When should you tell your child that he or she is adopted? | Adoptive Parent Voices
How to Tell a Child He or She Is Adopted
Pop culture uses adoption stories as a mean joke or a terrifying realization, but it doesn't have to be that way in your family. Open, early communication will help your child process the situation and feel secure in your family. Expect this process to last throughout your child's developmental years. Keep an eye out for signs that your child is worried about fitting in, and be ready to answer questions and assuage your child's fears.
Make adoption ordinary.Many people who work with adopted children recommend casually using the word "adoption" as early as possible, so it does not sound strange. You can do this before the child knows she is adopted, or you can be open about the adoption from the beginning.
Tell the child early.Do not wait until the child is an adolescent, as this is more likely to cause long-term resentment and anger. Past that, there is not any universal agreement on when to tell the child. These guidelines can help you make the decision:
- If you adopted the child after the age of two, or if his ethnicity is obviously different than yours, tell him as soon as possible. He may already suspect and worry.
- Many parents and experts recommend telling the child right away, being open and honest about the adoption and how happy they are about the decision.
- If there are children already in the home, make sure they understand what the adoption means for everyone. Advise them against teasing or telling the child before everyone is ready to have that family discussion.
- Make a plan to discuss it as a family, especially if there are younger children that are not aware of the adoption.
- Whether or not the child knows from a young age, be prepared for an in-depth conversation when the child is ready, often at four or five years old. Some experts prefer to wait until six to eight, but by this time some children will already have doubts.
Be honest and open.Never lie to your child about the story of her adoption. You can limit the explanation to facts appropriate for the child's age, but keep the story truthful and consistent. Your child will ask questions later on, and may feel betrayed if the new information contradicts what you've said in the past.
Explain the birth mother's decision.One of the most common questions an adopted child asks is "Why did my birth mother give me up?" Make sure your child knows his birth mother loved him, and was not a bad person or trying to abandon him. Describe the situation in terms appropriate to the child's age. (For example, "she wasn't married and couldn't take care of a baby on her own.")
- This is one of the main worries for children between the ages of five and seven.
- Avoid using the phrase "she gave you up because she loved you" with young children (although you should emphasize the love part). This can give a confusing message when you say that you love your child too.
- Keep the story to just facts without speculation or criticism, especially if there was abuse involved. Telling a child about their dire situation can never be a positive thing even if they may remember.
Emphasize that you love your child and will never give her up.This is another common concern of young children. Tell your child she is a part of the family that you will always care for, that you are very happy you adopted her, and that you love her.
Keep communication open.Your child should feel welcome to ask you more questions about his birth family, or about adoption. Give him your full attention and make an effort to answer his fears or curiosity. Many children will have a strong emotional reaction later on, even if they were calm when they heard the news.
- If the answer is not appropriate for the child's age, say "That's a hard question" and give a shortened or simplified version, without lying. Do not say "You'll find out when your older," which could cause resentment.
Expand on the story as the child grows older.When your child is seven to nine years old, she is usually ready to handle more difficult information, such as that her birth mother is dead, or that she was a teenage mother. This also predates the teenage years, when communication becomes more difficult.She will likely start this herself by asking more detailed questions about what her birth family was like.
- Make it clear that you were telling the truth before. For example, you may have said the birth mother was too sick to care for the child, and later you tell the child she is dead. Connect these stories by saying "Your birth mother was sick, and then she died."
Be supportive to connections with your child's origins.At the ages of nine to twelve, most children are worried about fitting in. Your child may become sensitive to facial features that look different from yours, and ask questions about his birth family.Making contact with the birth family is often not possible or a good idea, but you can form a connection by learning about that family's culture. On your side, it's important to remember that your child is not rejecting you when he expresses this curiosity. Support his efforts to understand his origins.
- It's up to you to decide whether you can make contact with a biological parent or sibling(s) in a way that's safe emotionally and physically. Keep in mind that your child will be able to make the decision himself as an adult. If you want to supervise this effort, you may want to allow it while he is a teenager.
QuestionI have an adopted daughter that I found in an alley when she was a baby. Her birth mother signed her rights away as a mother. I want to explain it when she is old enough. What can I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerFollow the steps in the article. Talk to her in a calm place, and don't get angry or mad or upset. Tell her you love her and you don't want her upset, make it feel like you are on her side.Thanks!
- Look for books that explain adoption or tell positive stories about adopted children.
- Depending on the circumstances for the adoption, a family councilor or child therapist may be necessary. Especially if they're struggling to fit in within the family or seem unusually withdrawn.
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