Bonding with an adopted teen girl can take hard work, but it's typically well worth the effort.

Bonding With an Adopted Teen Girl

by Lisa Fritscher

There are more than 463,000 children of all ages are in foster care in the United States, according to 2009 information provided by Children Uniting Nations, a nonprofit organization, founded to help protect at-risk and foster youth. Hundreds of thousands more kids live in orphanages, group homes and in other temporary situations around the world. Although some are awaiting reunification with their birth families, many are seeking a forever home. Teens in the system, regardless of their current temporary placement, are at risk for “aging out” of care, losing vital support services without the skills needed to make it on their own. Adopting a teen girl often presents challenges, but it can have a profound positive effect on the teen and also be an extremely rewarding experience for you. Bonding is crucial for a successful lifelong relationship.

1. Communication

Open and honest discussions are key when it comes to bonding with your adopted teen, notes ThrivingFamily.com. However, keep in mind that it's not unusual for an adopted teen to be guarded. Model good communication skills by speaking calmly and directly with your adopted daughter and other members of the family. Explain to your teen that your family has no secrets and she is welcome to come to you to talk about any topic. Ask open-ended questions that show interest in her thoughts but do not force her to answer. For example, you might ask your daughter what her previous placement was like, her thoughts about her birth parents or siblings, or whom she misses most from her past. Allow her to choose the direction of discussions and to end a talk when she feels ready.

2. Boundaries

Adopted teens often come with a history that includes neglect or abuse. They need the stability of a secure, fair, age-appropriate set of boundaries. All teens struggle to find independence, but newly adopted kids need a great deal of time with their new parents to bond, ChildWelfare.gov notes. As such, don't expect to bond instantly. Give your adopted teen the time she needs to learn to trust you. When setting boundaries, take the time to fully discuss house rules, responsibilities, privileges and consequences with your daughter. Explain why they are in place -- and give her a voice in making decisions that affect her life. Keep in mind that boundaries run both ways. Show respect for your daughter’s right to privacy. Avoid reading her journal or other personal writings or snooping through her possessions. Set guidelines for telephone and Internet use and allow her to communicate privately within those parameters.

3. Disclosure

Share everything you know about your daughter’s background, personal history and the circumstances of the adoption, suggests ChildWelfare.gov. Kids adopted as teens often have inaccurate memories of their childhoods -- and might imagine circumstances that were worse than the reality. Encourage your daughter to ask questions about her birth family and offer to help her search for additional information on her past. Help her understand the social, cultural and other factors that possibly caused her birth parents to relinquish parental rights. Provide your daughter with opportunities to connect with her ethnic and cultural heritage.

4. Lifebook

A lifebook is a scrapbook of photos, memorabilia, letters, personal writings and other items that document an adopted child’s journey. Your teen might or might not already have such a book. If she doesn't, encourage her to gather whatever items she has from her past. She might include report cards, notes from favorite teachers and birthday cards or letters from friends. If she already has a lifebook, help her add new items from her life with your family such as photos. Working on a lifebook together can be a powerful bonding experience as it can help your teen realize that you are interested in her as a whole person with a complex background.

5. Barriers to Bonding

Bonding with a new family is tough for any teenager, but girls from certain backgrounds might face additional challenges. If your daughter was in the care system for more than a few years, especially if her background includes a large orphanage or group home, she might have an institutional mindset in which adults are simply authority figures rather than people who care. If she went through several foster homes, she might feel like bonds are temporary and easily broken. If she is from a foreign country, significant language and cultural barriers might exist. Consider your daughter's individual background when deciding how best to approach bonding -- and contact your social worker or adoption coordinator for advice if you feel unsure as to how to proceed.

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