Jul 8, 2013

Things I wish someone had told me about adopting a toddler/preschooler...

We have received tremendous support along the way, bringing Little Slick home. 

We received excellent assistance on paperwork, attachment and bonding (by far the most important thing!), social norms for where we were travelling, travel tips with a little one, ways to help Little Slick learn English, and many other things. 

But I still felt, like many parents, grossly under-prepared. 

There are newborn care classes at almost every hospital, where parents-to-be learn how to feed, bathe, soothe, life-saving techniques, safety measures, etc. 

When adopting an older child, you're just kind of thrown in the trenches. 

Yes, toddlers and preschoolers require less "gear" than newborns but they still have needs. Many couples adopting "older" children are not thrown showers or given gifts (not that it's required or necessarily expected - it's just the norm for pregnant parents to receive these things) and if they are thrown showers/given gifts, it's usually toys. 

Here's a list of things you'll need:

  • Convertible car seat or booster seat - Check out this site for more details: http://www.seatcheck.org
    • Did you know you can (and if possible SHOULD) bring this with you when you bring your little one home. Yes, even on the plane!
    • Don't ever buy a used seat or let a kind-hearted soul give you an old one either. Just don't. 
  • Toddler bed (maybe still a crib) or something for them to sleep on
    • Seems like a no-brainer but still needs to be said! 
    • Look into something that will last a few years or something that will last for another little one down the road.
    • If you're unsure what your new arrival is interested in, get basic sheets/bedding until they're settled and then let them go with you to pick out their new bedding!
    • Mattress pad/pee protectors - even if potty trained already, many children regress or just have accidents. 
    • Go ahead and have grandma make that baby blanket she's been itching to make. Even though it's not something you'll swaddle your new little one in, it's something they'll love to snuggle. 
  • Booster seat for the dinner table
    • You may want placemats too. I'm afraid my table may never recover from our first spaghetti and meatballs experience.
    • Bibs! Little Slick still gets put in one with some meals...like spaghetti.
  • Plates/Silverware/Cups
    • Little ones are unsteady and have small hands - accommodate them with things their size!
    • Even at 3 years old, we'll likely be using sippy cups for a while. Get a few brands/kinds to see what you like. 
      • And with these sippy cups/small things you'll still want a bottle brush to help clean them!
    • You may want a few bottles to help some of the little ones learn to suck and a bottle a night is great for bonding. 
  • Clothes/Shoes
    • If you're unsure of sizes, go to a local consignment store and buy up and down the size you think before you make commitments with anything pricey.
      • And along those lines, kids are messy - there's no shame in most of their wardrobe coming from places like this! Day to day clothes are mainly hand-me-down's or from consignments and going out/church clothes are what we pay the "big bucks" for.
  • Carrier/Stroller
    • I'd strongly suggest a carrier of some sort if your child is 30 pounds or under (can also do them with larger children but 30 sounded like a good mental cut-off to me). They're great for bonding and it makes maneuvering through airports/new places much easier. We have a mei-tai and it's AWESOME. Other carriers that people seem to love are Ergo's, Beco's, and Ring-Sling's. 
    • A stroller could be useful in an airport and for future family outings. They're still little, with little legs. Those 4 hours you have planned at the zoo? You'll end up carrying them eventually if you don't have something to put them in!
  • First aid
    • You can pick up a pre-made kit or make one yourself! We made one with fun colors and band-aids. We made our main one and then mini ones for each vehicle and for on the go. 
    • Ice packs for little boo-boo's
  • Go ahead and have a started kit of medicines
    • Tylenol
    • Motrin 
    • Sunscreen - visit http://safemama.com/cheatsheets/sunscreen/ for some good recommendations
    • Thermometer
    • Topical cream for bites
    • Boogie Wipes! You'll thank me later
    • Toothpaste (flouride free!) and a toothbrush - not really medicine but you get the picture
  • Diaper bag
    • It doesn't have to be a diaper bag but you'll want something you can pack extra clothes, gear, and it will get spilled on/in and sticky. Diaper bags are great because they're made to sustain toddler abuse and spills. 
  • Child proofing things
    • You may have already child-proofed for your home-study but if you haven't, plan on it! Even when they speak English and understand you, they'll still try to play in the formal dining room with your great-grandmother's china from 1917 - even if you're constantly watching them. 
  • Potty seat!
    • We have the one that sits ON the actual toilet and a little potty
    • Some people hate the idea of his little separate potty but when you're busy making dinner, letting the dog out, on the potty yourself, etc. and cannot go help, it's nice to have something little enough for them to go to that they can manage alone. Even with a stool, Little Slick is still kind of unstable getting on/off the seat alone that's on the big potty.
    • Oh, don't forget that stool! You'll need it outside of the bathroom as well!
    • If not potty-trained - you'll need diapers/pull ups!
  • Toys
    • Start small, especially if you don't know what they're actually interested in. 
    • Mega-blok type toys seem to be a hit with most kids
    • Stuffed animals - bonus if one looks like your pets or if they go along with a book
    • Books - the cardboard ones are amazing, still not kid proof completely, but much better than thin paper (RIP The Hungry Caterpillar :sniffle:)
      • AND reading to your kiddo(s) is great for language acquisition and for future reading fluency :)
    • Play food/cooking materials
    • Balls - seems simple, but kids love them!
    • Bath toys!
      • Don't forget that baby shampoo! We love Aveeno for our sensitive skin little one. 
    • Outside toys 
      • Tricycle - don't forget the helmet! If you make the helmet a habit early, it will be less of a fight later on :)
      • Sidewalk chalk
      • Beach toys are useful anytime! We build dirt/mulch castles and dig all the time
      • More balls! Big, little, doesn't matter
    • Toys/books/entertainment for traveling or in the car
    • Most parents let their kids watch TV, whether planning or not. If you're able to hold strong and not, more power to you. If you're like the rest of us, you'll likely let your newest addition watch a little, here and there. Go ahead and load up on some of YOUR childhood favorites or ones that you don't mind watching. I cannot tell you how many times I've realized that I'm still watching the show only to realize I put Little Slick down for his nap an hour ago. And little ones have little attention spans...but will quickly meltdown if you change from that show (that they were paying no attention to!)
  • Storage for all toys. And buy storage with room to spare as you'll collect more and more as you go!
  • Food - fact of the matter you may be plagued with a picky eater or a child who has figured out the one way they can have control is by controlling what they swallow
    • Goldfish - still haven't met a kid who didn't like them
    • Organic fruit pouches - fruit and veggies in them? I'm in. 
    • Fresh fruit 
      • When you buy bananas buy all levels of ripeness so they'll last longer
    • Many children coming from orphanage settings are used to something similar to oatmeal - you can do the packs or make your own packs! I use this recipe: http://www.stockpilingmoms.com/2012/09/homemade-instant-oatmeal-packets/#_a5y_p=611792
    • Fresh veggies (like broccoli, carrots, etc)
    • Little Slick has never refused rice in any form or fashion. I think it's a texture thing. 
    • You'll also need containers for all this or you'll be burning through ziplock bags super fast!
    • You'll likely want to be conservative at first with high allergen foods, just like with a newborn, especially if there is any sort of communication barrier. 

