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Tips For Helping Your Child Cope with Intrusive Questions



When my daughter Hope started kindergarten at her progressive school here in diverse New York City, we were both taken by surprise by the persistent, direct adoption questions she faced from classmates, questions that adults would be reluctant to pose. I’ve since learned that her experience is virtually universal. Like my daughter, many adopted kids report feeling embarrassed, angry, and helpless in the face of continual questioning. Many never tell their parents or teachers what’s going on.

What parents can do:
1. Make sure your child knows she does not have to reveal personal information and has a choice about how to respond.

2. Empathize/Practice answers: “Sometimes it hurts the most when school friends don’t even realize that their questions make you feel bad.  Well, we can’t change them, but we can figure out answers.  Let’s see what we can come up with together.”

3. Find an older adoptee mentor.

4. Join an adoptee support group for your child. 

What to say?
Below you’ll find questions that adoptees are frequently asked along with strategies for responding. The answer your child chooses will depend on the situation, her relationship with the questioner, her mood that day.

Q: Why didn’t your real mother want you?
Ask a question: “Why do you want to know?”  “Are you asking why I was placed for adoption?” “What do you think?” “Do you want to know about adoption?”

Disagree: “She didn’t give me away. She gave me my parents.” “Of course, she wanted me. That’s why she made sure I was adopted.” “Actually I was always wanted.  My parents wanted me even before I was born.”

Confront:  “It’s an adoption thing. You wouldn’t understand.”

Use humor:  “It was an accident.  She turned around and a tornado came and before you knew it my crib was floating into the sky like in The Wizard of Oz and I landed here.”

“I’d love to tell you but my father, the king, does not permit it.”

“That’s privileged information. You don’t have security clearance.”

Divert:  “That’s a good question. Want some candy?”  “Don’t worry about me.  I’m fine.  Want to play on the swings?”

Educate/Explain: “Lots of kids join their families through adoption.”

“Some moms are too young to keep their babies.”  “I’m just lucky. I’ve got two moms.” “Don’t you know that millions of kids are adopted?” “The laws of China made her do it. It had nothing to do with me.”

Share: “My birthmother was too young” “I was born before she was ready.” “I really don’t know why but it must have been sad for her.”

Withdraw: “I’d love to tell you my life story, but I have to go home now.”  “I don’t really feel like answering  that.”  “It’s private.”

Q: Where do you come from?
Ask a question: “What do you mean?” “Are you asking where I was born or where I live?” “Where did your ancestors come from?”

Use Humor:
“Outer space.”

Educate: “I was born in Korea but I come from New York City now.”

Q: Is that your real mother?
Ask a question: “Do you mean my birthmother? No, I don’t live with my birthmother.”  “Are you asking about adoption?” “Who do you think it is? My fake mother?”

Use Humor: “She’s the one who makes me eat green vegetables.

Educate: “That’s my real mother—the one that adopted me.”    “You saw my real mother.  She dropped me off at school today.”

By Susan Caughman, with lots of help from Gail Steinberg (PACT, Richmond, CA, www.pactadopt.org), Joy Lieberthal (Adoptive Families), and Debbie Riley (CASE, Silver Spring, Maryland, www.adoptionsupport.org).


Copyright 2008 Adoptive Families magazine. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

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