Discussions with Your Adopted Child: 5 Tips to Help

happy woman and childAdopting a child is a beautiful and wonderful thing to do. Whether you did so primarily because you were unable to have children of your own or because you wanted to generously open up your home and your life to a child in need, the fact is that the adoption was 100% your choice. So how do you convey this when you talk to your child about adoption?

Your adopted child didn't come into your life by accident. He or she wasn't a “surprise.” And there was certainly nothing “unplanned” about it. You made a very definite choice – no doubt after a considerable amount of thought, soul-searching, discussion, research, and financial investment – to love, care for, and raise someone else’s birth child. The effort and planning involved makes any adopted child particularly special. And that is the most important message you can convey to him or her. 

But how do you do that? When do you let your child know that he or she was adopted? And what should you say? 

Don’t keep it a secret.

If there’s one rule of thumb when it comes to adoption, it’s that you don’t keep it a secret from your child. It can be very devastating for a child to first discover in adolescence or adulthood that he was adopted.

It can also be very confusing, and even traumatizing, if a child finds out by accident, or from someone else besides you (like a sibling, or a kid at school).  Secrets damage trust, and trust is vital to any parent-child relationship. No matter the circumstances surrounding your child’s birth and why he was put up for adoption, it’s vital that you let your child know.

Start talking at an early age.   

While there isn't a hard and fast rule as to when you should first talk to your child about her adoption, most experts agree that this discussion should occur before your child starts grade school – at the latest.  Many recommend much earlier conversations, beginning around the age of three or four. That’s the age many kids start asking questions like, “Where do babies come from?” and more importantly, “Where did I come from?”

One of the reasons it’s important to have this discussion before your child gets into school is because you don’t want her finding out she’s adopted from another child. Kids are keenly observant. They’re also not discreet. They ask a lot of questions and can say hurtful things, whether they intend to or not. For example, if your adopted child is a different race than you or your spouse, other children are going to notice. They may say things like, “How come your mommy has dark skin and you don’t?”  or “My mom said that’s not your real dad.” It’s better to talk to your child before these issues come up. Once the damage is done, you can’t go back in time and fix it. 

Start the conversation early, both to build trust and prepare your child for awkward, confusing, or potentially hurtful situations. If adoption has never been brought up, your child will likely wonder why you didn't tell her.  She may worry that being adopted is a bad thing if you kept it a secret. 

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Keep conversations age-appropriate and honest.

While it’s a good idea to start talking to your child about adoption at an early age, you also want to be sure that the conversation is age-appropriate. For example, your six-year-old doesn't need to know that his birth mother gave him up for adoption because she was raped, or because she didn't want a child. You can, however, tell him that his birth mommy wanted him to live in a really good home with a loving family. 

Difficult issues surrounding why your child’s birth mother or birth parents made their decision (if known) can be discussed at a much later date – when your child is emotionally mature enough to handle that type of information. 

Secrets damage trust, and trust is vital to any parent-child relationship.

Your child will likely have a lot of questions about being adopted. Again, give honest, age-appropriate answers. Don’t avoid questions or make things up. Concrete, simple answers are best for young children. Because kids are particularly adept at catching you off guard, or asking questions at an inopportune time, it’s a really good idea to plan your responses in advance. Also, make sure you and your partner are on the same page in terms of what you tell your child. It will be very confusing – and lead to more questions and suspicions – if you give conflicting responses. 

While your natural instinct will be to protect your child from anything that may cause him pain, this does not warrant dishonesty. For example, using the rape scenario mentioned above; if your young child asks, “What about my daddy?” don’t try to sugarcoat things and say, “He really loved you and wanted the best for you, too.”  Chances are, the birth father never even knew about the pregnancy. Instead, you might say something like, “Your birth daddy wasn't there when you were born.”  It’s also okay to simply say you don’t know, if that’s the case.

Be prepared for ongoing discussions.

Be careful not to assume that one conversation about adoption is enough. This is a complex topic, and your child will likely want to talk about it from time to time. As your child gets older, more questions will come up. It’s a good idea to “check in” after a discussion about adoption, especially if your child hasn't said anything for a while. Open the door to a conversation, but don’t force the issue. Let your child know that if she has any questions or just wants to talk about it, you’re willing to listen. The worst thing you can do is give her the impression that her adoption is a taboo topic in your home. 

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Use books about adoption.

There are many great books available that help parents explain and talk about adoption with their children, starting at a very young age. Often written by professionals, these books are great tools to either start the conversation or talk further about the issue. Not only is reading a book together a great way to bond with your child, but books about adoption can also help you explain it to your child in the best possible way. Don’t hesitate to take advantage of them.

Many adopted children have a lot of conflicted feelings about who they are and where they came from.  Help them navigate the various emotions that arise by always keeping the lines of communication open.  You can’t protect them from the negative aspects of how they came into this world and why they aren't being raised by their birth parents, but you can let them know they are loved, cherished, precious, and valued. 

What do you think?

Discussions with Your Adopted Child: 5 Tips to Help

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1 comment

  1. thinking about adopting one day once i get married……so this really helped a lot. thanks 🙂

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