Posted by: icmadoptionnetwork | June 19, 2013

The Dreaded Conversation

Often when I am talking with families who are beginning the home study process, I ask them what their biggest concern is or what they most fear about the adoption process.  One of the most common answers I get is the fear and uncertainty about how to tell a child that they were adopted and how to answer their adoption questions.  One of the articles we use in our adoption training with families discusses how to handle these situations.  The article, entitled “Questions About Adoption,” encourages families to start out early.  The parents should be the ones initiating the conversation of adoption, not the child.  Some people say that if your child is at the point where they are asking questions about their adoption, than you may have waited too long.  It is best to not wait but to start out early.  Even before the age of 3, parents can begin talking about adoption little by little.  There are many age-appropriate children’s books that introduce the topic of adoption to children in a way that they can start to understand.  Please visit this page on Tapestry Book’s website for a list of some of these helpful books:

One of the most important ways to introduce the concept of adoption to a child is to keep it as a story.  Children love hearing and telling stories.  Approach this daunting conversation as a story to tell your child.  Be sure to make it as positive as possible.  A time will come when a child should be told any negative details about their background.  For now, keep it as a joyful story focused on the love that both you (the adoptive parents) and the biological parents have for the child. 

It is very important to use the correct terms when talking to a child about adoption.  Rather than saying your “real mother” or your “real father,” be sure to say “birth mother” or “birth father” in order to avoid confusion.  A very common phrase in adoption is “give up” such as “His mother gave him up for adoption.”  This can be a very confusing and detrimental phrase to a child, since we all know that people “give up” things that they don’t want.  Rather than saying “give up,” say “made an adoption plan.”   Using the correct terms is extremely important in helping shape a child’s attitude towards adoption. 

So what do you do when your child knows that he/she was adopted and now has many difficult questions for you?  Every child is different and you as the parents will know how best to approach your child with their specific needs, personality, etc.  The main things you need to remember to do are to always be honest/open and avoid responding with your own worries.  People are usually pretty good about sensing when another person is withholding information or being dishonest.  Children can pick up on this as well.  So be sure to be as honest and open as you can be, without disclosing information that children of certain ages or temperaments should not yet hear.  Make sure your child knows that it is perfectly okay that they come to you with their questions.  If you respond to a child’s questions with stressful answers such as, “Why do you want to know?” your child may start to think, “My mommy gets upset when we talk about my adoption.  Adoption is bad.”  You also don’t want your child to go to someone else for their answers, rather than their parents.

Most people find that when following these suggestions, the “dreaded conversation” goes much better than expected.  What is important to remember is to start early, keep it as a story, use the proper terms, be honest/open, and avoid responding with your own worries.  Above all else, continuously tell and show your child how much they are loved.  Adoption is a beautiful gift for both parent and child, and with your help, your child will see that too.



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