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Talking to Your Child about Adoption

Young boy holding a bubble wand while his mother blows bubbles.One of the questions on every adoptive parent’s mind is how do I talk to my child about adoption? It can be a difficult conversation to start, but it is an incredibly important conversation to have. 

“Today’s adoptive parents face a big challenge,” writes Barbara Russell, Adoptive Families, “helping your children achieve a level of comfort and confidence with their adoption. And the most effective way to accomplish that is by talking about adoption to your children.”

It’s a delicate subject and one that must be treated with the utmost love and kindness.

How and When to Talk to Your Child About Adoption

“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.

Early & Often

“Some parents may feel they are ‘off the hook’ if their child doesn’t bring up adoption very often,” says Jayne Schooler, author and adoption advocate.. “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.”

The longer an adoptive parent waits to bring up the topic of adoption, the harder it gets for both parent and child. “Our general philosophy is tell them early and tell them often,” says Tom Swanson, a North Carolina dad of four adopted children. This helps normalize the subject, and repetition helps the child better absorb concepts surrounding adoption.

“We’re asking children to try to understand complexities about their adoption stories that sometimes adults can’t understand,” says Debbie Riley, MFT, executive director of the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE) in Silver Spring, Maryland. “Sometimes the information is too emotionally laden for the child. 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.

Age-Appropriate Storytelling

It is important to tailor the conversation to the individual child. For example, if your four-year-old asks you where they came from, “use a storytelling technique and language that can be grasped by a four-year-old,” says Susan Fisher, MD, co-author of Talking With Young Children About Adoption. Then, allow the adoption conversation to grow along with the child. 

“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.”

Stick to the Facts

“Developmentally appropriate storytelling doesn’t give you license to replace missing facts or soften harsh ones,” says Russell. As adoptive parents, you may want to make it better and take away the loss and pain. However, it is important to stick to the facts – do not alter reality or bend the truth.

Stay Positive

It is important to be honest, but it’s also important to stay positive. In many instances, how we speak is just as important as what we say. This is why 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. For example, rather than referring to the biological mother as “first mother” or “natural mother,” we refer to the biological mother as the “birth mother.” This indicates the role of the birth mother as the individual who gave birth, which is an integral part of the adoption process. Terms like “first mother” and “natural mother” insinuated that the adoptive mother is “second” or “unnatural.”

Have More Questions?

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. Adoption Makes Family was founded to meet the needs of birth parents and adoptive parents in a manner that is sensitive, compassionate, and personal. If you would like our advice or just need to talk, please give us a call at any time.

24-Hour Hotline 410-683-2100

If you have any questions, you can contact us by phone at 410-683-2100, by e-mail at dr.kirschner@adoptionmakesfamily.org or use our online contact form.

Sources

 

  1. Brenoff, Ann. “8 Things Adoptive Parents Should Never, Ever Do.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 3 Nov. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/7-things-adoptive-parents-should-never-ever-do_b_6043650.html.

  2. Callahan, Nicole M. “Adoption Advocate.” Dec. 2011.

  3. Russell, Barbara . “Talking About Adoption with Your Adopted Child.” Adoptive Families, 22 July 2016, www.adoptivefamilies.com/talking-about-adoption/talking-about-adoption-with-children/.

  4. “When Should We Tell Our Child That He Was Adopted?” Parents, https://www.parents.com/parenting/adoption/parenting/when-should-we-tell-our-child-that-he-was-adopted/.

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