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Prying Preteens

How to help your middle schooler cope with curious JoAnne Solchany, Ph.D.

Is he adopted?" "How much money did you have to pay for your daughter?" "Is it weird that he looks so different from you?" We've all heard questions and comments like these over the years. They take us by surprise, bring up our defenses, and, at times, break our hearts. We have a difficult time dealing with them, so how can we prepare our children to hear—and respond to—the same things?

Responding in Kind
Children from nine to 12 have developed the ability to link thoughts, impulses, and behavior. They are beginning to understand motivation and intent. In other words, they can figure out why people do what they do or say what they say. Just as you have, they may find themselves dealing with nosy peers, some who are sincerely interested in adoption, and a few who are just mean-spirited. The challenge lies in knowing how to respond.

• Explaining adoption. Understanding that most people do not have bad intentions is important to put things into perspective. Your children's friends' conceptions of adoption may be based on things they've heard, books they've read, or movies they've watched. They are curious to find out if the picture they've formed is valid.

When innocent curiosity is the motivating factor, encourage your children to educate friends about adoption, based on the talks you've had within your family. Correcting mistaken assumptions or sharing his knowledge about a process that many adults know nothing about can be empowering.

• Deflecting nosiness. No one wants their child to be rude, but we do want him to be assertive and able to set healthy boundaries. Our children need to learn how to ignore, how to avoid certain people altogether, and how to center themselves before they respond. They need to know they can say, "I don't want to discuss that right now," "Ask my mom and dad," or "I'll get back to you on that."

When responding to "clueless" questions, some kids find a natural outlet for their humor. My daughter is Caucasian and my son is Latino, with beautiful, latte-colored skin. When a friend asked me, in front of my children, why one was so light and the other so dark, my son responded that he was born at night and his sister in the daytime. The kids laughed and the questions stopped.

• Dealing with teasing. Kids this age can be judgmental, and may say mean things to each other about any perceived differences, adoption-related or not. Our tweens can handle mean-spirited comments with the same dismissive replies they give to nosy questions. But they need to know that, if the teasing doesn't stop, they can seek our assistance and/or go to a teacher at school.

If our children feel good about being adopted, if it is not a secret or an "Achilles heel," they'll be able to brush off intrusive questions and see thoughtless teasing for what it is. Helping our children manage these situations without being rude or mean in return helps them to develop self-confidence and pride in who they are.

JOANNE SOLCHANY, PH.D., ARNP, is the mother of two adopted children. She provides counseling and consultation in the greater Seattle area.

Having some ready responses will help your preteen handle nosy questions. Let her know that she can answer differently, depending on who's asking, the questioner's tone, and her own mood and personality. Role-play a few scenarios with her.

"What happened to your real mother?"
"The correct term is 'birthmother' and I would rather play Xbox (or listen to music or talk about Twilight) than discuss that right now."

"How come your mom adopted you? Couldn't she have any children of her own?"
"That is her business. I don't even want to know that kind of stuff about my mom!"

"If I was adopted and did not know who my parents were, I would kill myself!" (An actual comment made to my daughter in sixth grade)
"That's just dumb, I love my family. Last year we went to the beach and…."

"What's it like being adopted?"
"It's just normal. You know, lots of famous people were adopted, like Ice-T, Oprah, and that 007 guy (Pierce Brosnan). Angelina Jolie's kids were adopted, too."

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