At the beginning of each school year, our children may be objects of curiosity to new classmates who don’t know much about adoption. Questions can arise anywhere: at a playground, on the school bus, during a play date at a friend’s house. What inquiries might they encounter, and how can we make sure they’re prepared to handle them with confidence?
Understanding Adoption Basics
The key to preparing our children to deal with adoption questions is to talk about it openly, at an age-appropriate level, as they grow. Inconspicuous adoptive families sometimes assume a don’t tell policy. They fear that talking about differences, like adoption, will confuse or sadden their child. Actually, the opposite is true. Adoption is a fact of life for our families, whether or not it is obvious at a glance, and open discussion will keep it in perspective. Children who associate the word adoption with feel-good stories about how they came home and how much they are loved will not be traumatized by questions.
During the elementary years, a general understanding about adoption should include the following:
- Families are formed in many ways. Adoption is one of them.
- All babies are born. Some of them live with the adults who gave birth to them, and some are adopted by other adults, who become their parents forever.
- Some adults who give birth to babies cannot take care of them. When this happens, sometimes an adoption plan is made, and new parents are found for the child.
- Adoption is forever. A birth parent cannot take the child back.
- People usually look like the people they were born to. That’s why children who were adopted may not resemble the parents they have now.
Knowing Her Story
We can build a child’s sense of self by helping her to accept her life story matter-of-factly. It is appropriate for school-age children to know:
- Where they were born
- How old they were when they came into their permanent family
- Who helped you with the adoption plan
- The story of the day you met them for the first time
- The logistics of how they came home (flew, drove, and so on).
Keep your answers age-appropriate. Be careful not to say anything you’ll have to contradict later, but know that you can save complicated, negative details for future conversation. Six- to eight-year-olds cannot comprehend:
- Sad or troubling information about their family of origin (rape, drugs, neglect or abuse, tragedy). Simply stating that the adults they were born to couldnt care for them is enough.
- Details about your infertility or medical treatments
- Information about previous adoption attempts or disappointments
- Difficulties you encountered during the adoption process
- Negative information about their country of origin.
Role-play common questions and answers with your child. Help her devise responses that answer questions in general terms and don’t divulge private information.
Q: “Is that your mom? How come she’s white and you’re not?”
A: “My mom was born to people who have white skin. I was born to people who have brown skin. Then my mom adopted me.”
Q: “‘Adopted’ means your real mother didn’t want you. How come she gave you away?”
A: “Some people who give birth to babies can’t take care of them. My birth mother couldn’t take care of me, so a plan was made to find me new parents. My parents wanted a baby, so they adopted me.”
Q: “Where’s your real mother? Are you going back to live with her?”
A: “My mom is my real mother, and always will be. The person I was born to is my birth mother. I’m not going to live with her.” Or, “I live with my real mom, and sometimes we visit my birth mother.”
Q: “Do you speak Russian [Spanish, Chinese]?”
A: “I learned to talk here, so I speak English, like you do. Or, When I was little, I used to know Russian. But now I speak English, like you.”
Q: “My neighbor was adopted, but she’s Chinese….”
A: “A lot of children are born and adopted right here in the U.S., like me.”
Once your child is answering questions on his own, he might report adoption conversations to you. But if he doesn’t, you’ll probably want to check in once in awhile. Casually inquire:
- Do you and your friends/classmates ever talk about adoption? What kind of things do you talk about?
- How does it feel to talk about adoption with your friends?
- Would you like to practice how you want to answer some of their questions?
- Are there any other adopted kids at school or in your class? Does that make it easier?