted child's native culture but all other cultures as well. By showing your child that his family appreciates all cultures, you reinforce the idea that diversity is important to your family and to the nation.

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About the Author

Kelly Burch has done television, print, and web writing since graduating from Boston University with a bachelor's degree in journalism. A correspondent for Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc, she writes for local newspapers and magazines. She has also contributed to Network Ten (Australia), and for "Yoga Magazine" (London).

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