My kids were little when my husband and I adopted them — so little that they don't remember details about their lives prior to adoption, such as who they were with or how they were treated.
It's different for children adopted at an older age. These kids remember their story, a story that is often confusing, painful and sad. They can tell us about the significant people, places and events from their past. "Kids want to tell their story — it's therapeutic," says Stacey Goodson, an adoption specialist at Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, Mich.
But for some children, knowing where to begin can be daunting. Giving your child a framework for discussing the past can be a great way to encourage him or her to open up. A "life book" is a storybook that explains and honors the life of an adoptee prior to being adopted. It incorporates elements from photo albums, scrapbooks and journals — providing structure to your discussions about the people and events from your child’s past.
Life books for older kids are different from those for kids adopted at a young age. When kids are younger, parents take charge of creating the life book, writing and shaping the stories — sometimes with just fragments of information about the child's past.
When kids are adopted at an older age, however, they come with a full-length movie to sift through. Each scene is vivid and real — and often sensitive. In this case, parents and child can work together on a life book to sort out things that matter most and try to make sense of things that seem senseless.
If a child already knows the details of his or her past, why record them? Kids with a solid, healthy understanding of their past — the people and the brokenness — tend to be stronger and more settled. Creating a clear record of the past allows kids to process these memories in a healthy way, and it helps eliminate confusion, fantasies or feelings that they were somehow responsible for the choices their birth parents made. The process also encourages kids to develop compassion for their birth parents.
When working on a life book with older children, it's important that we listen and affirm as much as we can rather than rewriting parts of our child's story or being quick to correct details the child remembers. For example, if my child says, "My birth mom always loved me so much," and I add, "Your birth mom sometimes hurt you, too," I do a disservice to the child. Even when done with good intentions, it’s not honoring the child’s memories.
Click here to download and print life-book pages to work on with your child. Print as many copies of each page as needed to accommodate the thoughts and pictures your child wants to include. Because each child's situation is unique, not every activity on these life-book pages may be appropriate for your child. Please use discretion about which pages to include in your child's life book.
Copyright © 2013 by Susan TeBos. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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