How to Talk to Young Children About Adoption: For Adoptive Families

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You and your child each have a unique “life story.” The narratives of your lives weave together both things that have actually happened to you as well as your internal experience of those events and create the subjective sense of life. According to the most current research in neurobiology, the ability to know and make sense of your story is essential for well-being, happiness and resilience. For an adoptive family like yours, each of you has a story that began before you came together. As a parent, you will have many opportunities to help your child understand and make sense of his story. Embracing your child’s natural curiosity will set the tone and encourage on-going moments of knowing, understanding and healing.

You can learn a great deal from “tuning in” to your children, and imagining the world from her point of view. Attuning to your child is a gift that will continue to benefit your family.   The following are some tips to talk to young children about their adoption experience.

  • Use age-appropriate, “real” language remembering that intellectually, adoption is a complex concept that will take a child time to comprehend. Adoption is a lifelong process. You are laying the groundwork for your child to begin understanding adoption while creating a welcome space for your child’s feelings.
  • Children intuitively pick up on verbal and non-verbal cues from you – so allow yourself to get comfortable with the topic of adoption. Consider the option of therapy, to help process your feelings.
  • Separations and transitions often create anxiety for adoptees. Let your child know what to expect, when you’ll pick him up, arrive home, etc, and be intentional about following that schedule. Before a new experience, act out what will happen with play or drawings, to provide reassurance.
  • Include children’s adoption books in your collection of bedtime stories. This is often a time when kids feel like talking.
  • Likely, one of the first questions your child may ask will relate to birth or where she came from. “Mommy, did I grow in your tummy?” may already sound familiar. Young children are literal so use facts. Your answer might sound like, “You didn’t grow in mommy’s tummy. You grew in your birthmother Sara’s tummy.” The more clear and concrete you are the better. This might be all your child wants to know at the time. That’s okay - follow-up questions will come soon. 
  • When possible, immediately answer your child’s questions to let him know it’s okay to talk about adoption. Timeliness conveys the message to your child: “I won’t hurt mommy’s and daddy’s feelings with my curiosity.”
  • If your child was adopted after birth and spent time in foster care, include information about where she was before you became a family. It’s not unusual for children to fabricate stories when they don’t have the truth. Consider creating a life book with your child. Include whatever she choose: pictures of her birth family, foster parents, travel memorabilia, etc. There are no rules!
  • In adoption-related conversations, convey the permanence of your current familial situation, to strengthen your child’s sense of security. Let your child know that your family is his or her “forever family.” 
  • Support groups are a great way to gain knowledge and insight about adoption. Groups for adoptive parents and adopted children provide validation, guidance and a “feeling felt” experience. Start one in your community!

 

Keep in mind, as your child gets older, his questions will evolve and become more complex. At the same time he is searching for answers and processing feelings, he’s highly aware of your reactions. He is hoping you’ll respond with honesty, and the assurance that you’ll stay present to help him navigate the waters of his experience as he continues to author his powerful individual story.

 

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