What Should I Know about Children whose Emotional Ages are Younger than their Chronological Ages

Children who are adopted typically develop with emotional ages that are significantly younger than their chronological counterparts.  The reason for this comes as a direct result from being in hospitals and/or orphanages where the caregiver to child ratio is usually very low.  The children did not receive a great amount of individualized attention where they were able to experience reciprocal interactions, affection, or emotional support. Therefore, children who are adopted are usually emotionally stunted because they never properly learned how to do such things as communicate and socialize with others.
In this situation, it is important to meet the child’s needs at the emotional level.  For example, a five year old whose emotional development is delayed, may need to engage in those activities normally done by a two year old such as testing boundaries (e.g. throwing temper tantrums), thumb sucking and attaching to a favorite toy or object. Emotional development occurs in a sequential manner. This means that children need to master each stage before they are able to mature to the next.  There is no such thing as “skipping stages”.

All areas of development are interrelated.  The emotional domain will affect the cognitive, adaptive, communicative and social domains.  Therefore a child’s emotional well being must be secure for overall development to progress. Children must be able to understand their feelings before being able to communicate and socialize. For instance, children must be able to understand and accept the concept of sharing in order to successfully interact with their peers.

It is essential to build an emotional rapport with children.  Many professionals support the notion that emotional development is the foundation of how well a child will adapt to his/her new environment.  A child who is adopted, in particular, needs to build a strong level of attachment and trust with caregivers.  It is crucial for the family to provide stability and most importantly, unconditional love and acceptance.

One of the best ways to cultivate a solid emotional relationship is to spend quality time together doing emotionally age appropriate activities a child enjoys.  This will build a strong common bond. Furthermore, allowing a child to choose the activity gives him/her control over the environment, which is an excellent strategy that fosters emotional empowerment.  For example, you can offer the choice if they want to playing with playdough or using coloring utensils.  Once the preference has been stated, it is important that the choice is honored and executed.

In time, you and your child who is adopted will forge a lasting relationship.  However, there is no formula that can ever determine how long that may take, as it varies for each child and family.  Love, stability and above all else, patience will help to ensure the proper emotional development of your child.

Lilya Popovetsky, MA SpEd, CAS, SDA is the founder of A Multilingual Development Agency, a NYS approved Early Intervention agency for children from birth to three years in Nassau County, NY.    She obtained a Master’s Degree from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in Early Childhood Special Education, with a dual certification in General Education.  Lilya went on to complete two educational administration degrees from Hofstra University.