The most important task in the first weeks and months of adoption is to strengthen attachment with your internationally adopted child. Playing and taking care of the child’s basic needs (feeding, bathing, etc.) will constitute your major occupation at this time. Without being intrusive, try to have as much physical contact with the child as possible using shared activities:
1. Giant walk: The child stands on your feet, facing you, walk them around the room. Your rule: eye contact makes you go, lack of eye contact makes you stop.
2. Thumb/arm wrestling: Hold each other’s forearms, and sit facing and touching each other with the knees. Pretend you are applying great efforts to hold your arm straight.
3. Eye blinking contest: Stare at each other and see who can go the longest without blinking or laughing. Winner gives the looser a hug or tickle.
4. Tunnels: Parent kneels on the floor forming a tunnel. Child crawls through the tunnel as fast as he/she can before the tunnel collapses. Note: for the first few times let the child get completely through, then have it gently collapse onto the child.
5. Pillow ride: have child sit on a big floor pillow and you drag him/her around the room. Your rule: you only move when given eye contact. One of the most important parental tasks is helping your internationally adopted child to master the English language. The acquisition of a new language by the IA children is more akin to a natural way of the first language development: they acquire their new language in the process of daily events and as a byproduct of meaningful communication. There are ways to make language learning at home a more intense, cognitively enriching, and purposeful activity while keeping it game-like fun pursuit:
1. "Tell me which one" Place two objects in front of you and your child. Take turns telling each other which one to pick. You have to use words that describe the object. For example: "Give me the one that is blue" or "Give me the one that is tall." Another version of this is to use edible items that your child can eat after providing the correct name and description, for example, the blue M&M or the long, thin pretzel. Be sure to make this fun so that it doesn't come across as a punitive way of having a snack!
2. “Look, feel, smell” Ask your child to say as many things as possible about a common object. Remind your child to use all the senses: How does it look? How does it feel? How does it smell? How does it taste? For example, a cup: "This is a cup. It is hard. It is shiny. It is blue. It can break. It is short. It has a handle. It is smooth". Repeat this some more times and encourage your child to think of even more things. If your child has difficulty thinking of ideas, provide gestured cues by, for example, pointing to your eyes for 'look,' pointing to your nose for 'smell.'
3. “Pattern movement” It is played with hands, with each person thinking up a new pattern and asking the other person to copy it. For example, clap, clap; pat, pat (knees); touch (nose), clap, clap; etc. You can do this with the whole family, with one person starting a pattern. The pattern sequence should be repeated until everyone gets it.
4. “Make a collection” While taking a walk, decide to "collect" something. For example, during the fall, decide on a specific kind of leaf collection (for example, it must have two colors and be a whole leaf). Analyze other things in the category to decide if it "fits" the collection. Talk with your child about the characteristics that make the new object fit or not fit in the collection.
5. “What is missing” Show incomplete objects and call your child’s attention to the missing part and its functional relationship to the whole (toy car without a wheel, shirt without buttons). Cut out pictures of objects, cut them into two pieces, and mount them on index cards, being certain that one picture is identifiable as "missing" from the other picture: a tree cut into trunk and branches. Have the child to draw in the missing part (hand on a clock, sleeve on a shirt, tail on a dog)
6. “Guess what” Take turns describing something for others to guess. The guess must be based on the description. This builds vocabulary skills, reinforces expressive language development, and reviews attributes.
7. "Measuring” This game is to decide all the different ways something can be measured. Pick something in your house to measure, for instance, a piece of furniture. Give an example, such as "See this table? I can measure it with my hands. Let’s see how many hands long it is! Now, I think I'll measure it with this pencil. Let's see how many pencils it is!" Then ask your child to pick something to use for measuring, and, once done, to think of another way to measure the same thing. Once you have measured the object at least two different ways, you can ask questions such as: is the table more hands or pencils? You can also expand on this activity with ideas such as: go find something that is two pencils long.
Dr. Gindis is a child psychologist specializing in psycho-educational issues of older internationally adopted children. He is the chief psychologist at the Center for Cognitive-Developmental Assessment and Remediation, a lead instructor at Bgcenter Online School, the author of many publications on international adoption issues and frequent presenter at conferences and workshops. The developmental activities discussed in this article are taken from “SmartStart Program: Helping Your Internationally Adopted Child Develop a Foundation for Learning.” More info is available at http://www.bgcenter.com/smartstart.htm. The article was initially published in Adoption Today, August/September 2005.