For many adoptive parents, the prospect of discussing adoption with their child is a scary one. How will the child react? Will the news impact your relationship with your child? Will your child resent you for not telling them sooner? There are so many unknowns that some parents push the discussion further and further, which only makes things more difficult.
“Parents have to be proactive, intentional truth tellers,” says Jayne Schooler, author and adoption advocate.
The fact that your child was adopted should never be a surprise they discover later in life. Adoption isn’t some scary secret you should hide from your child.
It is important to be upfront and discuss your child’s adoption story, and the sooner you discuss adoption with your child, the sooner you can grow as a family.
How to Tell Your Child They Are Adopted
“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.
Start the Conversation Early
Talk to your child about adoption “early and often, and don’t wait for the child to bring it up every time,” says Nicole M. Callahan, National Council for Adoption. This type of honesty will only strengthen your relationship with your child.
Keep the Conversation Going
This type of conversation shouldn’t be a one time discussion.
“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.”
Your conversation about adoption should be ongoing – evolving over time as your child grows. When your child is young, “lay the foundation by teaching children what adoption is,” says Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of NCFA and a former adoption agency director. Then, “gradually share more age-appropriate information until the child reaches a full understanding, and continue the process throughout his life.”
Establish a Trusting Environment
Let your child know that it is okay to come to you with questions about adoption.
“Adopted children will ask the questions about adoption that they feel they have permission to ask,” says Schooler. “Parents have to think about how they communicate and what kind of environment they are establishing.”
Remember, adoption is complex and, sometimes, difficult for young children to fully understand.
“Sometimes the information is too emotionally laden for the child,” says Debbie Riley, MFT, executive director of the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE) in Silver Spring, Maryland. “Developmentally, he might not have been able to process it.” So, it is important to be willing to talk to your child whenever they have any questions.
Remain Positive and Upbeat
Positive Adoption Language, first created in 1979, is the preferred language used by Adoption Makes Family. Positive Adoption Language encourages respect for the emotions of all parties during the adoption process. “Positive adoption vocabulary helps to ensure that adoption is viewed as a wonderful way to build families,” says Angela Tucker, The Adopted Life.
This positive, upbeat attitude should also carry over to the way you discuss your child’s birth parents, which can be a difficult subject for some. However, 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 Ann Brenoff, Senior Writer/Columnist, The Huffington Post. So, it is important for parents to be able to answer these questions in an open and respectful manner.
Need Someone to Talk to?
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