Adoptive parents are commonly concerned about how to discuss adoption with their children. A child’s feelings about adoption can impact his self-esteem and sense of self-worth. So, it is logical that parents want to handle these conversations with care and share the adoption story in a positive light. Below are some tips and suggestions for having these conversations with your child.
Kids will often give you a perfect opportunity to discuss adoption when they begin asking questions like, “Where did I come from?” This allows you to discuss birth, reproduction and adoption. It’s best to allow children to inquire about these things rather than inundating them with unsolicited information. If your child does not ask questions, and you feel it is an appropriate time to begin these discussions, you can ask them questions to get an idea about their feelings on these topics.
Discussing Adoption With Young Children (Toddlers and Preschoolers)
At this developmental stage, kids think very literally and have little capacity for logical reasoning. They believe the entire world revolves around them. Their egocentric nature provides a perfect chance to begin telling their adoption story, because it is, after all, about them. They probably won’t fully comprehend the meaning of adoption at this age, and that is fine. Their adoption story should include a few basic pieces of information:
- Their birth was just like everybody else in the world.
- They grew inside another woman’s tummy, but she was unable to be a parent.
- You, however, really wanted to be a parent.
- You adopted them, and they will always be your child.
- Remember to add details explaining how spectacular the moment of their birth was, just like the moment of their adoption. They will notice the excitement and joy in your voice as you describe their entrance into the world and your family.
Ongoing dialogue is very important. Be prepared to tell and retell your child’s adoption story. Repetition is the key. Parents frequently overestimate their child’s ability to understand and absorb information. They are probably not going to “get it” the first time you have this conversation.
Discussing Adoption With School-Age Children (Middle Childhood, Ages 5-11)
At this developmental stage, kids understand that families are created in different ways. They know that most people are born into a family, and others enter families after they are born. They comprehend the definition of adoption.
At this point, kids start to experience feelings of confusion and may have a sense of loss and even anger about being different. The primary question they have at this stage is, “Why?” They wrestle with the circumstances of their birth and the choices their birth mother made. Common questions include the following:
- Why didn’t she get a job if she couldn’t afford to raise me?
- Lots of people are raised by single parents, why couldn’t she do it alone or get married?
- Why didn’t she have someone teach her how to be a mom if she didn’t know how to do it?
These questions represent a child’s effort to understand the birth mother’s choice. Children don’t quite grasp the complex nature of such a decision. They may grieve for the family they didn’t have, just as many adoptive parents grieve for the biological child they didn’t have. This is completely normal. Kids cope with these feelings in different ways:
- Denial or defensiveness.
- Openness and desire to talk about it.
- Anger and disruption.
- Unconcerned or uninterested.
No matter how your child handles his adoption, it’s crucial that you keep the conversation going. Try to address some of the issues he is having by explaining the complicated nature of adoption. His oversimplification of the situation is often the cause of confusion. The adoption experience changes over time, and so will your discussions about it. As your child grows, your conversations will expand in depth.
Discussing Adoption With Adolescents and Teens (12 to 18)
All children at this age, whether adopted or not, begin to assert their independence and distance themselves from their parents. Identity formation becomes more complicated if an adopted child is lacking information. You can help your child by offering information and allowing exploration. This is often when conflict arises because the adoptive parents become uncomfortable with the child’s need for answers. It’s important that you keep an open mind and assist your child in gathering information.
- It’s important to let the child know how much his birth mother loves him, and the bravery it took for her to place him for adoption.
- Include visuals in your discussions. This may be through a yearly visit with the birth mother or through photographs.
- Most communities have support groups to help adoptive families and children navigate the adoption journey.
- There are therapists and counselors trained specifically to help adoptees and their families.
- Many books have been written for children of all ages to help them process and understand adoption.
There is no precisely correct way to discuss adoption with your child. The most important factors are simply allowing your child to have feelings, being prepared to discuss them, and keeping the conversation open. Contact Destiny Adoption Services for more information and assistance.
Author: Destiny Adoption Services
Destiny Adoption Services is proud to support and guide birth parents and adoptive families on the journey of adoption. We’re a state licensed nonprofit adoption agency with four decades of adoption experience, and our professional team of experts includes moms, adoptive moms and birth mothers who provide compassion combined with trusted resources and skills.