For some adoptive parents, the notion of talking to your child about his or her adoption can be nerve-wracking. How do you broach the subject? At what age is it appropriate to discuss adoption with a child? How will he or she respond to the news? Should it be news at all? How do you say it, and how often?
While the how, when, what, and what-ifs can become overwhelming, it is important not to delay this conversation with your child. The sooner you start talking about your child’s adoption story, the more comfortable, happy, and proud he or she will be of it. Remember that, as a parent, you are your child’s biggest supporter and influence. How you tell your child they are adopted (and how often), can have a very positive impact on how your child’s story unfolds.
Today, over 97 percent of adopted children over the age of five know that they were adopted, and 90 percent of these children have positive feelings about their adoption experience. At Adoptions With Love, we want you to feel confident when talking about adoption with your child – so that your child can be confident in it, too. In this article, we will guide you through the process on how to introduce and explain adoption to a child.
Let’s Talk Timing
Adoptive parents often ask, “When should I talk to my child about adoption?” The answer is simple: always talk about adoption, especially when they ask about it.
It is never too early to start sharing your child’s adoption story. In fact, from the moment you welcome him or her into your lives, you – as mommy or daddy – can start sharing the incredible journey of how you became a family. Get comfortable with the term “adoption” by using it in a positive way throughout the day – during diaper changes, bedtime routines, and even walks in the stroller! Your sweet baby may not understand the message during this infant phase, but the habit will help you, as the parent(s), gain comfort and confidence in talking about adoption openly and honestly.
Just like parenting, you will know how to best approach the adoption discussion with your child when the time comes. If you, like many, have an open adoption, you may consider including the birth mother in this conversation. Here are some other tips for how to tell your child they are adopted.
How to Have the Talk – Child-Forward Thinking
In addition to the simple repetition of the word “adoption” in the infancy phase, it is important to have frequent discussion with your child throughout his or her upbringing. These conversations should be age-appropriate and tailored to your child. If your child is still in diapers, he or she may not be able to fully grasp the concept of adoption. That is okay! Mention it occasionally but keep the explanations short and simple. As the child grows, he or she will likely have more questions. Those can be tackled over time, as he or she matures and is better able to process the information.
Be Open and Honest
While adoption can sometimes be a sensitive subject for adoptive parents, especially when a child has questions about his or her birth parents, it is important to be open and honest with your little one as the questions come up – in age appropriate language, of course. If there are some complexities to the story, you can always share those later when he or she is able to understand them. Share your child’s adoption story as openly and honestly as you can at this time. Your child will only benefit from your honesty, and it will continue to build trust and love in your relationship.
These talks should also be given with a positive tone. Remember to speak positively of your child’s birth family and reiterate how much your child is loved. Help your child understand that he or she did not grow inside your belly, but rather, inside your hearts. Let your child know that he or she was not given up, but rather, planned for your family. Your child was chosen. Talk about the selflessness and courageousness of your child’s birth mom, and about the strength she had to make this decision and to give her baby the best possible place to grow. Most of all, explain to your child that adoption was a beautiful way to complete your family – and let your child in on that joy.
Find Resources to Help
Many parents find adoption books to be helpful in explaining adoption to a child. There is a wide variety of literature available – from board books made for toddlers, to “how to” guide books for adoptive parents.
Another move that can help spark positive conversation is to create your own photo book, much like you did for your family in the beginning of the adoption process. A photo book or “Lifebook” is a great way to journal your child’s adoption story from the very beginning. Like “baby books,” adoption lifebooks can help you keep track of important dates, events, and feelings throughout the adoption and parenting journey. You can include ultrasound photos, footprints from the hospital, and if you have an open adoption arrangement, even photos of the birth and birth mother. This will help give your child a better sense of his or her story – which is important to know as he or she grows.
No matter which approach you decide to take, it is important to be open and honest when thinking about how to tell your child they are adopted. Doing this is crucial for helping your son or daughter understand how he or she became a part of your loving family – and a part of your life. Let them know that you welcome their questions and feelings. You can help shape your child’s outlook on his or her adoption story and grow to be proud of it. Open and honest conversations with your child can help teach him or her to positively share this special story with others.
For more information about the adoption process, please visit our Adoptive Parents FAQ page or call Adoptions With Love toll-free at 1-800-722-7731. You may also download one of our free guides about talking about adoption below!