Explaining to your son or daughter about their adoption may feel intimidating. Immediate concerns of when is the right time arise, coupled with how much detail is appropriate. Worries surrounding how they will react intermingle as well. All of these are natural.
When to Tell Them
Research shows that starting the conversation early to establish a familiarity around the topic is optimal. Before the age of five, adopted children need to know that they are adopted and are living with their forever families. When curiosity heightens after that, further detail can be added. It’s important that the concept of adoption is introduced before the questioning stage occurs, and that you, the adoptive parents, are the first ones they hear it from. Having them learn, even by happenstance, that they’re adopted from a friend or another family member is devastating.
A preset foundation will largely influence how further conversation will go in later years. It will also let your son or daughter know that it’s ok to talk to you about it.
What to Say
Depending on their age, your son or daughter may ask anywhere from, “Mommy, did I grow in your tummy?” to “Why was I given up? Was I not wanted?” Be sure to keep your explanations simple, direct and honest. Age appropriate, too. If there is sensitive information regarding their background, save that for when they’re older and can digest it better. Explain that you chose to adopt them and include any details you know about their birth parents – even if it’s only that their birth parents weren’t able to support them. Definitely emphasize the reasons you choose them, and the process it took to welcome them into your home.
Accentuate that there is nothing wrong with them. That adoption is permanent, and that you are their parents now. Reinforce that adoption is a positive thing, and that their adoption doesn’t affect how much you love them.
Encourage your son or daughter to share their thoughts and feelings, and to ask any additional questions. Remember to be sensitive if they immediately react out of confusion, anger or hurt. The concept of being adopted can be difficult to fully grasp and accept. They may need time for all the information to sink in before responding. Should anxiety or insecurity arise, give lots of reassurance.
Above all, when you decide to tell them – it’s their time. Silence phones and turn off the TV. Distractions or hesitation can cause the assumption that adoption is bad, and can hurt their identity. Adoption is a vulnerable subject. Make it as comfortable and open as possible by giving them your undivided attention. It’s a major moment in their life.
If you are struggling with how to approach the conversation, don’t be afraid to seek help from a counselor.
Your Adopted Child’s Needs
Deep down, all adopted children have insecurities that intertwine with their development and identity. Each one correlates into how they see themselves and how they interpret their world. It’s completely natural.
First, they want to feel like they belong. This one is huge. Adoption, unfortunately, comes with precursory feelings of rejection and abandonment. When adopted children first begin to experience the associated emotions, they need to know without a shadow of a doubt that you are there for them wholeheartedly. Some will test your limits as reassurance they won’t be abandoned again. Others may withdraw to see if their presence is missed. This behavior can be seen as defiant or rebellious, but that’s a gross misinterpretation. Beneath it all, your son or daughter is trying to sort out an insecurity – to see if they belong. Communicating openly with your child about how happy you are to have them will help diminish the feelings of abandonment and enhance the sense that they are meant to be with you.
Second, they want to be loved. Another precursor adoption has are feelings of shame and worthlessness. It’s vital for adopted children to know that they were loved for them, and that they aren’t a replacement for a child who never was. Losing a biological child is the worst experience a parent can go through; but, adoption is not a substitute for grief. Even if that’s your motivation for adoption, allowing yourself time to grieve is better long term for both you and the new child. Otherwise, your adopted child’s life may question your love for them, and if they are competing with the child that passed away.
Third, they want to be accepted no matter what. Allow them to be whoever they are – without judgement. Gay or straight, black or white. Applaud their identity, support their hopes and dreams, and encourage their growth. As adoptive parents, you play an essential role in how your child feels about themselves. You can help shape or shatter your son or daughter’s self-worth with your words or actions. Saying how proud you are of them you goes a long way.
Best rule of thumb: be open, honest, and start early.
Introduce the word during infancy and go from there. Don’t wait for your child to come to you. Open the lines of communication yourself. Show them that it’s normal and ok to discuss their origin. Their self-esteem and identity will benefit from it as they develop, and they will thank you later.
editors, parents.com. “When Should We Tell Our Child That He Was Adopted?” Parents, Parents, 6 Dec. 2017, www.parents.com/parenting/adoption/parenting/when-should-we-tell-our-child-that-he-was-adopted/.
“How to Tell Your Child She’s Adopted.” Parenting, 24 July 2014, www.parenting.com/article/how-to-tell-your-child-shes-adopted.
“How to Tell Your Child They Are Adopted.” The Importance of Communicating with Teenagers – Family Lives, www.familylives.org.uk/advice/your-family/fostering-adoption-kinshipcare/how-to-tell-your-child-they-are-adopted/.
Johnson, Lesli. “10 Things Adoptees Want You to Know.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 13 Mar. 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/lesli-johnson/adoption_b_2161590.html.
“When to Tell Your Child About Adoption.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/adoption-and-foster-care/Pages/When-to-Tell-Your-Child-About-Adoption.aspx.