The first day of school is right around the corner. You and your child have been stocking up on school supplies, spending your final days off with old friends, and getting ready to meet new ones this fall. Perhaps your child has been practicing the ABCs, the 123s, and mastering the art of writing his or her name. Maybe your little one has picked out the coolest lunchbox to impress classmates the first day.
There are many preparations that come with the back-to-school season. If you are an adoptive parent, this time is also a great opportunity for you to think about adoption and school, and prepare for the ways in which your child’s adoption story might come into play throughout the school year.
School is often a child’s first real encounter with people outside of family and friends. For an adopted child, school may also be the first time he or she is asked questions about adoption, or asked to share information about his or her family with others outside it. To help your child navigate these conversations at school, and to help your child feel confident in his or her adoption story, Adoptions With Love recommends the following tips:
1. Speak openly, positively, and regularly about adoption in your home.
One of the best things you can do as an adoptive parent is talk openly and honestly about adoption with your child. Even at a very young age, your child will benefit from hearing his or her adoption story (in age-appropriate language) and knowing that it is a very special part of your family.
Talking about adoption openly in your home also gives your child the message that you are comfortable and proud to talk about their story and allows many opportunities to ask questions about adoption. Your answers and your perspective will help your son or daughter grow confident in sharing their story, too. By talking openly, you are giving your child the message that this discussion does not hurt your feelings and that you want open communication. Instead of feeling confused by adoption-related questions at school, your child might even become the one who educates others about adoption. However, this should not be a burden on your child and cause stress.
2. Prepare your child for questions about adoption.
Being an adoptive parent, you have likely been asked countless questions about adoption and your experience with it – about your child’s birth parents, his or her background or ethnicity, perhaps even your personal feelings on the subject. Many of these questions were likely fueled by unawareness or misconceptions regarding adoption. More than likely, you used your answers as a way to inform and educate others about this positive, loving act. It is important to teach your child to do the same.
Fact is, many kids do not know much about adoption before going to school. They will ask questions, sometimes over and over again. Before sending your child to school, remember that healthy adoption conversations start at home. As a parent, you can help your child become familiar with, as well as proud of, his or her adoption story. You can help your child understand that there are all different types of families in the world, and that yours is very special and unique. Explain that other classmates may not know this yet. Having these conversations now will help your child feel more equipped to handle any questions in a positive and healthy manner.
Most of all, also help your child understand that this adoption story is his or her own to tell. There is no pressure to talk about it if he or she is not comfortable doing so. You can discuss the difference between secrecy and privacy. This is not a secret, but your child may wish for it to be private until they are ready to share it.
3. Consider talking to school faculty about adoption.
Many parents wonder if they should tell teachers about their family’s adoption background. Some believe that adoption is private or irrelevant to their child’s school performance, while others think it will be helpful for teachers to know. There is no right answer here – the choice to share your family’s adoption story is completely up to you. However, it is something we recommend considering as an adoptive family. Sometimes adoption comes up at school and you would want to know so you can address this at home.
Even today, teachers do not always know how to approach the topic of adoption or integrate it into school assignments. Without knowing about your child’s story, teachers may give homework such as a “family tree” or request that students bring in baby photos, two typical elementary assignments that can be challenging for adopted children. By informing your child’s teacher early in the school year, he or she will be better able to accommodate your child’s needs and stay sensitive to adoption issues. You can even help the teacher think-up new, fun assignments to educate other students about adoption, too!
Talking about adoption with teachers can be especially useful for elementary school-age children, who may face emotional challenges as they start to understand more of their adoption story. Talking about adoption with teachers ahead of time will encourage them to use very positive adoption language in the classroom. This will also help teachers make adopted children feel more secure and comfortable in class.
A good opportunity to have the adoption conversation is at the very beginning of the school year, during a parent-teacher conference. Or, you may choose to reach out to your child’s teacher via email. You may also consider including your child in these conversations, to help share his or her story.
4. Get involved.
While you cannot be side by side with your child during the school days, you can get involved with his or her education. Actually, we recommend it. Getting involved with your child’s education – whether attending parent conferences, PTA meetings, helping with homework, donating books to the school, or volunteering in the classroom – can help make the transition to school both comfortable and positive for your child. It will show your child that his or her learning (and his or her success) is important to you. Being there will encourage your son or daughter to do well, to stand tall, and be the best he or she can be.
If your child is entering the first or second grade, you can use it as a great opportunity to introduce the topic of adoption to his or her peers. For example, you may consider donating or bringing in children’s books about adoption, such as Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born, by Jamie Lee Curtis, or A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kasza.
There is no doubt that the start of the school year is an exciting time for your child. As an adoptive parent, though, you may be feeling a bit nervous about sending your child off to school for the first time. Do not worry. With some preparation on your part, and with consistent, open adoption conversations in your home, you can ready your child for a great start to the school year. If you have any questions about adoption and school, or about talking to your child about adoption, please do not hesitate to call Adoptions With Love at 1-800-722-7731 or visit https://adoptionswithlove.org/contact-us.