Thursday, January 28, 2010

How will we communicate with our new kids?

All along it hasn't concerned me too much about being able to communicate with our boys. They are little and we are creative so I figured we would just figure it out. Lots of charades and pointing and pictures should do the trick for us. But then I started thinking about how frustrating it is when you don't understand the people around you or when they can't understand you. It feels almost paralyzing. I am sure there will be times that it will be frustrating for both of us (mommy and child). Like you are trapped in a box and you can't get out.

Specifically I have been wondering about comforting them when they are sad or grieving. Or what if they are sick and I don't know they are trying to tell they need help. Will we be able to meet their needs when they require something? Not sure. I know that God's grace is sufficient. And I know it will be almost comical at times. I know that they will learn quickly and pick up our English fast. And I know that the girls will be HUGE helpers when it comes to this. The boys will learn so much from them.

But I am wondering if there is some seasoned advice out there for this. Can you pass on some Amaharic phrase book advice? The truth is, by the time they come to learn English, it will be the third language they have been exposed to. Any tips on this one????

Dear Sweet Peas,

It will be an adventure as we learn to communicate with each other. Hopefully we can giggle about it when we are stuck and confused. But I hope and pray that you always understand how much we love you and are there to care for you.

Love, Mom


  1. Cris - I've got to connect you with my friend Amy - the one I was telling you about with the older boy and 5 year old girl... I know they know some very important phrases (i.e. bathroom!) ... I'm sending her a message now!

  2. When I used to teach in public school our school was the only one in the district that housed the English as a second language program. The teacher could have non-English speaking students speaking very fluently in just weeks. She used a lot of picture cards. So she had cards for would have a picture of the item and then the English word written on it. In the beginning, the kids carried their cards with them everywhere on a little keyring, so that they could point to the card with the potty on it if they needed to go to the bathroom, etc. As they would point to the card with the potty on it, she would have them attempt to say the word. After a few weeks the cards were no longer needed. Hope that helps.

  3. I don't have much advice to give, unfortunately, but it warms my heart to see how you are thinking ahead and trying to figure out ways to help your children adjust emotionally. When we adopted our children, they were 11 months and 2.5 years old, and I figured they were so young that it would all work out.

    And, of course, it did--because, as you said, God's grace is sufficient.

    HOWEVER, if I could go back and do it again, I would spend much more time and energy purposefully being close to our older son. He did not feel comfortable being held for a long, long time (as in, just THIS year, at almost 7 years old, he has turned a corner in physical affection), and so I hugged on him more briefly to let him feel more comfortable. But I think that just probably reinforced the feeling that he didn't quite belong.

    He also had night terrors for many many months, and when he had enough words to tell me how he felt, he would just say, "sad." He was too young to express his grief, even if he had the words. Sadly, I think kids often end up repressing their grief when they don't have the words to express it, and then the grief never gets addressed. Because once they are old enough to use language to express the grief, they don't exactly remember what precipitated the emotion in the first place.

    If you have photos of their birth mother, I think one of the best things to do, is put a picture up where it is visible, and have a photo album accessible for your children to look at when they want to. As they learn language, they will most likely ask questions and you can help them learn how to talk about their feelings. We did not have any photos at the time, and it is something I didn't think about. To acknowledge the love and the loss of their first parents is crucial in bonding and forming trust--even if they don't understand your words yet.

    We now have a photo up in our house of our boys' siblings in Ethiopia. We also have a Snapfish photo book of their adoption story accessible in the living room. We don't always talk about their adoption or their birth family, but it is a safe subject for everyone, and the boys never feel awkward bringing it up.

  4. We brought home 2 sisters ages 5 and 6 1/2 in 2007. I would be happy to share a couple of resources we used to communicate with them. You will be surprised how easy it is. My girls were almost always able to let me know what they needed. They came home in March and by summer, they couldn't even remember their native language which was sad to me. Please feel free to call me so I can share what I have with you. My number is 371-8002. We are friends of the Tuckers. My name is Ally.

  5. sara - thank you... we're also adopting a young child from Ethiopia and I had already thought that we'd miss some of the grief I'd heard about.... you have just given words of wisdom to me... thank you.

