What's on Their Minds?

As grade-school kids learn more about adoption, they begin to ask more questions. How do you respond?

Tackling Common Childhood Fears About Adoption

When my daughter, Sun-Jia, was eight, she surprised me one day by blurting out, “Mom, do you think my birth parents will come back to get me?” At first I was confused, unsure of why Sun-Jia was asking. But as I gently probed, I discovered that she was wondering aloud whether her birth parents were alive and whether she held a permanent place in our family.

A Search for Answers

Preschoolers live largely in a fantasy world, lacking the ability to completely understand adoption. But by the time they enter grade school, they have a firmer grasp of the world around them. They begin to realize that they have two separate families, and can grapple with what that means. Your child may ask questions that are puzzling, or whose answers seem obvious. But what he is really trying to do is make sense of his adoption and tackle common childhood fears.

How Can You Help?

Ask your own questions. If your child asks, “Do you think my birth parents will come back to get me?” you might respond, “Can you tell me what might happen—or how you would feel—if your birth parents appeared at our door?” As your child answers, you will get a better sense of her concerns. She might be thinking, for example, “I’m afraid of losing you, just like I lost my birth parents.”

Be reassuring. Children need to know that no one can take them away from you—that adoption is a legal and permanent commitment. Show your commitment through your actions and words.

Be honest. Some grade-schoolers understand that many mothers are parenting their children despite hardships in their lives. Your child might say, “June’s mother is poor and doesn’t have a husband. How come she kept June, and my birth mother didn’t keep me?” Rather than go into lengthy explanations, simply explain that your child’s birth mother had some “grown-up problems” she couldn’t resolve, and she chose to give her child a more stable life through adoption.

Allow for fantasies. By age six, a child can imagine life with her birth parents as the “road not taken.” She may fantasize about how much better life would have been with them, particularly when you set limits. She might say, “My birth mother wouldnt make me go to bed so early!” Rather than dismiss her comments, make her birth parents your allies. You can reply, “I think your birth mother would want you to get plenty of rest so you can be healthy and strongjust like I do.”

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