Words create stories. They build characters, move the story along and defeat the monsters. They construct happy endings. While your child has found a happy ending with you, there will come a time when he or she may become curious about his or her beginnings. Why they have certain features, or why you chose to adopt them. No matter their level of exposure to the adoption process, every child wants to know their story.
Nonetheless, keep in mind that words can hurt. So when you feel that it is the right time to talk to your child about their adoption, choose your words carefully. As adoptive parents, you need to be the one facilitating the conversation so that your child understands the core of their adoption. The way you choose to talk about adoption will not only impact your relationship with your child, but also their relationship to themselves and their birth family.
With the holiday season around the corner, take this opportunity to reminisce about your child’s adoption story. Keep your child’s birth family in his or her warm thoughts on cold winter nights. We understand that this sounds much easier on paper. Here are some tips on how to move the conversation in a healthy direction.
Early and Often
This isn’t the sort of topic that can be discussed just once. Like building trust, talking to your child about his or her adoption needs to happen early on, slowly and often. You might be wondering how you could explain to an infant what adoption is. But babies are a lot smarter than the world gives them credit for.
Try to incorporate short stories about adoption during bedtime. They don’t have to be detailed, but just enough for your baby to understand certain words relating to adoption. As your child grows up, he or she will have been familiarized with aspects of the process. This also affirms that you are available to talk more about his or her origin. Your child won’t feel alone knowing that his or her adoption story has been discussed since the very beginning.
Another benefit of starting early is it trains you to be comfortable and familiar with the topic for when your child is older and able to comprehend the complex subject. If you need book recommendations, check out our blog: 6 Wonderful Adoption Books for Kids.
Use Adoption-Friendly Language
When dealing with a heavy topic such as talking to your child about their adoption, you need to treat everything with caution. Trust can be a fragile thing in this setting, and the language you use is incredibly important in solidifying that trust between you and your child. With that in mind, use adoption-friendly words when telling their story. Use positive adoption language to promote a healthy and mutual understanding between the adoption triad. Eliminate any unnecessary labeling system that might harm the development of the child.
When describing relationships in the family, use phrases like “birth mother,” “birth father,” and “birth parents.” Not only will this help them distinguish who gave birth to them and who is providing for them, but it will also show your child that you respect where they came from.
To explain the adoption process, make sure to explain that their birth parents chose “to place” them for adoption rather than “put up” or “give up.” The two latter phrases hold negative connotations and suggest that birth mothers are irresponsible and don’t hold regards for the consequences of their actions. That is never the case. To say “placed for adoption” affirms to your child that their birth parents have thought carefully about the best possible future for everyone in the adoption triad, especially the baby.
If you want to learn more about this topic, check out our blog: Say Yes to Positive Adoption Language.
Don’t Leave Out the Difficulties
As parents, you will feel the responsibility to shelter them from difficult details about their adoptions. While it will shield them from pain, it will also paint an inaccurate picture of their adoption story. They will get confused if any details are left out, and above all, they have the right to know their full story. They will learn the whole truth eventually, so it is best that it comes from you directly. Finding out on their own or from another person can destroy their trust in you and make them feel rejected by you.
Also, keep in mind to be age-appropriate. You shouldn’t unload everything onto an infant or toddler. Disclose the difficult information in small doses as your child grows older. If it is something you feel like your child needs to be older to hear, tell them that you’ll discuss it with them later instead of keeping it a secret. Be prepared for lots of tears and hugs and remember to use adoption-friendly language so they know they are loved and wanted.
Say “I Love You”
Nothing will affirm to your child that you love them like the three simple words: “I love you.” Their story will be difficult for them to listen to. They will feel lost, scared, and lonely. Remind them constantly that you love them and you are so thankful to have them in your life.
The holiday season can be an optimal time to begin this conversation because it’s the time to reflect and give love. While you tell them about their story, also talk to them about their birth parents if possible. It will also be a good time if your child wants to reach out to their birth parents. This is in your discretion, do what you feel will be best for your family. Check out our blog Honoring Birth Families during the Holidays for ways to include birth families in your holiday routines.
Talking to Your Child About Their Adoption
There is no right or wrong way to talk to your child about adoption. At the end of the day, you know your child best and you will know how to approach this topic to help him or her understand. What’s important is to take things slowly and assure your child that he or she is a treasure and everyone, including his or her birth parents, loves him or her. You child’s happy ending just happens to be with you.
Adoption Choices of New York
For more information on adoption or if you are currently in the process of adopting a baby and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact, Adoption Choices of New York.
About the Author
Lisa Truong is an undergraduate journalism major at the University of Denver. She is minoring in writing and Chemistry. She has been commended by professors for her news stories as well as creative writing.
During her freshman year, her essay “See Ya on the Other Side” was displayed at a writing exhibition sponsored by the University of Denver. That essay later went on to be published in Many Voices One DU, a book also sponsored by the university.
Lisa frequently volunteers to be a leader at the Daniels School of Business for their quarterly Ethics Boot Camp where students learn about the importance of character in business. In her free time, Lisa enjoys watching animated movies with her mother, listening to music, going for bike rides, and eating breakfast food.
American Adoptions, Inc. “‘What Does Adoption Mean to a Child?”.” American Adoptions – Talking to Your Child About His or Her Birth Parents. Accessed December 9, 2019. https://www.americanadoptions.com/adoption/talking_about_your_childs_birth_parents.
Marcroft, Theresa, Tracy Whitney, Tracy Whitney, Cinzia, Dawn Davenport, Dawn Davenport, AnonAP, and Dawn Davenport. “Talking about Adoption Part 1: Talking With 0- 5 Year Olds.” Creating a Family, September 1, 2015. https://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/talking-adoption-part-1-talking-0-5-year-olds/.
“Respectful Ways to Talk about Adoption: A List of Do’s & Dont’s.” HealthyChildren.org. Accessed December 9, 2019. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/adoption-and-foster-care/Pages/Respectful-Ways-to-Talk-about-Adoption-A-List-of-Dos-Donts.aspx.