As an adoptive parent sometimes it can be hard to know what to say and when to say it when talking about adoption with our child. It is vital, however, to keep those lines of communication open from the very beginning. Sharing the information we have with our child will ultimately build self-esteem, strengthen family bonds, provide ‘expert’ information and fulfill our child’s right to know what we know. When you withhold information, it can hurt your child’s self-esteem, cause mistrust, anger and dissatisfaction.
So, you ask, WHEN should I share and WHAT should I share:
Infancy (0-3) – Tell them their story often; model correct adoption language; learn their history; read them books about adoption.
Preschool (4-6) – Look for opportunities to talk about adoption; reflect any questions they ask you so you are answering them appropriately (i.e. – where did I come from may just mean where was I born); be positive, but realistic; let them tell their story – not you; continue to read them stories about adoption or have them read to you.
School Age (7-11) – Give them space not to talk; make yourself available; tell them all that you know age appropriately; help them find answers to any questions they have. If they aren’t asking questions try dropping comments – “Your birth mom would be so proud of you, you are such a great kid”. This lets them know you are thinking about their adoption and it is OK for them to too.
Early Teens (12-15) – Be their parent, not their friend; keep your cool; continue to tell them all you know as opportunities arise.
Late Teens (16-19) – Provide a safe haven; let them search at their own pace if that is their desire. It is better to do this while they are still living in your home and under your care and guidance.
How do you keep the lines of communication open? Start early and don’t stop. My children will tell you that there was never a time they can remember when they didn’t know they were adopted. They didn’t understand it completely, of course, but they were aware and comfortable with it. Be sensitive to developmental stages. Educate yourself as to what is normal child development, what is a possible adoption issue and what could be a combination of both. Always be honest. Sometimes you may need to initiate conversations. Listen for the feelings behind the question or statement (grief and loss??). Don’t judge it and don’t try to fix it – their histories are what they are. Be that safe place for them to express feelings without judgment. And finally, learn from your mistakes. None of us are perfect parents!
Do you have any additional communication tips that have worked for you? We’d love to hear them.
Adoptive family groups — Attend our Support Group! Call the office to inquire about the next meeting!
Traditions – Homecoming day; entrustment ceremony
School Assignments – are great opportunities to discuss adoption
Visits to the child’s adoption agency, hospital, birth country or foster family
Their Adoption Story – is the best resource of all. Celebrate it!