  6. Praying God will give you wisdom and insight as well as patience. Kids DO learn incredibly fast. Hope you can laugh (instead of cry...) at those times when you are all a bit lost. God will give grace and help you all connect!

  7. ooooo definately contact Ally--they did such a great job with this!
    It seems that children in this age range seem to move along more quickly than the ages we adopted.
    We had alot of crazy AND alot of laughter--I love the cards idea! Put family,pets, familiar faces on them and go over them even in country--that way as you arrive home people and places will look more familiar. Beth K. made and laminated a set of cards for each family member and the children recognized them when they got home. Our children also loved simple songs at scheduled times--preschool-like "It's time to go to bed, It's time to go to bed Good Night, Good Night..." And "this is the way we brush our teeth...wash our hair...etc...the same worship songs to begin each tuck in--and they really wanted to share thier songs with us. Record thier sweet little voices!! You'll miss these days later and wish you had a record of thier school songs and little voices speaking thier language--plus if you record it--if there are questions--you could get it translated. There are neat Amharic (is that thier language?) connections to be made at our airport there are Am. speakers in the bagage area and at local ET. restaurants and in local ET. adoptive families--maybe get a phone number of someone who you could call at a moment's notice to provide translation either way for you--it could be a comfort. I must say, though, that our son at 3 years old jumped in our arms and did not look back language-wise. Although he was slower to pick up English then baby Ava, he refused to speak Amharic even in country for he associated English with his newly- aquired family. He was intimidated with people speaking his language to him when we got to America--I think he thought they might take him away from us...
    We have children's worship music CDs from Kidmia that you could use to make them feel cosy at your home--they are in Amharic and in English. I too feel sad that both Ava and Bruik have lost thier original language. Bruik still has a pretty accent however!!
    Honestly the worst WAS the grieving and the nightmares--it was tough--we hugged, cried, and prayed through it--one of Bruik's first phrases was, "Help us, Jesus!" And HE DID. We found that Bruik liked to be snuggled in blankets, Ethiopian Style--we kept them close by at night --we were all given alot of grace...We'll be "on call" during those days too! feel free to call ANY time--I'll make sure to email my # to you. Lots of Love!! Gillian

  8. I have no advice, but I have already been praying for this, along with other family-melding.

  9. My Mary was almost three when we adopted her. She learned some words the first week. I know about 10 words in her language (food, water, big brother, momma, potty). Within 30 days, she was talking ALL English. It is amazing how quickly they absorb when in total immersion.

  10. Even though our daughter is only 8 months, we knew she would already have a lot of receptive language, so we purchased the Simple Language For Adoptive Families available from (Lest I sound too organized and prepared, I didn't learn as much as I had hoped to in advance!) A couple of the families on our travel group adopting older children instead of infants also had it and used it a LOT! It is really neat, because it has all the phrases for comforting, encouraging, and phrases like "I love you", "I am your mommy" and "you are my son". Instead of the typical travel stuff you would find in a learning Amharic course checked out from the library, etc. It comes with a cd and a great pronunciation guide! It is divided into 17 sections:
    1. Coming Home
    2. At the Table
    3. Bathroom
    4. Personal Care
    5. Playtime
    6. Bedtime
    7. Health
    8. Words of Affection and Assurance
    9. Boundaries and Directions
    10. Important Words and Phrases
    11. People
    12. Places
    13. Animals
    14. Clothes
    15. Feelings
    16. Numbers
    17. Colors

    Sorry to make that so long, just wanted to give you a feel for what was included. It is a small spiral bound book that is roughly the size of a cd case - so it is very easy to take a long with you.

    I am really glad we bought it!!


  11. As others have said, I'm sure they will pick things up very quickly. When we were in Indonesia, there were some times my 1 year old came back from her friend's house (across the street) and used an Indonesian word that I didn't know, and when I looked it up, she had used it correctly! And we were there less than a year. Kids are amazing learners, and I am sure you will figure out the communication quickly. Of course there will be frustrations, but we'll be praying for this!

  12. You might want to learn a simple song or two to sing to your boys.