Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Emotional Themes within International Adoption Children's Books

Academic journal article Michigan Family Review

Emotional Themes within International Adoption Children's Books

Article excerpt

International adoption is a significant process for parents1 and children (Suter, 2008). In addition to the obvious change (one or more children are added to a family), adjustments might be made in physical and psychological space (Janning, Collins & Kamm, 2011) as parents adapt to the roles of motherhood or fatherhood (Curtis, Blume & Blume, 1997-1998) and children adapt to multiple changes in most aspects of their lives (e.g., Pinderhughes, 1996). Children might be too young (e.g., infant, toddler) at the time of adoption to fully comprehend the event, yet they are likely to have some awareness. Adoptees can recognize a change in caregivers or environments, even if they do not understand the reason for the change (e.g., Murphy, 2009). Changes can be more dramatic in international adoptions. For example, Chinese adoptees and U.S. parents might face linguistic barriers to their communications. In addition, it should be noted that racial/ethnic/cultural differences (in Chinese-US transnational adoptions) might add to a sense of unfamiliarity among children and adults (e.g., Royle, 2004).

Under these circumstances, it can be helpful to consider the emotional reactions of children and parents to the adoption process. Information about these processes can be provided in a variety of venues, including children's books. The purpose of this study is to examine emotional themes in children's picture books about international adoption. Song (2004) noted that books are the resource most commonly used by adoptive parents. These books can describe the logistics of the process, so that children receive an explanation of how adoptions occurred. Perhaps more importantly, the books identify the common changes in family relationships and interactions (e.g., Grice, 2005). As adoption is an elongated process with many unknown elements (e.g., how long it will take, who the adopted child will be), this process can evoke many emotional reactions (e.g., Leon, 2002; Suter, 2008). Parents might also not know or be able to gather information about the child's birth family (Ponte, Wang & Fan, 2010). Thus, the families might face doubts, questions or moments of trepidation that do not occur commonly in other family formation patterns (Miall, 1987; Raible, 2008). In addition, children's questions and identity issues can occur years after the adoption has been completed (Ponte, et al., 2010). Thus, the books can serve a retrospective function in helping children understand the ways adoptees and parents respond to various aspects of the adoption process.

In addition, the books are consistent with narrative psychology principles, in which individuals and families create meaning through the stories that they share (in oral or written form). Books for very young children can address serious themes and provide models for psychological growth in response to new information (e.g., Dyer, Shatz, & Wellman, 2000). Narratives about family formation are particularly important to adoptees (e.g., Kranstuber & Kellas, 2011), and some remember the adoption books that were read to them in early childhood. Indeed, some adoptees have described the ways in which the books continue to influence (in adulthood) their images of themselves and their families (Jue-Steuck, 2011).

If the books address a range of emotions, then books might be a valuable resource to validate the children's and parents' experiences. Indeed, such books have been recommended by adoption agencies (e.g., Families with Children from China, 2011; Little Miracles Adoption Services, 2012), public periodicals (e.g., Parents Magazine, 2012) and clinicians/service providers (e.g., Kavanaugh & Fiorini, 2009). Based on the premise that children's self-concept is affected by the words/images that they see in fictional texts, researchers have conducted content analysis on issues such as racial and gender representation within the books (e.g., Roethler, 1998; Taylor, 2003). …

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