Ask AF: "Was I Bad?"

The AF expert explains how to reframe an adoption story so kids don't misunderstand what placement means.

Q: Our eight-year-old has been telling his classmates that his birth mother “gave him up” because he was “bad.” When I spoke with him, he denied that he said it. I reassured him that, yes, he sometimes misbehaves and is punished, like other children, but he’s not bad. Should we be concerned?

A: When young children talk about adoption, they usually parrot the story their parents have told them. Around age seven, children begin to understand that their birth parents are real people. They wonder what they are like, and begin to question why they were placed. Most children of this age tend to think in absolutes, and view things as either good or bad. With this in mind, it is easy to see why a child might associate misbehaving with being “bad” and having been “given away.”

Your son’s recent talks with classmates signal that it’s time to find new strategies for discussing adoption. The positive adoption language model suggests that we use the term “made an adoption plan,” but a child may still think the words “gave up” or “couldn’t handle.” It is important to address what, exactly, your child believes happened to him. Now’s the time to reinforce the fact that a plan was made because of his birth parents’ circumstances at the time, that they would have placed any baby, and that there wasn’t (and isn’t) anything wrong with him.


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