Talking the Talk: Age-Appropriate Adoption Conversations

Talking to Your Child About Adoption

Many parents feel nervous about approaching the “adoption talk” with their child. However, it is important to remember that adoption is not a one-time “talk.” Adoption is a lifelong conversation. As your child grows, the conversations you have together will evolve. By keeping adoption an open topic in your home, your child will grow comfortable asking questions and learning more about his or her adoption story. You – as a parent – will also grow more comfortable answering questions over time.

Adoptions With Love has compiled sample Questions and Answers in the above infographic, so that adoptive parents like you can know what to say (and how to say it!) as their children grow.

When talking about adoption with your child, an important factor to keep in mind is age-appropriate adoption language. The discussions had with an infant about adoption should be different than the ones you would have with a preschooler or ten-year-old. As seen in the above infographic, timing and language play such a critical role in your child’s sense of self. Below we share some additional advice on how to have positive, age-appropriate conversations with your child.

From the first day you welcome your child into your lives, you can begin sharing his or her adoption story. It is never too early to start using the word “adoption,” whether it is during a bottle feeding or bath time. Your baby may not grasp what you are saying in those first several weeks, but the practice can help you gain more comfort and confidence with the “right” words to say.

Adoption is something that you will continually discussing, intermittently, throughout your baby’s childhood. Getting comfortable with the “talk” will greatly benefit both parent and child down the road.

Just as parents need to understand what age-appropriate conversations sound like for each developing age of a child’s life – for example, “Where do babies come from?” from a preschooler can be answered with a simple, “Every baby comes from a man and a woman.” – the level of discussion for adoption should be tailored to each specific age.

The Infant Phase (0-2)

During bath time with an infant, for example, simple messages such as: “Daddy and I are so happy we got to adopt you. We love you more than anything in this world!”

Early Childhood Years (3-5)

As your child grows, the conversation will grow, as well. In the preschool phase, the discussion will evolve into: “Mommy and Daddy were so happy to adopt you! Your birth mom had you in her belly, and she wanted to make sure you had the best life. She found us and asked us to become your mommy and daddy when you were born. We adopted you, and you have been our sweet baby from the start.”

The inevitable “why” questions come into play at the toddler and preschool phase, as well, but young children are often pleased with simple answers such as “because we knew you were meant to be ours!” This will help your little one feel loved and at home where he or she belongs.

Keep in mind that, at the toddler and preschool age, you must be very careful over which words you choose to use when discussing adoption. Avoid negative phrases such as, “gave up for adoption.” Young children are sponges and will repeat (and later process) this negative adoption language, which could affect their self-esteem.

School-Aged Kids (6-11)

Speaking with your child in the elementary school years becomes a bit more complicated. Your child will likely have more specific questions regarding his/her birth parents, especially if there has not been much contact between your two families. Kids in school often do projects about their ethnic backgrounds and family history. Be prepared to answer your child’s questions as openly and honestly as possible. You do not want to give your child any feelings of insecurity or mistrust because of an uncomfortable topic. Your child’s questions are normal and healthy and should be faced head-on.

Adolescence (12-17)

This age can be a very delicate one, bringing more emotions and feelings into the adoption discussion. Your teen may start to have negative feelings or feel a deeper urge to learn more about his or her birth parents. This is completely normal and should be handled with empathy and care. Be supportive and willing to share more details about birth parents, if you have them. Share photos with your child, and letters that you may have. If you are in touch with your adoption counselor or the birth parents, arrange a time to meet.

Do not be offended when your child asks questions or expresses feelings about his or her biological parents. Accept that your child may want to contact the birth parents or know more about his or her background. This does not reflect you as a parent. It does present an opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship, by being a trusted source of information and guidance through this phase of life!

Learn more about talking to your child about adoption, at each phase of his or her life. Learn how to answer the tougher and more delicate questions about adoption. Download our free eBook, “A Guide to Explaining Adoption to Your Child” below.


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