The following information was compiled by Angie Rhodes using sources such as Adoptive Families Magazine, Raising Adopted Children, Talking with Young Children About Adoption, Making Sense of Adoption, and Real Parents Real Children: Parenting the Adopted Child.
Talking to your Child About Adoption
- To answer your child’s questions.
- To help your child understand what it means to be adopted. They can’t move forward into the future unless they have a grasp of what happened in the past.
- To prepare your child for talking to/answering questions from other people about adoption.
- To communicate a willingness to talk about it. To establish an environment of openness instead of secrecy.
- To avoid “fantasy” – both good and bad.
- Fantasize that birthparents are celebrities
- Worry that birthparents didn’t want them because they were bad or cried too much.
- To give the child a positive sense of self.
- Positive sense of self gives comfort and confidence with adoption.
- “A child is influenced by adoptive family and birth family – and by his or her perception of his/her adoptive family and birth family.
- With the right attitude/demeanor. If adoption conversations are approached in a nurturing way, your child will trust and feel safe talking about it with you.
- Comfortable (if you are uncomfortable, discussions may be awkward or avoided. If children detect unease in discussing adoption, they may conclude that something is wrong with them.
- Non-defensive, non-threatened by questions.
- Keep things casual. Adoption conversations don’t have to be serious, sit-down, heavy talks.
- With the right tone of voice.
- A hushed tone can convey shame or secrecy.
- An elevated tone can convey anxiety or distress.
- From the beginning.
- The earliest years are good practice for when your child understands more, and you can get comfortable talking about it. Adoption language will become part of your lexicon.
- It won’t be an emotionally laden revelation for the child to learn later.
- Often enough that your child knows it isn’t a taboo topic.
- Often enough that you are addressing changes in understanding and emotions throughout different developmental stages.
- Not so often that s/he feels set apart by his/her “adoptedness.” Talking excessively can leave a child feeling that there is something wrong with being adopted, or that adoption is the most important part of his/her identity.
- When it is relevant. At some times in a child’s life, that is going to be frequent and sometimes it’s going to be infrequent.
- When it is appropriate. Utilize boundaries of privacy when talking about adoption with strangers or acquaintances. Sometimes we get a bit eager and overzealous when it comes to adoption and divulge too much. Learn to speak in generalities.
- Follow your child’s lead. (This does NOT mean you have to wait for your child to bring it up!)
- Be available and willing to talk about it when they want to.
- Don’t push the subject when they don’t want to talk about it.
- Take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
- When other people are pregnant/have a baby/adopt a baby
- When you adopt again
- Tell the truth.
- Use the gospel, your testimony of your child’s adoption.
- "Never forget that these little ones are the sons and daughters of God and that yours is a custodial relationship to them, that He was a parent before you were parents and that He has not relinquished His parental rights or interest in these His little ones. Now, love them, take care of them." President Gordon B. Hinckley
- Heavenly Father is aware of them as individuals, and made sure they ended up where they were supposed to be.
- Personal spiritual experiences that told you your child was meant to be in your family.
- Remain positive about birth family, and empathetic towards any negative facts there might be.
- Explain that adoption is an adult decision. Be careful with the “love” explanation. You love him. Are you going to place him with a new family?
- It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
- It’s okay to postulate – use likelihoods.
- “We’re not sure what your birthfather looked like. But since your birthmother is fair, he probably has dark hair like you do.”
- “You have such natural talent for music. I wonder if your birth mother is musical, too.”
- Acknowledge birth parents, not just ethnic or cultural heritage to avoid ideas of “hatching.”
- Utilize communication from or open relationship with birth parents.
- Tell the child’s story – lifebook.
- Use adoption books, either as a springboard for discussion with your child or as an example to you of things you can say.
- In developmentally appropriate layers.
- Conversations will be repeated often throughout the years. Begin with the basics in language your child can understand and build on that through the years as they understand more. Increasing maturity brings increased understanding and emotions.
- Try to listen for what your child is really asking. If your child asks to call her birth mother, she may really mean, “I want to know more about this person.” That’s an opening. Ask, “What do you think she’d be like? What would you say to her? What do you think she might say to you?”
- Throw out “pebbles” to invite questions/conversation.
- “You are such a good artist. You must get that from your birth mom.”
- “I always think of your birthparents on your birthday. They must be thinking of you, too.”
- Speak about adoption to your spouse in your child’s hearing.
For additional adoption literature refer to Utah's Adoption Connection Lending Library (also listed on the sidebar of our blog under "Helpful Links".)