What's in a Name?
by Kirsta Grapentine (aka, Christa McGrape)
In The Adoption Resource Book, the author relates a short vignette about a child who was adopted from India. The child came to America with two pennies from his homeland, the shoes on his feet, and his name. The coins were eventually lost, the shoes outgrown. All the child has left from his past was his name.
For many children coming into the child welfare system, their birth names are all they have to connect them to their pasts. These pasts have all too often been filled with abuse, neglect and loss. It is often tempting for an adoptive family to want to shelter the child from these negative experiences and make them their own by changing the child's name.
Research has shown that a child can recognize and respond to his or her (first) name by age six months. Most child development experts and psychologists discourage families from changing a child's name after 12 months because most children have at that point developed a sense of self-identity, which is tied to their name. Experts note that it is particularly hard for preschool-age children to adjust to a name change. During this stage of development, self-identification is so closely linked to a child's name that changing that name often gives the child the notion that he/she is an entirely different person. It makes it more difficult for the child to integrate past experiences into the present.
When it may be appropriate...
There may be times when it is appropriate to change a child's first name. Obviously a child with the legal name of "Baby Boy" needs a more personal, name. Other situations may include a child being adopted into a home where there is already a child with the same name; when a child's first name, coupled with the adoptive parents' last name, leaves a child open to embarrassment or ridicule; or when a child has a name that may be associated with negative connotations. In some instances, a child may wish to have their name changed because they view it as an easy way to break from the past. In these cases, time should be taken to help the child understand that a name change will not make the past disappear, and that the child is not a "new person" because he/she has been adopted. Whenever a child's first name is changed, even for an infant, it is important for the adoptive family to record and keep the original name for the child's future reference.
When a name is to be changed, there are a number of ways to help make the transition easier. Informing the foster family or agency of the new name, and asking them to use that name with the child, will help the child get used to the name in familiar situations. Choosing a name that sounds similar to the child's original name may also make the change easier.
It is not uncommon for adopted children to have more than one middle name. Incorporating the child's original first name into his or her full name still allows the child to maintain part of their past identity. This is especially true of a foreign-born child whose name may have been changed because it was hard to pronounce. In some cases, calling a child by a nickname may be easier than a legal name change. It can be something that the adoptive family has given that child, and the family and child can use it as that child feels comfortable with it.
Whenever a child's name is to be changed the child should be consulted, especially if they are older, and should be helped to understand why the change is being made.
Children also need to be prepared for the change of their last name. Although a change in the surname can also be threatening to children, when they are helped to understand that sharing the same last name is one way of letting people know that they are part of the same family, the child usually feels more comfortable. Older children, especially teenagers, should be consulted as to whether or not they would like to take the adoptive family's name. Again, in some cases, incorporating the child's original last name into their middle name or hyphenating the last name, may be a healthy way of blending the child's past into his or her present.
Most adoption experts agree that if a last name is going to be changed, the child's new surname should be used when the child is placed in a home for adoption. However, because the child's name is not legally changed until finalization, schools and other institutions may be reluctant to use the new surname on official documents. Children should be prepared to deal with this type of confusion.
Although changing an adoptive child's name is part of the claiming process by a family, special attention should be given to the motivations for changing a child's first name. A name change should meet the needs of the child, not solely that of the family's.
Helping Children When They Must Move, Vera Fahlberg
The Adoption Resource Book, Lois Gilman
Making Sense of Adoption, Lois Melina
Raising Adopted Children, Lois Melina
Parenting With Love and Logic:
Teaching Children Responsibility
by Foster Cline, M.D., and Jim Fay
Through October/November, 1999, we will be exploring Cline and Fay's book, "Parenting With Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility." We hope the insights presented here, and in their book, will help all parents to better understand their children -- and themselves.
Raising a Responsible Child
by Nancy Jennings
Kids -- you gotta love 'em.
One thing we as parents love to do is help our children. "Here, let me do that for you," or "No, it's okay, I've got it." Of course, there are always those times when it's just easier to do it ourselves, right? How many times do we want to wash chocolate cake mix off the walls because little Sarah forgot to turn the hand-mixer off before she lifted it out of the bowl? Or who wants to have to re-mow the lawn because Jared missed half of it? I know in my house, if the laundry isn't folded just right, I can lie awake all night worrying about it...
But part of our job as parents is to teach our children responsibility, so as adults they can take care of themselves (of course, I'm hoping I can teach my children proper clothes-folding techniques in the next four years...) We don't want to be taking care of them for the rest of their lives; we hope to send them off to college, or out into the world, with the gift of being able to cook for themselves, do their own laundry, and hopefully keep their dorm room or apartment reasonably clean.
Cline and Faye offer "Love-and-Logic Parenting Pearls" to help us show our children basic responsibility -- in ways that use "natural consequences" are teaching tools.
Pearl 24: Pet Care
Many of us have brought home cute little puppies, kittens, birds, hamsters fish or reptiles at the behest of our children. "I promise I'll take care of it," they say. "I'll play with it and feed it every day, and change the litter/cedar shavings/water whenever it needs it. I promise!"
