It’s one of the biggest cruxes of adoption: to tell, or not to tell? And, if you choose “tell”, how do you do it? Luckily for anyone struggling with how to handle such a monumental decision, there’s a bevy of literature on the topic of how to broach the subject. Here’s what experts have to say.
1. Start young
This is an important tip to avoid your child being blindsided about the reality of their situation by someone letting the secret slip, but is also essential because it allows your child to incorporate adoption into their identity from the get-go.
Toddlers and preschoolers won’t necessarily understand what it means to be adopted, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t an appropriate time to begin telling their adoption story. More than likely, they’ll love to hear it, as it will make them feel special and unique.
It’s generally around the middle school years that these feelings mature and children begin to grapple with the complexities and negative emotions regarding adoption. If you’ve been open with them up to that point, handling those emotions together will be much easier.
2. Be developmentally appropriate
Most experts advocate telling your child about their adoption from day one, but with babies or young children, it won’t be feasible or appropriate to disclose all the details from the beginning. This is why, as your child ages, you should be open to the conversation changing; the same answers given as a toddler won’t suffice the curiosity of a teenager.
When they’re younger, focus on the story of them, their birth parents, and how they came to be a part of your family. They won’t understand the very abstract concept of adoption, though. As they grow, begin to incorporate more detail, keeping in mind their age and maturity when tailoring your answers.
It’s good to prepare early for questions you think your child may pose so you have a practiced, age-appropriate answer on-hand. Many adoption agencies, like A Child’s Dream, offer many resources that can help you answer your child’s questions and they grapple with the “Why?” and “How?”
3. Be honest
One study found that, of the children surveyed, regardless of openness, everyone had some level of curiosity about their birth parents. Every single child. What this means for adoptive parents is simple: confide in your child.
Even more importantly, make sure to tell the truth. It might be tempting to fudge a few details, especially ones that may pertain to more negative aspects of their story, but in the age of Internet, your child will more than likely conduct their own research. It won’t do anyone good to lie about details of your child’s life, only for it to come out in the wash at a later date.
4. Start the conversation
Though talking about it when your child approaches you is a great first step, there’s a bit more you can do; namely, you can be the one to initiate the conversation sometimes. This lets your child know that their birth family is on your mind as well, and that they are important to you just as much as to them. You might also choose to celebrate their adoption date or to honor their birth parents during holidays like Birth Mother’s Day or National Adoption Month.
Adoption is a magical, fulfilling process, but the idea of talking about the subject with your child can be intimidating. Remember that, no matter the circumstances, openness and honesty will benefit you and your child, helping you to bond over the great gift you gave each other.
You can find some more great advice on adoption over at healthychildren.org .
About the author
Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She graduated from the University of California-Sacramento with a degree in Journalism.