Ask AF: When Children Face Adoption Questions and Stigma at School

"After my daughter told classmates that she was adopted, they responded that they 'feel sorry' for her. What can I do to help?"

Adoption Experts answer your questions.

Q: My nine-year-old daughter started at a new school this year. It is diverse, but there are not a lot of other adoptive families. She’s gotten non-stop questions about being a different “color” from her parents and, when she told a group of kids that it’s because she was adopted, they said they “feel sorry for her.” She does not want a classroom presentation about adoption or any more attention brought to this, but she’s clearly upset about it. What can I do?

A: It is so frustrating when we can’t just make things better for our kids.

As children get older, they may want to address more and more situations on their own. Fortunately, there are ways you can help in this situation while still respecting her boundaries. Rather than give a presentation to her class, consult with the teacher to make sure he or she is aware of these comments and the hurt they cause, and help him or her prepare some supportive responses when these comments are made in his or her presence.

Talking with your daughter may seem more difficult, but it is important for her to be able to talk through what is most hurtful about these questions and comments. She may feel some inadequacy about your family or she may be internalizing adoption as something she caused rather than a choice made by adults. She may be concerned about how peers view her. The comments may have inspired new questions about her birth family, and it could be an excellent opportunity to share any additional information you may have with her. If your daughter seems hesitant to open up, try talking while in the car or during some other activity when eye contact is not required. This tends to make it easier for kids to volunteer the things they are thinking.

( is a private practice counselor in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is the author of The Bully Book: A Workbook for Kids Coping with Bullies and the organizing editor for the soon to be published It’s Not About You: Understanding Adoptee Search, Reunion, & Open Adoption. Brooke was a founding member of MLJ Adoptions, Inc., where she served as the VP of Social Services for seven years. She is a Young Professionals Advisory Board member for The Villages, which is Indiana’s largest not-for-profit child and family services agency, serving over 1,400 children and their families each day.

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