Adoption can be a topic that adults struggle to talk about. It may be difficult to communicate their feelings regarding the scope of emotions in an adoption. So it is understandable if you are apprehensive when talking to your child about domestic or international adoption.
You may want to explain to your child that they are adopted. You may be thinking about adding an adopted child to you family or adopting one of their school friends. Discussing this topic at the appropriate level of your child's development and comprehension can be challenging. Because of this, we will break down some parenting tips on how to discuss adoption with your child at four key age groups.
At preschool age, children aren’t able to truly understand the concept of adoption. You can, however, lay some of the foundational knowledge with storybooks or simplified explanations. You end goal should be to familiarize your child with some of the adoption terms. They do not need to understand adoption as a concept. You child may seem to understand you during the discussion, but you may find them asking questions days, weeks, or even months later. At that time, you should answer their questions, reinforcing their comprehension.
Age Five to Seven
The most common questions that surface at this age are those around life and death. Children may ask questions about where babies come from or what happens when you die, for example. Children start to understand the basics of conception and can start to understand the differences between birth and adoption. You may find you need to go over your parenting methods that you used at preschool age, as your child will be able to understand the concept of adoption much more clearly.
If you feel your adopted child is ready or is understanding adoption well, you may wish to explain the circumstances of their birth. Your child can start to form their own timeline and personal history with your guidance. You should focus on talking about their birth mother and also their birth father, too.
In the case of a more complex domestic adoption or international adoption, the circumstances behind your child's birth may not be fully known. If this happens, you should start with discussing a likely scenario, including reasons why the birth parents may not have been able to care for your child. Seek guidance from your adoption agency or professional if you find yourself unsure of how to answer.
Age Eight to Eleven
Children within this age bracket tend to become focused on feelings of separation or loss. They are starting to understand the difference between :blood family" and "adopted family" and can understand the adoption process much better. However, they still won’t be able to fathom the legal system behind their adoption at this stage. This could cause your child to become uncertain of their place in the family and worry that they may be "taken back" or "returned" to their birth family. These emotions may trigger a grief response or anxiety. At this point, parents need to encourage their child to express their feelings and ask any questions in order to feel safe, confident, and loved.
Teens and tweens want to learn who they are and form their own identity. They can fully understand the legal process behind adoption and the reasons why they may have been placed. At this stage, your child may become curious about their birth family and may even want to initiate contact.
Any time you are unsure of how to answer or need guidance on how to proceed, contact a local professional for help with these situations and any others you have along your adoption journey. Together, your family can navigate any situation with the right attitude, goal, and love.