Survival Skills of Internationally Adopted Young Children vs. Family Skills

Patty Cogen, M.A., Ed.D.
© l997


Children raised in families have an assortment of non-verbal behaviors to cue their parents to their needs and
feelings.Out of this communication arises “family skills” for getting needs met.
Children who have no maternal caregiver develop a different set of cues, and a different set of skills, survival skills.
Sometimes these children show a lack of cues, or their skills may rely on coercive, aggressive or manipulative behaviors
to get what they want. A few cues may be unique to the child$s country/culture of origin.

The list below compares the behavior of internationally adopted children to the behavior of children raised in a
middle class anglo home environment from birth.

Internationally Adopted Child

Birth Child

Eats anything and possibly everything Picky about food and often eats very little after about 6-8 months of age.
Never whines or fusses. Parents describe their child as “too good to be true” or “the perfect child” Whines and fusses when tired or needy, when parent is distracted or on the phone.
Goes to sleep alone in a dark room and doesnt make a peep allnight. Waits in bed in the morning until parent retrieves child. Doesn’t want to go to sleep, especially alone. Wakes in night and calls for parent. Gets out of bed or
calls for parent in a.m.
Does not expect or ask verbally or non-verbally for help or to have needs met, even when frustrated.
An older, verbal child may express need in an overly adult fashion ex. “We have a problem here…”
Expects and demands help frequently and usually vocally.
Is exceptionally persistent and never shows frustration with task. Becomes frustrated several times a day and lets parent know.
Has minimal or no facial/body expressions beyond a serious gaze or is “happy all the time”.
Child is either completely controlled or falls apart, often without any gradual shift.
Child has a variety of moods and feelings conveyed by a range of facial and body expressions including sad, mad,
puzzled, tired, thrilled, irritable. throughout the day even if generally even tempered.
Cries or vocalizations all sound the same regardless of need. Has different cries or sounds for different needs.
Child doesn’t appear to notice or feel temperature changes. Never cold: no goosebumps or shivering. Child shows signs of cold and notices temperature changes.
Child ignores wet and/or dirty clothing or diapers. Child shows signs of disliking dirty or wet clothing/diapers and often alerts parent to fact after 8 mo.- 1yr.
Appears unaffected by transitions or changes in routine or major moves from one location to another.
May have a delayed reaction hours or days or after event. Or, is unable to handle transitions including small changes without
“falling apart” i.e tantrums, withdrawing, becoming clinging etc.
Reacts to changes of routine with protest after 6 months of age, and to larger
changes with clingyness and sleep disruptions.
Child (10 months or more) shows no concern when parent leaves the room. Child cries, fusses, watches parent, and may follow parent who leaves the room after age 6 mo.
Child plays alone without checking back with parent or expecting attention, often for long periods of time. Child plays briefly alone after walking is established, but checks in frequently and runs out of “parent juice”
within 10 – 30 minutes.
Child uncomfortable with dependent relationship, rejects parent’s help and takes care of self in ways
that indicate child doesn’t expect to be cared for by adult, i.e. refusing to let parent hold bottle for child,
ignores parent when being changed or dressed.
Child enjoys and is comfortable with dependence on parents and shares caretaking tasks i.e. holding bottle together, makes eye
contact when being changed.
Child uncomfortable and may avoid with physical closeness especially with parent and/or seeks closeness indiscriminantly with other adults. Child enjoys, seeks, and prefers physical closeness with parent.