Attaching to Adopted Preteens and Teens

Being creative and thoughtful about understanding a teenager’s needs, will help build a strong family connection between the child and the adoptive family.

One of the biggest issues for children who are adopted as tweens and teens is being able to trust anyone. Their life experience has taught them that they can only depend on themselves and adoptive parents may find it challenging to bond with their child on an intimate level.

Even though communication is key for connecting to preteens and teens, there are many ways to promote a healthy attachment with the adoptive family.

Show Affection and Caring

Outward affection should be gently introduced, and it is a good idea for adoptive parents to watch their child for cues. For kids 11 years of age and older, parents can show their kids they care in many ways, whether it be by physical contact or doing something to make the teenager feel special.

  • Give subtle physical touches such as a pat on the shoulder or offer a back massage.
  • Choose an appropriate time to show outward affection such as saving hugs for bedtime.
  • Make a favorite meal.
  • Give thoughtful surprises such as tickets to an event or a CD by a favorite artist.
  • Take a partner yoga workshop together which encourages gentle physical contact.

Talk Openly

Having open conversations about topics important to tweens and teens is crucial to connecting with older kids. It is as important for parents to really listen to their kids, as it is for them to initiate conversation.

  • Encourage discussion about birth and foster families.
  • Try shoulder-to-shoulder chats while doing dishes, driving in the car, or walking together as some preteens and teens find eye contact too intrusive.
  • Look at a photo album or Lifebook together.
  • Send e-mails or instant messages to check-in with tweens and teens when schedules are busy.
  • Watch a movie or show together to help initiate discussions about difficult issues.

Do Activities Together

Finding an activity of common interest is very helpful when bonding with adopted teenagers. The interest from the parents needs to be genuine but the activity itself can take many forms. For example, a 12-year-old girl may love playing baseball and her adoptive dad may choose to connect with his daughter through baseball by being the coach of the team, attending her games, or watching a pro baseball game on television with her.

  • Keep a journal together where parent and child take turns writing thoughts, comments, and ideas to share with each other.
  • Enjoy movie nights together.
  • Go to a concert together with the child’s choosing.
  • Allow the tween or teen to decorate her bedroom with some parental assistance.
  • Take on a special project together such as cooking, baking, or building something.

Aside from making sure the basic needs of an adopted preteen or teen are being met, the attachment will come with time and the many ways love is shown by the adoptive parents. In some cases, expert help will be needed to encourage attachment between family members.

It is also important to consider the adopted preteen and teen’s developmental age when showing ways of caring, talking with them, and doing activities together. It may be helpful for adoptive parents to read Attaching to Adopted School Age Kids for ideas on bonding with kids at an earlier developmental stage.


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