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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Catching Up on Missed Developmental Stages

4165148510_2dfd34be05_zNot all internationally-adopted children have missed developmental phases.  But many do.  Our four teens from Russia occasionally exhibit behaviors that their home-grown peers would not struggle with to the same extent.  Is it simple adolescence?

Yes and no.

Turns out that I haven’t read enough.  Much of the adoption literature out there deals with babies and toddlers: Is the baby walking and talking on time?  If not, then get them into Early orphanIntervention programs. 

Doesn’t suit our situation at all. 

I need something along the lines of:  is your 15-year-old acting like a 2- or 3-year-old?  Throwing tantrums?  Out of control emotions?  No self-confidence nor willingness to try something new?  Overly clingy?  No desire to please the parents and the favorite word in operation is NO-?

thTelling me that the child did not have enough “tummy time” could be correct.  Possibly.  Maybe.  I don’t know.

Do I put them in a crawling tube and tell them to have at it?  Not sure that’s going to get us anywhere at this point.  If they were confined in some way and not allowed to crawl very much as babies, experts say that this will negatively affect their brains, as would malnutrition, no parent consistently coming when the baby cries, etc.

While researching this recently, I came across an excellent article by Claudia russianorphansFletcher, adoptive parent along with her husband to twelve children and child welfare expert.  She uses the stages identified by psychologist Erik Erikson to show that missed developmental steps must be “made-up” later in life.  It’s what most adoptive parents discover the hard way.

For instance a child cannot seem to cooperate and repeatedly demonstrates oppositional behavior.  Well, it’s most likely that the child never learned to attach, mistrusting birth- and then adoptive-parents, and the child will probably grow up and have trouble in 1d494e39-94ef-4a92-b6e7-adc082b07aa9relationships.

That much we can surmise.

But how do we help older adoptees make-up and catch-up on missed developmental stages?  It’s rare that an author addresses that. This one, however, does.  It blew me away.

Claudia Fletcher writes in the article “Retrace Developmental Stages to Help Older Children Heal”:

“…relationship reciprocity and bonding expectations for a child orphan_girlduring the first year of an adoptive placement must be the same as those for a newborn. To heal and thrive, older adoptees must be able to retrace, with their new family, developmental steps they missed early on.”

In other words, expect baby-like behavior until they have mastered baby-like behavior.  Her article takes us through the first four of Erikson’s developmental stages and tells what to expect after so many months or years home: http://www.nacac.org/adoptalk/retracingdevelopmentalstages.html.

It is excellent and it is encouraging.

If any of you have ever gone through the seemingly-never-ending yin and yang of defiance, disobedience, and distrust, the confusing attitudes and behaviors that many older adoptees exhibit from time-to-time, this piece will help you.  For that matter, you can run an online search on Erikson’s developmental phases and connect even more dots yourself.

Getty_Fotobank-adoptionBut Ms. Fletcher gives many tried-and-true examples and ideas.  Trying to rush the stages can be counterproductive.


In some stages we need to reassure.  In other stages, the child needs opportunties to try different activities and fail.  Their confidence has to grow along with making the right life choices.  Give them chances to succeed and celebrate those.  Help the child to recognize that being around you should be a happy experience.

(Kinda hard if they’re doing everything “wrong” the first few years. fororphans_contact_us_large Ouch.  While it may appear to be straightforward advice, get in the trenches for several years, try everything you know, end up with a child who still won’t do one thing you ask/ require/ beg/ or insist they do, and then see.)

These insights hit the spot for me and our discussion a week or so ago about how older adoptees can seem to be “stuck” at an emotional age when trauma, or abuse, or neglect first occurred in their life. 

Here’s hoping that we can all get a glimpse of how to move forward together as families, bypassing the blame and frustration, while catching-up on the lost developmental phases.


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4 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar hoonew says:

    This is really good. I wish I had read it years ago.

  2. avatar Leah says:

    Very helpful. Thanks for researching this, Alexandra! I had an inkling of this idea but not the specific applications.

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