When Kids Deny Their Adoption

During the preteen years, some children deny their adoption as a defense mechanism. Here's how to deal and help them through it.

Preteens can have self-confidence issues around their adoption

Fran didn’t usually listen to her 11-year-old’s phone conversations, but this time she did. Callie was talking to a new friend. And Fran heard something that greatly disturbed her.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Callie insisted. “Who told you I was adopted? That’s just not true!” Fran was flabbergasted. Why would Callie deny she was adopted?

Actually, such adoption denials aren’t uncommon. They’re the refuge of many preteens who are struggling with self-esteem and identity issues. Why don’t kids this age want to share the truth?

They don’t want to be different. The family is no longer the social axis for your preteen. It has been superseded by the world of his peers. This is an uncertain, ever-changing world, where being in the “in” group today doesn’t necessarily mean you will be there tomorrow. It is a world where kids are hyper-vigilant; always reading signals to find the answer to the question, “How can I be popular?” One of those signals is “don’t be different.” So they’ll dress and wear their hair like their friends, and in some cases, insist that they are non-adopted, just like their peers.

Preteens often don’t know how to handle intrusive questions, which may be another reason your preteen is denying her adoption. She may think, “If I deny my adoption, no one will ask questions that I can’t or don’t want to answer.”

What can parents do?

  • Try not to overreact. Remember, this is a developmental stage for all children.
  • Be attentive to your child’s mood changes. Notice how he talks about adoption at home.
  • Learn to ask questions beyond ones that will elicit a yes or no. “Son, when someone asks you about being adopted, how do you feel? What do you want to say to them?”
  • If your preteen does not have contact with other adoptees, consider a support group.
  • Arm your child with verbal tools. Liz McCallister, an adoptive parent from Ohio, knew that someday her two children from Korea would be broad-sided with questions. She equipped her children, Peter and Megan, with a respectful response. When asked an intrusive question, they simply say, “We only talk about that at home.”
  • If adoption isn’t discussed much at home, she may feel a sense of shame due to secrecy. Bring it up early and as often as necessary.

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