International Adoption Info

Newsletter #101 for Internationally Adopting Parents
January 8, 2009
PAL Center Inc.

Happy New Year!

PAL Center, Inc.


Courses, CDs,
& Workshops
to prepare
for adoption of an older orphan from abroad

The right book at the right time:

Patty Cogen
Your Internationally Adopted Child

Disclaimer: No one of the 3 sponsors of this Newsletter has any financial interest in the promotion of the book "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child" by P. Cogen. We do it strictly on the basis of its merit and with a deep belief that it may indeed help the adoption community at large.

From the editor.

New article from the
Adoption Articles Directory

A. Becker-Weidman, Ph.D.
Attachment Facilitating Parenting: How to help adopted children overcome past traumas

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Your Internationally Adopted Child

Review on "Parenting your internationally adopted child" by Patty Cogen, from The Harvard Common Press, MA, 2008

I recently acquired a number of copies of this book to hand out to my colleagues at the BGCenter, as well as to several adoptive parents. I never did this with any other book, and let me explain why I did now. "Parenting your internationally adopted child", published by the Harvard Common Press (MA) in 2008, is one of the most informative and trustworthy books on this subject.

International adoption on a large scale unfolded in the US in the early 1990s. Since then, clinical research, therapeutic experience, parental and educational practice gradually accumulated into collective wisdom and a better understanding of the phenomenon. This "know-how" for parenting has been presented in a growing number of books, articles and blogs. Finally we have a book that is the quintessence of our collective experience in this matter. While reading this book I experienced a deep feeling of trust. I believe in the author, who describes what I witness on a daily basis in my practice with adopted children. Dr. Cogen has carefully thought about and researched the issues extensively, and has also lived through the experience as a parent of an internationally adopted child.

The book consists of three chapters: 1) Understanding Your Child's Behavior and Misbehavior 2) Key Parenting Strategies and 3) As Your Adopted Child Grows Up. It covers the lifespan of an adoption from pre-adoption expectations, to meeting the child for the first time, surviving the first year, and then living through the challenging teen years. Based on her experience of running a group therapy called "First Year Home", Dr. Cogen creates a composite portrait of five adoptive families with a different array of problems and offers practical solutions in solving these problems.

Proactive parenting, complimentary to the more traditional "contingency" parenting, is Dr. Cogen's core idea. Proactive parenting is "as if" parenting: internationally adopted children of different ages often do not communicate their needs clearly and parents must behave as if the child has expressed those needs. A major principle of "proactive" parenting is formulated by Joyce Sterkel, the founder of the Ranch for Kids in Montana and my other favorite figure in the field of international adoption. She says the following: "Create a situation in which it is easy to do right and difficult to do wrong." Contingency ("reactive") parenting and proactive parenting are fully compatible and should go hand in hand; however, proactive parenting is needed to calm the "stressed-shaped personality" of an internationally adopted post-institutionalized child who may react negatively to nurturing care.

The essence of proactive patenting is in the speed and intensity of a parent's care-giving response, anticipating the child's distress. The book describes a number of clever, "on-the-ball" techniques and parenting methodologies (mostly in the form of games and shared activities) that are the essence of proactive parenting. What is most attractive to me about Dr. Cogen's approach is that it is developmentally defined: there is one set of techniques (she calls them "toolkits") for three year olds, another for six year olds and yet another for the pre-adolescent and adolescent child.

In the first chapter the author explains the process of initial adjustment - the beginnings of bonding and development of a positive self-image that includes an American identity. The author begins with an explanation of how to handle sleep and eating problems, how to address the issues of accepting a new family routine and how to redirect troubling behaviors in light of your child's early experiences.
The author distinguishes between family skills (group-centered and based on cooperation) and survival skills (self-centered and based on manipulation and distorted communication). She discusses the concept of "family age" (in my writings I use the similar notion of "adoption age") - the length of time in the family that usually correlates with the family skills development.

One of the most intriguing parts of the book is the elaboration of the concept of resilience as an ability to bounce back from stressful situations without resorting to stress-based, reactive, "fight-or-flight" behaviors. Resiliency includes behavioral and emotional self-control and is my favorite subject: for years I have been writing about a lack of self-control (emotional immaturity) as the most distinctive feature (a "trademark") of international adoptees. Cogen concludes that it takes internationally adopted orphanage-raised children much longer to develop the same level of self-control as their non-adopted siblings. As long as the child's self-regulation is not at least functional, there will be constant set-backs in behavior.
Still another fruitful discussion presented in the book is the "mixed maturities" concept (what I call, after Vera Falberg "two-and-twenty" syndrome). The complicated background of a child, his chronological age, and the family age diverge into mixed maturities: the child bounces among different levels of maturity and self-regulation in different areas of functioning.

I agree with the author's approach to the most burning issue in adoption -attachment. According to Dr. Cogen, attachment is not something that once reached stays there forever; it is a rather fragile psychological state that needs to be achieved, maintained and reinforced. Her understanding of attachment as a relationship in progress, but not a "catch-all" static condition of a child predetermining every aspect of the child's behavior, is fascinating to me and is very practical.

The book, of course, is not without some drawbacks. One of the most noticeable is how surprisingly little attention is paid to one of the most significant aspects of international adoption - language attrition, language replacement and language learning. The few pages (120-126) devoted to this subject are certainly not on par with the rest of the book. For example, the author identifies a "silent" period in adoption during which "…a child uses neither her native language, nor her second language" and "…this silent period lasts between three to six months" (page 123). This statement can only be explained by the fact that the author apparently talks about children adopted as infants and toddlers, in whom language issues may not be so obvious. However, those parents who have adopted or are going to adopt an older (four and up) child should understand the significance of language issues in their child's family life and schooling. While Dr. Cogen concentrates on integration of children into families, which is, of course, the central piece of any adoption journey, there are other concerns as well: cultural and cognitive/academic integration into the school, neighborhood, and society at large, which are not covered in the book to the degree they deserve.

Dr. Patty Cogen is a therapist who has worked with adoptive families, a teacher who educates parents and adoptive professionals, and an adoptive mother herself. She explains what to do before the adoption, what to expect from the minute the parents meet their child up to the challenging teen years. The calm and confident narrative tone of the book, combined with a comprehensive and deep understanding of the issues, make it an excellent guide for parents and professionals in the adoptive community. In fact, she has created an effective "roadmap" to successful adoption, and at the BGCenter we would like to see this roadmap in the hands of everyone who participates in this journey, as a parent or as a professional working in the field of international adoption.
B. Gindis, Ph.D.


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