It’s one of the most common questions people have about adoption: “How do I explain it to my kids?” Whether you’re an adoptive parent, a birth parent who relinquished a child, or a friend or family member with children, adoption is never an easy subject to discuss with kids. Here are a few of our tips for approaching this topic in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner for all children.
Even though toddlers and young children don’t know what it really means to be adopted, it’s important to begin the discussion of adoption early to pave the way for later conversations. At a young age, explaining adoption to children is all about telling a story. Indeed, telling children their “adoption story” is a great way to have them engage with the idea of adoption early on. Here’s a basic adoption story you can share with your young children:
- Adopted children have a mother and a father; they are born just like everyone else.
- They grew inside their mother and experienced birth just like everyone else, but their birth parents weren’t ready to be parents yet.
- Adoptive parents love their adopted children very much, and want to give them a home and a family.
- Adoption doesn’t make them any different from any other child – the story on how they came to be with their parents is unique.
Along with this story, be prepared to explain some of the more factual aspects of adoption, such as why an adopted child might look different from his or her parents. Even very young children can perceive physical differences between themselves and their adoptive parents.
Older Children and Pre-Teens
By the time children are in school, they’ve begun to grasp some of the more advanced concepts of adoption, such as the idea that their birth parents must have made an adoption plan on purpose. By this age you’ll need to be ready to answer lots of “how” and “why” questions, like:
- How does an adoptive family know they love an adopted child?
- Why didn’t the birth parents want their baby?
- Why couldn’t they work harder to keep their baby?
- How did the adoptive parents choose their child?
Older children may deal with the realities and uncertainties of adoption in many ways. They may romanticize their birth parents or fantasize about their “real life.” They may grieve for the family they lost. Or, in some cases, they may shrug it off entirely. Every child’s reaction is different, and you’ll need to tailor your answers and approach accordingly.
One thing to keep in mind during this time is that this stage of the adoption dialogue often sets the tone for future interactions and feelings. If you are closed off, evasive, or vague about the questions your child asks, he or she may turn to other sources for information, such as friends, other adults, or (increasingly) the Internet. If you want to remain the primary source of information and perspective, you’ll need to keep an open and honest dialogue from the start and ensure your child feels comfortable talking to you.
As children enter their teen years, they generally have a complex, adult-level understanding of what adoption means and how it works. However, they may still have trouble coping with the topic on an emotional, personal level. Teens feel emotions much more strongly than adults, and it’s common for them to become more distant and withdrawn during this stage of their lives.
The exact nature of your child’s attitude toward adoption depends in large part on how you handled it earlier in life. Indeed, some teenagers are remarkably accepting of their being adopted. However, even in teens with a good disposition towards adoption and their adoptive parents, questions and problems can still remain.
The biggest obstacle many teens face is a need to investigate their history and learn about their adoption story. This could present itself in several ways:
- A desire to seek out or connect with their birth parents (in closed adoptions) or spend more time with them (in open adoptions).
- An effort to connect with their cultural or ethnic heritage, especially if the child is of a different ethnicity than their adoptive parents.
- A developing interest in other adopted people and their stories.
In short, no two adopted children will approach the issue of adoption the same way. This is why it’s especially important to be communicative and to leave yourself open for questions. This process can be painful for parents – in many cases they may witness their own children longing for the parents that placed them for adoption rather than the home they’ve known all their lives. In these situations, remember this response is totally natural and even expected. While it can hurt, we should always show love, compassion and acceptance to our kids.
Resources and Help
Adoption is never a journey you can undertake by yourself, and that doesn’t stop being true after the adoption is finalized. Outside support and help can make your child’s adoption experience easier as well. Here are a few ideas for where to find assistance and guidance for how to present adoption to your child:
- There are many books written to provide support and guidance to adoptive parents at every step of the adoption journey. Here is a short list of a few, but there are many more available in bookstores, libraries, or online.
- Online forums and discussion groups let you meet with other adoptive parents around the world and talk about strategies.
- Counseling and support groups provide a safe place for you or your child to talk over adoption-related issues and get a different perspective.
If you want to learn more about adoption and being an adoptive parent, contact us today at Deaconess Pregnancy & Adoption. We’re Oklahoma’s oldest and most experienced adoption agency, and we offer a variety of adoption support services. Call 405-949-4200 today, or visit our Facebook page to get more adoption advice and help.