General hints: 
  • Just survive the first few weeks at home. After that you can start to "hit it hard" with your routine.
  • If they don't bathe everyday, it's ok. Babywipes can do wonders. I don't even know if I've mentioned it before but Little Slick had severe water trauma when we brought him home and we just did wipe downs for a few weeks (yep, I said weeks!) until he trusted us enough to bathe him. 
  • Don't worry if they will only eat apple slices one day. At least it's healthy, right??? No, but seriously, it's ok. Try again at the next meal, or try again tomorrow. If it becomes frequent, then call your pediatrician. 
  • On that note, if adopting internationally, don't be surprised if you have trouble finding a pediatrician willing to meet with you before you bring your little one home. Pregnant women are given consultation type appointments where they can meet the doctor/staff - you likely won't be given that privilege. Ask around for recommendations. 
    • Also be prepared to answer "unknown" on half of those new patient forms. 
  • It's ok if they sleep with you. It's great for bonding. Do whatever you're comfortable with. Little Slick sleeps in his bed, in our room. We love it. 
    • Your little one may not be used to being alone at night, may have nightmares, may just worry it's all a dream and you won't be there when they open their eyes. It helps when you're close by every time they open their eyes. Then you transition them when you're all ready. 
  • Buy books/toys that encourage them to interact with you
  • If they attach to a lovey/stuffed animal/blanket - buy a back up!
  • Even if they've never seen one before, they'll learn how to unlock your smart phone within 12.5 seconds of seeing it. Be prepared. And if you're super smart, you'll lay ground rules immediately on touching/not touching it. Go ahead and apply those rules to your laptop and the remote control. 
  • No, they're not a newborn but you will end up with bodily fluids on you within the first 6 weeks. 
  • Bring another adult with you on your first outing. Especially if your first outing is the grocery store and your child is from an environment where they never had enough food - the grocery store is a very overwhelming place. You may need back-up. 
  • Park close to the cart return at grocery stores - makes it a LOT easier. 
    • And make a "touch the car" rule of sorts for when loading/unloading so they know not to wander. It literally only takes a second for a child to step away and a car to zoom by. 
  • You don't have to share them (ok, you do with your spouse!). But seriously, tell grandma to back off. This new baby needs to learn that YOU are the Mama, they need to learn that YOU are their parent. They need to learn what a parent is. You give them food, you give them love, you give them everything they need (whether they need your help or not) for the first few months. Then slowly let grandma handle snack time, nap time, etc. You have to build that trust. 
  • Teach them from day 1 how to properly interact with pets!
  • Once they let you in, once they are receptive of your affection, never stop! Smother (ok, maybe smother is a strong word) them with kisses and hugs. They may have missed out on this prior to you. 
  • And don't ever be afraid to contact your agency for help with anything. 

Have some other hints? Let me know and I'll add them :)


  1. Slick girl - you amaze me! Thanks for the tips if we ever get to this step. <3

  2. Hubby and I were actually talking about this today - thank you so much for answering questions we didn't ask. It really helps!

    1. Feel free to ask more if they arise!

  3. Just wanted to say thanks for posting. After having matched with our little boy for two years, we are finally going to be able to pick him up soon. This list is invaluable as we're trying to prep the house and figure out what we need when we go pick him up. THANK YOU!

    1. Wendy, let me know if you are curious about anything else! I'm a (mostly) open book!

  4. Thanks for posting this great information! Hubby and I are totally freaked out thinking about how much we don't know about meeting and caring for a 2 year old. Your smartphone comment scares me silly :)