Should Your New Child Know That He/She Is Adopted?
New adoptive parents often wonder just how much they should share with their child about how they came to be a part of the family. Many parents hesitate to share about the adoption, even in today’s modern culture that is far more open and accepting. The overprotective nature of parents wants to shield their child from the potential rejection and abandonment they might feel about an adoption that happened even before they were born.
Should you tell your child that he or she was adopted? Even once a decision is made, sharing that information with your child can be tricky. You want to make your baby feel as though they are loved and wanted, and sometimes sharing the details surrounding their birth may not inspire that sentiment. Here are a few things to think about if your family is wrestling with this major decision.
Experts recommend using adoption terms as early as possible.
Most professionals in the adoption community will recommend familiarizing your children with terms related to adoption as early as possible. While they may not understand the exact meaning, they will at least be comfortable with the vocabulary by the time they are old enough to comprehend. Choosing to use common terms around your children will make adoption feel like a more normal experience.
You might discuss how some kids have birth mothers and adoptive mothers. Some families may choose to read stories about families formed through adoption to introduce these concepts. There’s no wrong way to acquaint your child with the vocabulary they will need to understand their adoption in the years ahead.
Tell them as early as possible.
It’s recommended to share that a child is adopted at an early age, even if they are the same race as their adoptive parents. Many professionals believe the preschool or early elementary school years are ideal to share the information.
Children can often sense that there is something a little different about themselves compared to the rest of the family. They may not share the same physical characteristics or they may have a unique aptitude that doesn’t blend in with the family history. These traits lead them to believe that they are somehow set apart but don’t give them any indication as to why.
The other major reason to share with children early is to avoid them finding out by accident. A relative may not be as careful to guard their discussions around the child, allowing them to inadvertently discover their adoption. Finding out this way can be traumatic for any child, so it’s best to share the information at an early age and in an appropriate way.
Decide in advance what is appropriate to share with your child at each age.
Some adoption plans are created due to heavy issues like substance abuse, mental illness, or a physical disability. Topics like these might be too much to tackle with a preschooler who is struggling just to learn their alphabet. You and your partner will need to decide what information to share with your child at a particular age. For example, a young child may love to see a picture of his birth mother or hear a story about their birth. A teenager may be more prepared to hear the specific circumstances surrounding their adoption.
Remind your child that the adoption plan was created out of love.
When they first learn that they are adopted, children may feel like they were unwanted by their birth parents due to some inherent defect they perceive in themselves. Reminding your child that the adoption plan was created out of love will be crucial to helping them feel reassured. Explain that their birth parents made a very loving, brave, and difficult sacrifice so your child could have a better life. You may have to reiterate that you and your partner love the child immensely and will always be around for them.
Try to empathize with their reaction.
There’s no such thing as a normal reaction to finding out that you were adopted. A child may explode with anger, cry hot tears of sadness, or respond with very little emotion at all. There is no wrong way to process this information. Adoptive parents need to try empathizing with a child who has just received this potentially life-changing news. They may have a lot of emotions to work though, particularly if you wait until they are older to share the information.
If you have a difficult time talking with your child about their emotional reaction, you might want to enlist the help of a counselor. Sometimes, a child might need a safe space and an objective third-party to listen to their feelings before they can accept this new information. You might find that they need help forming a new self-identity that includes their adoption and their birth family.
Anticipate their questions.
Be prepared for lots of questions and try to anticipate them in advance. Your child may need additional reassurance during this time, so make sure you are available to give them undivided attention. Adoption can be a beautiful thing, and your child deserves to understand their unique story and origin. Try to surround them with some peers who understand what it is to be adopted, giving them a sounding board as they process their own identity.
Ultimately, parents will have to make a decision regarding what they share about their child’s adoption. Most professionals will recommend sharing the information early to avoid creating shame and secrecy surrounding the adoption. This gives your child several years to process the information under your watchful eye and guidance. Explain their adoption in very simple and positive terms, remembering not to speak negatively about birth parents.
In the end, adoptive parents are encouraged to be proactive in helping the child develop a positive sense of self and develop pride in their adoption. After all, you and your partner chose this child specifically to become your son or daughter forever. This is definitely a cause for celebration that your child will hopefully be able to partake in over the years ahead.