Creating a Sense of Self

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Older adopted children sometimes have a very limited sense of self. Who am I? What motivates me? What makes me feel good? These types of questions seem quite ordinary for those of us who grew up in close to normal families. But our kids are different.

Our children grew up with at least some of the following: trauma, abuse, and neglect, anxiety. Each of these hinders a development of self. Right at the times in development when children are learning to relate themselves to their world, they are being stymied. They are in situations where their thoughts and actions and interrelations are slowed or skewed by their environment.

When they come into our families, our children often need some interventions to help them develop a sense of self. Here are a few activities to try:

  • Help them create a list of The Best. The best food they ever ate, the best athlete in the world, the best thing their parents ever did for them, the best thing anyone ever said about them.
  • Help them create a list of The Worst. The worst food they ever ate, the sport they like the least, the color they detest.
  • Have them draw a picture of themselves doing something that makes them feel good.
  • Have them draw a picture of themselves doing something that makes them feel frustrated.
  • Interview each other. Have your child think of 5 questions to ask you about yourself. Ask your child 5 questions about herself.
  • Help your child create a short introduction of herself. "Hi, my name is Krista. I like dogs and I don't like iguanas. My favorite food is pizza. My favorite thing to do in the world is to swim."
  • Sing a silly song to your child about herself. You might take a melody like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and add words that are descriptive, yet funny. Have your child sing it with you.
  • Help your child to write a poem about themselves. It could be as simple or as complex as fits with your child's ability. You might start with a haiku.
  • Change short, familiar stories or nursery rhymes into stories about your child and have your child insert descriptive phrases, activities of interest, etc.

Helping your child create a sense of self will help their self esteem, their ability to relate to their peers, and their social communication skills. It's another critical piece to the puzzle that impacts all children, but especially older adopted children, of "who am I?"

Written by: Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan's training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She's also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is Older Child Adoption Support
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