Sometime around the age of six years (this varies with cognitive development) a child begins to understand just what adoption means. To have been adopted by one family means that the child was relinquished by another. The child suffered great loss.
When children are younger, they most likely enjoy hearing the story of how they were adopted. Mine did. However, as they became tweens, they didn't. What was fun to hear when they were young and sounded like fantastical adventures — "exotic" birth countries, travel by plane, becoming U.S. citizens — became otherwise as they grew to see that within their adoption stories they had lost their birth parents, ties to their birth histories, and connections to their cultures of origin.
At this point in the child's development, "black-white" questions may surface:
- "Why didn't my birth mother keep me?"
- "What is wrong with me that I was given away?"
- "What was wrong with my birth mother that she would give me up?"
Answering Your Child's Questions About Adoption
Children can have big feelings, and the adopted child's feelings may be even bigger. How do parents add "gray" into the child's "black-white" perspective? How do parents help the child develop an empathetic and nonjudgmental viewpoint of adoption and all it encompasses?
- Be honest and open, nothing but the truth in age appropriate language and explanation. Yes, even the uncomfortable ones. Make sure the child has all the facts of their story prior to adolescence (when the complexity of adoption is more understood), and if you don't have them perhaps you can help your child discover more.
- Be the conversation opener. Just because the child isn't asking doesn't mean he or she isn't thinking. It's up to you to encourage your child to talk and process. Pebbles, thought-provoking statements, or open-ended questions can help discussions along.
Our job as parents is to lay the groundwork, provide the foundation of knowledge, strength, confidence, and understanding. These tools will help the child who has been adopted find their way through intact.
Adoption Pro, Judy Miller
Judy M. Miller, MA, CGE is the author of the internationally selling What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween. An adoptive parent and adoption advocate, she lives in the Midwest with her husband and four children. She works with clients all over the world, providing education for and support to families created or grown through adoption.
Judy is a frequent guest on radio (MomTV's Adoption Angels, TogiNet's Adoption ~ Journey to Motherhood, Creating a Family, and PowerTalk on Tough Talk Radio) and sought after conference speaker and workshop facilitator (Parenting Summit, Symposium 2011 Opening Adoption: Realities, Possibilities, and Challenges, Crossroads of America Adoption Conference, North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), and American Adoption Conference (AAC)).
Judy's essays and articles appear in adoption and parenting magazines and in anthologies, among them, A Cup of Comfort for Adoptive Families (Adams Media), Pieces of Me: Who Do I Want to Be? (EMK Press), and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom (Chicken Soup for the Soul).
Judy is a member of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), the American Adoption Congress (AAC), and the National Association of Professional Women, who elected her as one of their 2012 women of the year. You can follow her @MamaMiller.