How to Tell Your Child They’re Adopted
The director of an adoption agency in New York City was leading a workshop with adoptive parents and kids. The parents and kids were in separate rooms. He asked the adoptive parents to raise their hands if their kids ever mention their adoption. No one raised their hand. When the director asked the kids if they thought about their birth parents, every child raised their hand.
Just because kids remain silent about their adoption doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it or trying to make sense of it. Which is why it’s an important discussion for parents and kids to have.
Of course, knowing how to talk about adoption with your child doesn’t exactly come easily or naturally. Plus, there are many misconceptions about when to bring it up and what to actually say—everything from you should have one big, serious conversation to don’t introduce the word “adoption” until your child is old enough to understand what it means.
We asked two therapists, who specialize in adoption issues, about how to talk to your child—and how not to. Below are their do’s and don’ts.
Do talk about adoption regularly—and well before your child understands it.
Start talking to your child about their adoption right away—even if your child is a toddler. This way it won’t be a surprise to them, said Barbara Freedgood, LCSW, an adoptive parent and therapist who leads adoptive support groups.
“Keep it very simple, and keep it appropriate to the child’s age,” she said. For instance, “before the age of 5, all kids need to know is that they are adopted, and it’s a way to form a family.” Also, emphasize that you are a “forever family.”
After 5 years old, most kids are curious about where babies come from. When your child asks, you might say, “A different man and woman made you. You grew in that woman’s belly. And then I came and adopted you. That’s how we became a family.”
Therapist H.C. Fall Willeboordse, LCSW, who works with families and individually with children, adolescents and adults, underscored the importance of having ongoing conversations. It shouldn’t be a “challenging event that occurs once.” Because if you keep this information from your child until they’re older, it’ll be harder for them to believe their adoption was a positive thing, she said.