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Improving family relations with adopted minorities is child's play, says BYU study

Regular involvement in low-cost, home-based activities may be the best way for families with adopted minority children to improve emotional closeness and mutual respect, say Brigham Young University researchers.

Patti Freeman and Ramon B. Zabriskie, professors of recreation management and youth leadership, report the results of their study of 197 such families this week in the Therapeutic Recreation Journal. The researchers looked at the influence of different types of family recreation in promoting togetherness and flexibility in familial relationships where minority children have been adopted.

"A lot of recreation concentrates on challenging group activities and outdoor adventure experiences that include perceived risk," says Freeman, herself a mother of two children from Ghana. "Although such activities often result in short-term successes, in our study we found that low-cost, common, everyday activities contribute more to overall family functioning among adoptive families."

Findings do suggest, however, that a regular combination of both types of activities -- those that are out-of-the-ordinary as well as simple activities in the home -- makes a more valuable contribution to family life and may help families develop the skills to be happier, healthier and more prepared for future family challenges.

"Playing a board game, throwing a Frisbee, reading together, planting flowers or cooking together -- these are the kinds of activities that we found to be essential in promoting higher family functioning," says Zabriskie. "Combine them with an occasional big family vacation or a weeklong wilderness trek and you have an even stronger recipe for familial success."

Suzanne Stott, board member of the Salt Lake City-based support group Families for African-American Awareness and executive director of an adoption agency, is mother to 11 adopted minority children.

"Many Caucasian parents don't completely understand what these adopted children go through," says Stott. "It is important for these special families to learn to develop close relationships of support and communication which will help them develop a positive identity."

Zabriskie and Freeman are optimistic that families can do just that.

"Adoptive families often see the increased need for cohesion and work hard to achieve it," says Zabriskie. "If successful, they commonly have higher levels of closeness and solidarity than traditional families."

Writer: Kristin Prina

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