Helping Adopted Kids Feel Safe Amidst Coronavirus

In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, I’m thinking about adoptive parents of kids with special challenges, such as ADHD and attachment-disordered. You’re all home…together.

As you scramble to find a new normal for the family, for sure the kids can sense any panic, fear, anger you have, which is totally understandable. Never in any of our lifetimes–parents or children–has there been such a crisis.

It’s such a basic need of adopted kids to have connection, with you, friends, and other family members. But, we’re all called to social distancing, which may be incredibly difficult for adopted kids.

I’m going to share three ideas here that speak to this need. I’m hesitant to share, for it seems terribly simplistic and I’m sure you’ve all not only heard about it but also used it from time to time.

When I was a child, an only child, I found ways to feel safe when lonely, scared. or overwhelmed. My parents didn’t teach it–it simply evolved inwardly from my deep need to feel safe.

So what did I need to be safe from?

  • Sensory Triggers. These activated extreme acting-out behaviors (punching my fist through the refrigerator door).
  • Overwhelming Disappointment. My parents seemed more interested in meeting their own needs, when I needed them. Dad would sit smoking himself to death in front of the blaring TV, and mom plucked her eyebrows incessantly. How I wanted us to connect, but that didn’t happen much.
  • Physical Trauma Responses. I have always been cold and I believe with Bessel van Der KOLK says in his bestseller, THE BRAIN KEEPS THE SCORE. He says, “Trauma doesn’t surface in memories, but in reactions.”

As I began recording thoughts, common elements surfaced from each activity that may be of interest to you:

  • In the midst of chaos. As you probably already know, most adopted and foster kids are terrified of abandonment, so this keeps them safely in sight of parents right in the center of activity.
  • In a designated place. I can’t tell you how many times as a kid that I went to the places where I chose to find comfort. I will share that in a moment.

Remember, of course, that I don’t speak for all adoptees and foster kids. Each is unique with their own story to tell. I welcome other adoptees to share their safe places here so that adoptive and foster parents can benefit from your wisdom.

The first idea of helping your adopted child feel safe is the suggestion of building a tent.

  1. Suggest Building A Tent

When young, I’d build a tent over mom’s 4 X4 card table with layers of sheets and blankets… right in the middle of the dining room.

I still remember how much fun it was constructing it and then entering. There’s just something that makes me feel safe under a roof-like thing over me. Would you believe, even now, I craft my sheets at night to go over my head.

Of course, being a dollie lover, I’d take two or three into the tent so that I could take care of them. Plastic feeding bottles and also room for their bed and blanket.

Being right in the middle of the living probably assured me that I wouldn’t be abandoned–perhaps by my parents.

I know what you’re thinking, parents. “I’d never abandon my child.” Even though that is true, your child may not know it on a consistent basis. After all, he believes his first parents abandoned him/her. Times of crisis may temporarily erase our object permanence.

It felt so warm and cozy and safe in there. I loved it and would have kept it up permanently….but mom didn’t agree.

2. Encourage Designating A Specific Place to Curl Up, or Be Contained

There's something about curling up and/or 
being contained that makes many adopted and
 foster kids feel safe. It may be under a
 stack of pillows, in an empty drawer, 
under the stairs,
 or in a tight corner. 

It's that fetal position...perhaps remembering 
our time in our first mom's womb?

I had a clinical depression at 
age 40 and was put in the lock-down unit, 
and when my family left and the steel doors 
closed behind them, I ran to open the door. 

I pushed on the steel door,
 only to be told it wouldn't open. 
I ran to a nearby couch and curled up 
in a fetal position.

Mom and Dad owned a modest bungalow house and back in the day, registers were placed in the wall. Their register was in a cozy little place in-between the a room divider in the dining room and next to their Duncan Fife blonde dining room furniture.

I loved it there. Again, it was in the midst of all that occurred. That close space and the constant heat was incredibly comforting.

Heat continues to be my “go to.” As I write this post, a small room heater blows heat on my feet:-)

Remember, adoption is a lifelong journey:-)

That register became my place and I’d not be able to count how many hours I spent there, right up until the time I left home for college.

3. Sleep Under A Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets make you feel like you’re being held closely. The brand of mine is Hiseem.

And so, adoptive and foster parents, along with fellow adoptees and foster kids, let me know how your child finds comfort, and adoptees, please share your thoughts here.

Press on, my friends. We will all make it through the crisis.