Toddler adoption gear: gifts, registering, and what to buy

Registering for my pre-adoption shower was one of the best experiences in my waiting-to-adopt phase because it made me feel like an expectant mom. I was so excited to take hold of that little hand-held scanner at Target and "beep" away to my heart's content, imaging my little boy putting every item to use.

Not sure why I didn't look pregnant? 
When John and I arrived at the store on that magical day, I was beaming as I approached the registry counter. "We want to start a baby shower registry!" I announced happily. The young woman behind the counter paused for a moment, looked at my non-pertruding belly and asked slowly, "Okay.... um, when are you due?"

Ha! It turned out that she herself had been adopted and when we told her we were adopting, she gasped in delight, making up for her earlier bewilderment. She helped us get set up and then right before we took off into the store, handed us our "registry gift." If you've ever registered for a baby, you'll know how totally unhelpful this "gift" packet was for us; it contained: a newborn diaper, breast pump bags, a formula sample, and breast pads.

Wohmp whomp.

We also registered at an independant children's store in town and our "gift" at that store was a coupon for a free mold of our baby's footprint before 6 months of age. Thankfully, I was so happy to be registering, I just smiled and said thank you.

Today, though, I am reaching back to that experience I had over a year ago and- with all the knowledge I have gleaned over the last year as an adoptive mom- I am offering you my own creation: a guide for registering for toddler adoption. If you are a first time mom adopting a toddler, you deserve to have a special list created just for you! No more editing those stock baby registry lists. No more wondering what items you should and should not scratch off. A list especially for toddler adoptions!

This list is fairly minimalist. I am a big advocate of living simply, especially in parenthood, so while there are many fancy gadgets to help you in your parenting journey, you won't find many here. This is bare bones with just a little bit of skin.

At the end of this post, I've provided an abbreviated list.

*Disclaimer: Some of the items listed below are to be used for therapeutic purposes. I am not an expert. I am an adoptive mother and these recommendations come from my personal experience and what I have learned from other adoptive moms about toddler adoption over the last year. Please consult a pediatrician, therapist, or other healthcare professional if you have any questions regarding their safety.*

Household Essentials and Toddler Proofing Items

Crib or toddler bed
     mattress pad (to protect mattress from leaks)
     warm blanket
Night light
High chair
Meal time items like sippy cups and non-breakable plates
Gates for any stairways
Latches to keep little hands away from cleaning chemicals and sharp objects
Toddler proof door latches to keep your escape artist inside when you're in the bathroom!
Outlet covers

Sensory/Expressive toys:

I polled a number of my adoptive mama friends and these toys were the most recommended:

Bath toys and bubble bath
Aquadoodle (we love this one! Painting with any mess!)
Sensory bins (check out Play at Home Mom for ideas)
Blocks and building toys like Duplos
Dolls and stuffed animal toys
Paints, crayons, papers and other crafts
Outdoor ride-on toys
Doctor kit to model and play before you take your child for an exam

Therapeutic Items: 

A weighted blanket or lap pad. Toddlers coming especially from institutionalized settings often have a hard time calming their nervous systems down. Whether as a result of past trauma or neglect or simply due to the enormous life change their adoption ushers in, they go into "fight or flight" mode. Weighted blankets are simply what they sound like: specially designed heavy blankets. The pressure helps little bodies calm down and relax enough to go to sleep.

You can also buy smaller lap pads to help restless littles ones sit comfortably at the table, on an airplane or in the car, or in church, for example. Please research the correct blanket weight for your child. I purchased two of these blankets for another adoptive mom via etsy seller Studio Minkyz and was thrilled with the quality. There are many great sellers out there with all kinds of designs so you can get creative with your choices!

John wearing our toddler size Kinderpack by Kindercarry
Baby wearing gear: "Wearing" your child after adopting is a wonderful way to promote bonding for both of you. When our son came home we used an Ergo brand carrier and then switched to a toddler sized Kinderpack from Kindercarry once he was too big for the carrier. I loved both but I would recommend the Kinderpack over the Ergo since soft structured carriers can be expensive and the bigger size of the toddler kinderpack will last many more months/years than the ergo.

