Starting the Adoption Conversation
Keep talks with your child simple and relaxed. Your ease with discussing adoption lays the groundwork for a lifelong dialogue.by Fran Eisenman
Talking to young children about adoption is an opportunity to shape attitudes and expand knowledge before influences outside the family come into play. Such discussions build self-esteem and give a sense of safety and security to a child. Every child who was adopted should be able to talk about it. This is true even in placements where the child resembles the parents and adoption is not evident to observors. In such cases, parents are not likely to have adoption-related conversations with strangers in public places—and their children miss chances to listen and learn.
Preschoolers are concrete thinkers. They see things as either black or white, and cannot appreciate the gray areas in between. They interpret what is said to them literally; metaphor and innuendo are lost on them. They do not have the experience or the abstract thinking to see the bigger picture. It is no wonder that parents struggle to find just the “right” words to launch this childhood-long conversation.
Sometimes the best way to talk about adoption is to use a common experience as a teaching tool. For example, a mother and child are talking about a neighbor’s puppy. As the child expresses her feelings about the puppy, the mother can point out how young animals, like young humans, need care day and night. Someone must protect and shelter them. This might prompt the child to think about what it might have been like if the puppy had no one to take it to the vet, or keep it warm. Together, mother and child could share their relief and joy that this puppy now has a home and eveything it needs to grow up healthy and happy. Casually, accompanying her words with a hug or quick kiss, the mother can say that children need care too, and that she is thrilled to be a mother to her child. Thus, a casual observation about an everyday event becomes a feel-good lesson about adoption for the child.
Other teachable moments occur when a child notices a pregnant woman; hears comments on differences in his appearance from a parent; or when a new baby comes home, either by birth or through adoption, to a family you know. Use calm and snuggly times, like bedtime or reading time, to share the story of how the child came to be adopted into his family. Pleasant emotions are associated with the words, creating a foundation for later exploration of more complex issues.
Fran Eisenman is a New England-based social worker with two internationally adopted children.
PHOTO: Isabel (3, U.S.) sees the ocean for the first time with Mom, Debbie.
Starting Adoption Conversations with Your Preschooler
• Use simple language and examples familiar to children (like pets or neighbors).
• Keep your tone casual and relaxed.
• Accompany discussion with feel-good actions: snuggles, smiles, laughter.
• Use positive adoption language.
• If you’re questioned by a stranger about your child, say that you'd love to chat, adoption has been great for your family, but this is not a good time. If appropriate, take the person’s phone number and offer to call later. Your upbeat response lets your child know the topic is not taboo, while protecting his privacy.
• When you talk with your child about adoption, end with an affirmation of how happy you are to have adopted her.
©2012 Adoptive Families. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.
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