Occasionally, we get a question from a listener or a new community member about when to talk to their children about adoption or give them their whole adoption story. It’s easy for those of us who have been in the world of adoption for a long time to forget that it’s a point of great concern and uncertainty for new adoptive parents. What to share, when to share it, and how often to talk about adoption with our kids is second nature to most of us. However, it can be overwhelming for those new to adoption to consider starting these conversations.
We have created a quick list of the 6 Things Your Adopted Kids Need to Know by Age 6 to take some pressure off new adoptive parents. By no means do we intend to simplify the topic. Instead, we seek to streamline the steps of managing the considerable matter of adoption. We’re tackling it like the old adage advises: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Our goal is to give you six simple “bites” that you can work on by your child’s sixth birthday.
6 Things Your Adopted Kids Need to Know by Age 6
1. That they were adopted.
If you’re struggling to begin the conversation, start by reading age-appropriate adoption books with and to your children. Read a wide variety of books about different adoptive families and ask leading questions to generate conversations. Consider making a Lifebook for your adopted child that tells his story in a visual, simple, and age-appropriate way.
2. That adoption is a normal way for families to grow.
Children can be raised by the parents who gave birth to them or by parents who adopted them. Assure your child that both ways are great ways to create a family. Check out this collection of great books about the many ways families can be made. Children’s books are a great way to take the weight of a complex story and place it on a neutral third-party’s shoulders, like a cute and loveable panda bear who doesn’t look like his brown bear mom.
3. That they were born to a mommy and daddy just like all kids.
Be straightforward and tell your child that she didn’t just appear. She grew in her birth mother’s tummy (or uterus). We suggest, again, children’s books that will help you explain birth families to her. This CreatingaFamily.org podcast takes you through how to have conversations for every age and developmental stage.
4. That there was nothing they did to cause their birth parents to place them for adoption.
Adoption doesn’t happen to a child because of his good or bad behavior. However, when hard things happen to kids, they often internalize messages that they are to blame. They get the message that something is wrong with them. Tell him repeatedly that the choice to place him for adoption was about grown-up things, decided by grown-ups.
5. That you care for and will speak respectfully about their birth parents.
Yes, this means even if you struggle to respect your child’s birth parents (or their choices). Your child must know you are committed to honor and respect their place in his life. And to hear you speaking well of them. Kids are not nuanced enough in their critical thinking skills to separate their birth parents from their choices or even from the child themselves. A criticism of the birth family can be internalized as a critique of the child.
6. That the groundwork for understanding their full adoption story has been laid.
Help your child understand that her adoption story is hers and that you will be with her as she grows in her understanding of all that it involves. There may be parts of her adoption story and reasons that led to her adoption that are too complex for a child under six to understand. It is vital to lay the groundwork for these parts of her story in these early years so you can flesh it out with age-appropriate details as she grows.
It’s normal to feel uncertain about how to begin this process. The thought is daunting, isn’t it? But it’s critical to tell your young child everything he needs to know as he grows. If you’re unsure how to start (and who isn’t?!?), we have many more resources on our Talking to Children about Adoption resource page, including archived podcasts and online courses from CreatingaFamilyEd.org.
And If Your Child is Older Than Six?
If your child is older than six and you still haven’t covered these six bites of information with him, it’s not too late! Consider giving yourself six months to work your way through them all.
Take advantage of the many different resources we offer, like our multi-part article series that starts here. We also have an article, 9 Essential Things Adoptive Parents Must Do Before Their Child Turns 13, that you will find helpful.