Essential oils  Toddlers who were left alone in their crib or put to bed without a soothing routine will likely arrive home with some self-soothing techniques like rocking and thumb-sucking. Parents should not necessarily try to stop a child from self-soothing, but should slowly offer other or additional more positive soothing techniques as the child matures. We spray water mixed with lavender oil on Arie's pillow before he goes to sleep. He loves this part of our bedtime routine! 

There are not very many safe over-the-counter cough and cold medications for toddlers with colds. One of the ways I give relief to my little guy when he is stuffed up or coughing is to add geranium oil, eucalyptus oil, and lavender oil to his bath. It is important to use a correct dosage with essential oils. I use and recommend the book The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy

Picture Album As you familiarize your child with your new family, using a photo album complete with pictures of your child with new family members will be a great tool to tell your child her story and re-emphasize the fact that you are now a family forever! Once you are through the initial busy-ness of becoming a new family, do some research on "life books" and try creating one for your child! 

Clothing Essentials: 

Buying and receiving clothing for your new child might be one of the most fun parts of your new parenthood! You might not know exactly what size your child will wear so err on the side of buying items that are too big. They will always grow into it! In case clothing is not really your thing, here's a list of bare essentials: 
  • 7 pair of socks
  • 10 pair of underwear, unless your child is in diapers. I love these thick toddler underwear by Gerber. 
  • 7 bottoms (pants/skirts/shorts depending on the season) 
  • 7 tops 
  • 2 sweaters
  • 2 pairs of PJs 
  • 2 pair seasonally appropriate footwear 
  • Coat and hat (in winter: 2 pair mittens, 2 hats, snow pants)

Medicine Cabinet:

Children's acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Children's ibuprofen (Advil)
First Aid Kit with bandaids, antiseptic cream, etc
Homeopathic cough & cold medicine (Homeopathic because most cough and cold medicines for children are not approved for toddler age. I like Hyland's brand.)
If your child is not used to being in the car, you may want to buy some anti-nausea meds.


Adoption storybooks: There are many, many great adoption books out there! My favorite general adoption book for kids is God Found Us You. If you can, try to find a book that features adoption from your child's specific country or that features a child adopted domestically/from foster care. Our favorite Russian Adoption book is Mishka: an adoption tale. Lastly, if you adopt internationally, I recommend finding English language books that take feature folk tales or are set in your child's birth country. This is a great way to honor your child's (and now your family's!) heritage. My husband and I recently discovered a Russian folk story called The Miraculous Child for Christmas time and reading it will be a new tradition in our family for the holidays!

"First Words" book: If your child is a bit older you might think these books are too young, but especially if your child is learning English these books can be awesome! Your child will use them both to express needs to you and to learn new, often used English words. Try look for one with "lift the flaps" which will add another dimension of learning.

For parents: My two favorite adoption books for parents are Toddler Adoption by Mary Hopkins Best and Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray. I found myself referring back to these books time and again as Arie and our family went through different phases of attachment. Attaching in Adoption was my single greatest resource and I recommend it to all parents adopting toddlers!

Toddler cookbook: In general I think it is better to introduce new foods as they are so your child will recognize the ingredient and learn to appreciate the taste. However, for little ones who may be undernourished and need good nutrition and lots of calories now, check out Jessica Seinfeld's recipe book Deceptively Delicious. I especially loved her avocado chocolate "pudding" recipe for packing in the calories and healthy fats!

Here's an abbreviated shopping list: 

Now it's your turn! Have you adopted a toddler? What would you add to this list? If you usually comment via facebook, please also leave your advice in the comments below so other readers returning to this page can benefit from your wisdom! Many thanks to you and my sincere congratulations to all you soon-to-be adoptive parents out there!



