Adopting a toddler is very different from adopting an older child. Your toddler may not be verbal; she may not be very expressive of her thoughts, feelings, or desires, but she isn’t a baby, waiting to discover the world: she has spent all of her little life discovering it, and her mind is full of her experiences and the things she has learned about people, about love, and about life. The things she learned are probably not the things we would want her to learn, but they are there, and we can’t erase them. You need to meet her where she is.
I’ll meet her where she is, you think, that’s easy. But where is that? It’s important that you are open to finding out, and don’t try to impose your own ideas of where she should be on her. Your toddler won’t tell you in words, but she will tell you by her actions. You can’t expect her to go back to being the naïve baby she was born as just because she’s entering your life today. But you also can’t expect her to be the two year old (or three, or four, or one year old) she would have been if she had been born in your house and spent the last years learning what that environment teaches.
She’s been in another environment, and she’s had lots of lessons, but they weren’t yours. She may have to start in the school of trust on page one. She may be in a graduate level course on scrounging for her own food from floors, dishpiles, or cabinets; there are probably many fields will you will have to work on gentle unlearning.
Your toddler may or may not be communicating in the language you speak; she may or may not be communicating in language at all. Toddlers learn fast, and it won’t be long before you’ll hear a steady stream of talk out of him or her, but in the meantime, there’s one very important key to language-less communication: patience. Take the time to find out what your child wants to communicate, and when you need to share something, take the time to express it in as many ways as possible so that your adopted child understands it.
Adopting a toddler isn’t easy. It will put you on a journey of discovery, and it will put the toddler you’re adopting on a journey too. A successful adoption means these two lines are not parallel, they’ll meet; you’ll come to understand your child, and your child will come to understand your love. There’s a long way yet to get there, and there will be lots of hiccups and difficulties along the way. Whether you’re adopting a toddler from overseas of from the domestic foster care system, it’s likely your child is saddled with lots of post-traumatic stress and has an assortment of attachment disorders. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have the relationship you desire with your child. It just means it won’t come automatically; you’ll have to work on it. Love patiently, love constantly, love unconditionally.