Telling Your Children That They’re Adopted

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For families with foster children, conversations about adoption may be difficult to navigate. Some parents dread the day that their children will ask about the nature of their entry into the family. People often give conflicting advice on how to handle this issue. Hence, parents end up with this question: how do you tell your children that they’re adopted?

This conversation needs to happen, sooner or later. Parents need to know how to steer the conversation in a way that minimizes the stress imposed on their children. The focus here is to let them know that their families love them regardless of the circumstance.

While they are young and inquisitive, and have their trust in you for helping them to shape many of their world views, you are in the best position to address sensitive information about their birthparents. This is a position that will only last for a brief number of years. — Jennifer Bliss Psy.D., LCSW

Timing

What’s the best time to inform your children of their adopted status? Experts generally agree that earlier is better. Interestingly though, parents throughout history tend to do the opposite. Many families delay this crucial conversation up until the child is already an adult themselves. In some cases, the children never get to know that they’re adopted.

These people argue that very young children cannot fully comprehend the implications of adoption. By waiting until the children are old enough, they believe that they’ll be able to take the news with grace.

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However, precisely the opposite happens. By delaying the news, loved ones give the impression that they’re lying to their children all these years. This revelation also challenges core beliefs and can shake the self-identities of adopted children. Revealing the news at older ages tends to cause more strife and increases the mental stress that the children feel.

By discussing the topic of adoption at a very early stage, parents can normalize the issue and remove any stigma that the children might feel. Their children will believe that adoption is just as usual as being born and raised by the same set of parents. Hence, there is minimal stress and the risk of an identity crisis.

Many foster families or adoptive families struggle with the unknown; that is, the lack of information they have on the child’s upbringing, trauma experiences, and attachment to their birth parents. —

The key here is to discuss the topic using age-appropriate methods. When disclosing information to anyone at a tender age, it’s okay to simplify the subject to avoid confusion. Just make sure to be truthful and clarify any misconceptions that might develop.

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Normalization

Another technique for holding the conversation on adoption is to assure the child that adoption is a normal process that happens regularly. Children might think that they’re somehow inferior to others just because they underwent adoption. Expect these thoughts to occur to them and reassure them that adoption is not a source of shame.

Psychologists and adoption researchers have not yet come to agreement as to whether or not adoptees, when compared to non-adoptees are at higher risk for a host of psychological and interpersonal difficulties. However, after devoting many years to this very question, Dr. David Brodzinsky, a preeminent scholar in the field, came to believe that while being adopted sets the adoptee on a lifetime search for identity, meaning and connection, he is no more or less at risk psychologically because of being adopted. — Lawrence Rubin Ph.D, ABPP, LMHC, RPT-S

Also, answer any queries to the best of your ability. If they express the desire to know more about their birth parents, encourage that curiosity. Never demonize the birth parents. This way, you’re setting up an open and non-threatening environment for your children to talk about adoption. This openness reinforces the belief that adoption is typical. 

Finally, emphasize your unconditional love. Your children need to know that they don’t have to fulfill any requirements to obtain your love and care.

Many adopted children believe that they need to prove their worth to their parents. Reassure them that they always have your love, and they’ll better accept their adoption as a positive part of their identity.

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