Many adoptive parents struggle with how and when to talk with their child about adoption. Dealing with the challenge of how to tell children their adoption story is a very common one, and something that parents around the world deal with each and every day. At some point, all children, whether they are adopted or not, become curious and start asking questions about where they came from so that they can better understand who they are. Because every child is different and every story is unique, there isn’t a definitive “right” time to tell children their adoption story, but it is best to begin the conversation about adoption as early as possible. From the very beginning, even if they are too young to fully understand, make it a point to tell children how wonderful it is that they joined the family through adoption. This will help to reinforce that adoption is a positive event and something to be celebrated, not avoided.
Using the word “adoption” regularly and when it feels natural can also be helpful so that it doesn’t become unmentionable or taboo. Talking openly and honestly about adoption, starting in infancy, makes everyone feel more comfortable and accepting. Continuing to talk about adoption in developmentally appropriate ways as children grow gives parents practice with what to say and how to say it, especially when their children start asking more pointed and difficult questions. No parent is perfect, and there may be times when you don’t feel like you said all the right things. As long as you keep the lines of communication open, your child will feel comfortable coming to you with questions and concerns, and you can be there to provide support and guidance.
Some Helpful Tips:
Read Adoption Books – As children grow, reading books and sharing stories with them may help them understand the fact that they were adopted and what it really means. There are a multitude of adoption themed children’s books that parents can use as a vehicle for discussion.
Create a Memory/Life Book – Keeping a memory or life book of pictures, artifacts, and events can be a very helpful tool for facilitating discussion about foster care, adoption, birth family issues, and identity.
Be Patient – It is important to be patient and understanding as your child begins to grasp what it means to be adopted. Acting frustrated, defensive, or closed off when your child has questions or expresses concerns will only serve to push him away at a time when you want to draw him closer. Children usually begin to understand the concept of pregnancy and growing in a mommy’s tummy first, and then begin to ask questions about themselves as they start to develop a more sophisticated understanding of family and adoption.
Be Open and Hones – Honesty is key. You most definitely want to be truthful, but you also want to make sure that you don’t share more than they can handle, and that the information you do share is developmentally appropriate. You don’t have to explain everything at once and risk overwhelming or confusing them. You can slowly introduce them to all the information as they get older and can comprehend and process more. The most important thing is to start the conversation early, and to be available to continue the dialogue over time.
For more tips and strategies, join us on Saturday, December 7, 2013 from 9:00 am – 12:00 noon for our parent education seminar on “Talking to Your Child about Adoption”.