  1. Jill, this is so helpful, thank you! Toddler adoption of South African children by South Africans is so rare that when we do hear about it, we want to support that family as much as possible. In South Africa, children over the age of 18 months are hardly ever adopted and grow up in children's homes. It breaks my heart that a life sentence is effectively handed down to a child when he or she is still in nappies! Your family story warms my heart!

    1. You're welcome! My heart also breaks when I hear that. 18 months is so young; way too young to be sentenced to such a dire future. It is the same in Russia; adoption is rare and when it happens it is almost always and only infants who are adopted. I pray the people of South Africa are convicted and equipped to bring these deserving children into their homes!

    2. Amen to that! Very grateful to the many Americans who have adopted South African children who would have otherwise lived their lives in childrens' homes,

  2. Thanks so much for this! I haven't started a registry for our kiddo yet since we don't know how old he is (or even if he's a he haha), but I still purchased a few of these items for him for Christmas anyway. I LOVED the inclusion of the doctor kit and weighted blanket—wouldn't have thought of those.

  3. I am crying reading this!

    Thank you so much for sharing! My husband and I are adopting a 2 year old, and we just got our referral. So now is the time to buy things, and this week I am going to register at Target. Thank you for the list, it is super helpful. :)

  4. Thank you for this post! We are adopting a toddler as well, and he will be coming home when he is around two. This list is super helpful!

    We are also planning on registering on Etsy for various room decor (we're doing a superhero-themed room)

  5. We are adopting toddlers as well. 3 siblings to be exact. I have been struggling with our registry for quite some time now. When I started looking at the different registries online.. big surprise.. they are more geared towards newborns. I wanted to scream. Your list is a godsend Thank you so much.

  6. We had the same problem when registering, in addition to our family being stuck on "baby, baby, baby!!"...so when we had to put a "due date", we put April 1st. April Fool's, it's a toddler!!

  7. Anonymous5/02/2015

    Thank you very much. We are adopting a little girl from China who is already walking! Your list and blog are helpful. Thank you!

  8. Anonymous7/10/2015

    I am a grandparent of an adopted child - it's a long story that I won't enter into here ;-) Reading these helpful and loving ideas warms my heart. This is such a wonderful way to share your experiences and ideas that helped your youngsters with others just embarking on this journey. God bless you, and your children, many times over. Love and support to you and your family.

  9. Thank you so much for putting this together! We are adopting two boys from foster care and am trying to set up a registry and it's frustrating because we don't need diapers and bottles! Our boys will be 4 and 5 and this has given me a few things that we might need that I didn't think about! Your blog finally came up on the 3rd page of searching for help on what we need to buy when we are adopting 4 and 5 year olds and it was the only thing so far that was relevant! Thank you for sharing and for making me feel like I'm not alone in this process of registering for adopting older-ish kids!

  10. Thank you so much for putting this together! We are adopting two boys from foster care and am trying to set up a registry and it's frustrating because we don't need diapers and bottles! Our boys will be 4 and 5 and this has given me a few things that we might need that I didn't think about! Your blog finally came up on the 3rd page of searching for help on what we need to buy when we are adopting 4 and 5 year olds and it was the only thing so far that was relevant! Thank you for sharing and for making me feel like I'm not alone in this process of registering for adopting older-ish kids!

  11. Fantastic info. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  12. Thank you for compiling this list!

    We are in the process of adopting a toddler from Poland. We have one son already, but he is 8, so I've been having a hard time sorting out what items we will need and what we won't, because they are for newborns.
    I would also highly recommend a good baby monitor. I appreciated having one with our first son because it gave me freedom to move through the house but the ability to respond him when he woke up from naps, etc. From what I understand, this is especially true for children who will come home with some level of attachment issues: they need to feel like they can reach you and get a response to their needs. :-)
    Blessings on your family.

    1. Marbree,
      We're also adopting a toddler from Poland! Would love to connect if you're interested!

  13. Oh my gosh, so glad I found this!! We are adopting a 2 year old boy from Haiti. He will be home in about six months. Wanted to do a registry for any showers we may have.


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