Identity: The Way Children Develop

Understanding some basic human development helps better prepare adoptive parents for parenthood.

zimmerman-fig02_x008As they grow up, children balance between bonding with their caregivers and learning to become independent. Infants begin by learning to crawl and then walk. As infants become toddlers, they start to give nonverbal and verbal messages that express their wishes and opinions.

Up to about age 6, children absorb information rapidly, asking questions non-stop. They are able to think about being abandoned, getting lost, or no longer being loved by their parents.

They often have trouble telling the difference between reality and fantasy. At the same time, they experience separation from loved ones as they attend pre-school or daycare programs and broaden their interests and groups of friends.

The inner lives of children take shape between the ages of 6 and 11. From the security of their families, children begin to participate in more activities away from home. It is a difficult time.

Children must cement their sense of belonging to their family while mastering the knowledge and skills required for independence. Not surprisingly, by the time they become teenagers, their effort to form an identity feels overwhelming, and may lead to perplexing behavior.

Adoption adds complexity to parenting adolescents. Adopted teenagers may need extra support in dealing with issues that take on special meaning for them – identity formation, fear of rejection and abandonment, issues of control and autonomy, the feeling of not belonging, and heightened curiosity about the past.