When Your Kid Clams Up

Talking about adoption can be tough for preteens. Make sure you keep your door open for whenever they're ready.

Talking about adoption can happen at any time

Once upon a time, Josh was quick to respond when his mom started talking about adoption and asked about his feelings. Around his 11th birthday, all that changed. If Carol mentioned the word “adoption,” Josh would sullenly reply, “I’m fine and I don’t want to talk about it.” Carol didn’t know what to do.

What’s Going On Here?

As children enter their preteen years, their ability to think in abstract terms increases dramatically. They really comprehend the meaning behind the words of their adoption story. At the same time, they’re striving to be successful and industrious in school, in sports, and with same-sex peers.

They want to be capable and to be similar to their friends. If adoption makes them feel different, they may try to avoid the subject.

In addition, preteens are concerned about fairness. Attention to the rules in game-playing with friends reveals this mindset. They also worry about the fairness of adoption — that they are not being “fair” to their parents if they have feelings or questions about their birth family, particularly if they sense discomfort in their parents. This is why Josh became reluctant to discuss his adoption and birth parents.

3 Things You Can Do

When children aren’t talking about adoption, don’t assume they aren’t thinking about it. Instead:

  1. Look for “reachable/teachable” moments. It’s generally healthy to keep the dialogue going. While your child should not be forced to discuss adoption-related issues, keep letting her know that you’re open and comfortable with the subject when she is ready. You might occasionally remark about your child’s skills, looks, or interests, indicating that some of these attributes probably came from her birth family: “You play the piano so well. I wonder if anyone in your birth family has musical talent. Do you ever wonder about that?”
  2. Be alert for “anniversary reactions.” A child may be especially somber around his birthday or adoption day. Instead of allowing him to suffer in silence, anticipate sadness, and help him express it: “I always think about your birth mother around your birthday. Do you think about her too? Do you have any questions about her that I could answer?”
  3. Let children know they can love two sets of parents. Preteens may feel disloyal to their parents if they have questions, or even emotions, about their birth family. Assure your child that you expect her to love both you and her birth parents. Explain that parents do not stop loving a child who is already there in order to start loving a child who has just arrived. In the same way, children can love more than one set of parents.

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