Talking to Your Child about Their Adoption Story
“My children were born to other people,” writes Ann Brenoff, The Huffington Post. “It is natural that they should want to know about them, who they are, where they are, why they surrendered them.”
Normalize Adoption – Use Positive Language
“It’s important to keep in mind that adoption is not abnormal, nor should discussions about it be stressful for adoptive parents,” says Dr. Kathleen L. Whitten, Ph.D., author, developmental psychologist, and lecturer at Georgia State University. Adoption isn’t some scary secret you should stress over and ultimately hide from your child.
The fact that your child was adopted should never be a surprise they discover later in life. It is important to be upfront and discuss your child’s adoption story early and often. “Parents have to be proactive, intentional truth tellers,” says Jayne Schooler, author and adoption advocate. Adoption should be celebrated for what it is – a perfectly normal way for loving families to grow.
Callahan recommends talking to your child about adoption “early and often, and don’t wait for the child to bring it up every time.” It is also important to use Positive Adoption Language.
“Positive adoption vocabulary helps to ensure that adoption is viewed as a wonderful way to build families,” says Angela Tucker, The Adopted Life. This is why Positive Adoption Language, first created in 1979, is the preferred language used by Adoption Makes Family.
And it’s important to keep the conversation going.
“Some parents may feel they are ‘off the hook’ if their child doesn’t bring up adoption very often,” says Schooler. “But that’s the wrong way to think about it. Parents should bring up adoption themselves, as the best way of letting their children know that they are always happy and able to talk about it.”
Don’t Villainize the Birth Parents
For many adoptive parents, it can be difficult to talk about your child’s birth parents – almost as if their existence cheapens your relationship with your child. However, this could not be further from the truth. Still, it can a difficult topic.
“For many adoptive parents, it is easy to talk about their first meeting with their child, the first day they brought her home,” says Nicole M. Callahan, National Council for Adoption. “But the questions that adopted children have do not end—and may not necessarily even begin—with the day their adoptive parents brought them home. Some children may have endless questions about their birth parents and birth families.”
It’s only natural for adopted children to wonder about their birth families. “It’s a dark hole in every adopted kid’s heart that needs to be filled with some sunshine,” writes Brenoff. So, it is important for parents to be able to answer these questions in an open and respectful manner. “Parents have to think about how they communicate and what kind of environment they are establishing,” says Callahan. It is also important to “reassure your child that her adoption was because of a decision that had nothing to do with her as a person, and everything to do with her birth parents’ lives, concerns, abilities, etc.,” says Dr. Whitten.
Allow the Conversation to Grow with Your Child
As your child grows and matures, so should your conversations about adoption. This type of conversation shouldn’t be a one time discussion. It should be a continued dialogue – one that evolves over time as your child grows.
“You have to start out from the beginning with a clear plan,” says Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of NCFA and a former adoption agency director. “Lay the foundation by teaching children what adoption is, gradually share more age-appropriate information until the child reaches a full understanding, and continue the process throughout his life.”
Need Someone to Talk to?
Adoption Makes Family is here to help! We are a non-profit (501-C3) licensed adoption agency based in Maryland. Our adoption counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your convenience. If you would like our advice or just need to talk, please give us a call at any time.
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Adoption Makes Family was founded to meet the needs of birth parents and adoptive parents in a manner that is sensitive, compassionate, and personal.