Many adoptive parents agonize over telling their child that they were adopted. They worry that the child may be hurt by the news, reject them as parents or that the news will somehow weaken their family bond. However, telling your child about their adoption can end up being a positive experience, affirming your love for them and valuing their place in the family. How can you approach the topic of adoption with your child?
When should you bring up adoption?
Some parents want to hold off telling their child about adoption until they are old enough to fully understand the concept. Unfortunately, delaying the news can lead to more harm than good.
Keeping adoption a secret can make it seem like a bad thing. If your child grows up alongside the idea of adoption, it seems natural. Some experts recommend telling children as young as 2. Others recommend discussing adoption before they start school. You know your child best and can decide when to start the conversation based on their development level and emotional needs.
Delaying the conversation can unsettle an older child or teen who may feel like you have been “lying to them” for an extended period of time. It can damage bonds of trust, and make your child wonder what other important information you are keeping from them.
How should you explain adoption?
- Emphasize acceptance. Parents often worry that children will feel unwanted because their biological parents gave them up for adoption. When you tell your child that they were adopted, stress the idea that you chose to bring them into the family. You want your child to leave the conversation feeling more loved and valued than before.
- Biological parents. Share information that you have about your child’s biological family. Keep out any details that may cause them emotional distress – such as violence or neglect. You can gradually include information as they age and mature.
- Cultural Background. If your child is from a different country, or of a different ethnic background, inform them about their cultural past. Find fun crafts or foods that can teach them about their origins.
- Children’s books. After the discussion, give your child an adoption-themed book. There are a number of great children’s books explaining adoption in a way that is approachable to children. Spend time reading the book with them. Books are a great way to spark questions and open discussion between you and your child.
Be gentle with yourself.
Talking to your child about adoption can be scary. You are not sure how your child will react, and there is the possibility that your child could say something hurtful during the period of uncertainty. Do not panic if your child lashes out. It is a natural part of coming to terms with their past, and they will work through it. Continue to show them love and acceptance.
Your child may ask a lot of questions, or none at all. Some children need time to process the idea of adoption before they want to speak with you about it. Be prepared for open dialogs with your child for months or years to come.