And, of course, they often do as promised -- for a while. Then the pleas begin: "Can you walk him for me, Mom? Cindy wants me to go to the mall," or "I hate changing the litter -- it's gross, and I won't do it anymore!"
So, how do you teach your child about the responsibilities associated with pet care?
Cline and Fay point out that you can't force a child to care for an animal; sometimes, the only recourse is to give the pet to someone who will care for it. This, too, can be a learning experience. "I'm sorry, Jacob," you can say. "But you made a promise to take care of Lulu when we brought her home. Her litter needs to be changed, and you're not doing it. She's not being fed or played with like you said you would, either. I think maybe she needs to go to a family who can take care of her the way she needs to be cared for."
Cline and Fay share an example of a mother who said to her children, " I only feed four mouths." If her daughters hadn't fed the family pets by dinnertime, then the four mouths would be Mom, Dad, the cat and the dog. The mother would explain to her children, "You're not eating dinner tonight, because I had to use my energy to feed the pets." Then she would give her children a kiss on the cheek and say, "We're going to miss you at the dinner table!"
Other times, working with your child to care for the pets can make it more enjoyable -- for them, as well as for you. Instead of engaging in a battle: "Henry, get in here and feed the dog right now!" how about, "Henry, let's feed the dog, and then we can take her for a walk together!"
Pearl 25: Picking Up Belongings
12-year-old Karen has more toys and clothes and belongings than a department store; her motto has become, "If it's not on the floor, I don't own it." Karen's parents take their lives into their own hands each and every time they enter her bedroom -- to wake her up, give her her clean laundry, etc. And when guests are invited over, Karen just shoves her things to one side and hopes no one breaks a leg.
Cline and Fay believe that modeling is the secret to instilling a sense of responsibility about personals belongings. "Our kids will do as we do. Unfortunately, some parents can't blame their kids for not picking up their toys. Mounds of clothes drape the chairs of the master bedroom, and it took two hours to find the mower in the garage the last time the lawn needed a trim. These parents don't take care of their own belongings. As kids enter the stage in their lives when they want to be big and feel big, they imitate the big people in their lives -- us."
Until children are in school, cleaning up their rooms should be a community effort; after that, they should be able to take care of their things by themselves. If the mess is confined to their room, try not to make too big a deal out of it -- closing the bedroom door works wonders. However, if every time you cross the living room you trip over a wrestling figure or errant trombone, it's time to take matters into your own hands.
With my children, I use the Threat of the Garbage Bag. I
tell my son, "It's ten o'clock in the morning right now. You have the
rest of the day -- until midnight tonight -- to clean your room. This is what
my idea of clean is," and then I give him a list of what I want done
-- dirty laundry down the chute, toys put away in their labeled containers,
trash in the garbage can, etc. "Whatever is left," I continue, "goes
into this black garbage bag."
The first time we did this, my son dallied around all day; at 10:30 at night, he started to make a concerted effort to get his Ninja Turtles into their carrying case. By 11:15, he was asleep on bed (atop a pile of diecast cars, no less).
The next morning, I entered his room and began placing everything that wasn't put away into the black garbage bag. As he woke up, he noticed what I was doing, and began to whine. I reminded him of our discussion the previous day and that he knew what the consequences were going to be. He settled back into bed and watched me spend an hour collecting items -- clothing, toys, books, anything I could get my hands on. When I was done he asked me when he would get the items in the black bag back. I said, "I don't know -- maybe when you start taking care of what's left, I'll know you're responsible enough to take care of what I have in here."
Over the next couple of days, he threw numerous fits when he realized I held captive his favorite t-shirt, his remote-control car, his new Goosebumps book, and various other items. Each time he complained, I reminded him of the responsibility he has to care for his things. Eventually, he started taking better care of what he had left -- and was able to get back everything in the black garbage bag.
On the flip side, it taught him another valuable lesson: there were things in that black bag he didn't miss, didn't even realize were gone. As he got back these items, he would say to me, "Gosh, guess I didn't really need this after all." It has given him a reason to think twice about some of the items that he purchases -- and makes us think twice before buying him "just one more thing."
Pearl 37: Television Watching
Cline and Fay believe that we must be aware of our own television habits before we start to worry about controlling our children's. If we're apt to turn the television on at 8:00 in the morning and watch until David Letterman is over, we certainly can't blame our children for the amount of TV they watch.
Again, we as parents have to model for our children. They will do as we do
"What we can do, however," they point out, "is influence our kids. A generous dose of humor does wonders. Pushing on their heads as they watch television and declaring, 'Well, it's not too soft yet,' sends them the message that too much television will turn their brains to oat bran."
Giving your children a fun alternative to TV can also be a help. Offer to show them how to make bread or bake a cake; teach them how to crochet or knit; have them help you build a birdhouse; offer to play a game of Scrabble or Chinese checkers. Take them to the library, to the park, to the museum -- anything to get them off the sofa and moving.