Parents are responsible for teaching their children everything they need to know to do well in life. This includes daily skills like brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, how to bathe yourself, how to cook, and how to make the bed. As a parent, you also need to teach your child social skills, such as how to be kind to others, how to show others compassion, how to be polite when asking for what you want, and how to share toys. This article is about how to teach your child about adoption.
One of the social skills your child will need to learn is restraint–how not to ask awkward questions about people in front of them. Some of this will just take time. Small children do not have filters; they just blurt out whatever they are thinking or wondering. However, teaching your kids about different types of people and families when they are young helps them accept their peers whose situations might differ.
During your child’s upbringing, chances are they will meet an adopted child in school, on a sports team, or at daycare. Perhaps your child already has a friend who was adopted, and you’ve set up a playdate for your child and their new friend. Here are some tips and talking points you can use to help your child learn about adoption before playing with their new friend.
Use Positive Adoption Language
Using positive adoption language to talk to your child about adoption is very important because they will learn through your example. Do not use the terms “real mom” or “real parents” to refer to a child’s biological mom or family. Instead, use terms like “biological mom” or “birth family” to talk about the adopted child’s biological family. If you feel a need to differentiate among an adoptive parent’s biological and adoptive children, use the terms “biological child” and “adoptive child.” Never refer to an adoptive parent’s birth children as their “real children.” All of a parent’s children are their real children, whether they are biological or adopted.
When you are speaking about the birth mother’s decision to place her child, never say that she “gave up her child” or “gave away her child.” The birth mother placed her child for adoption.
When you teach your child how to talk about adoption positively, they are less likely to say something insensitive or ignorant to their friend. A child may not mean to hurt their friend’s feelings by asking why their “real mom gave him or her up for adoption,” but such statements can seriously impact an adopted child, making them question their identity and worthiness.
It is not uncommon for adopted children to wonder if they are worthwhile or good enough. Many feel as if they may not have been good enough for their birth families and grapple with self-esteem issues. Emphasize to your child that their friend was placed for adoption because their birth mother loved her child so much that she wanted them to have the life she could not provide.
Teach Your Child About Different Types of Families
From an early age, tell your child that families may look different than yours does but that what makes a family a family is the love they have for one another. Tell your child that families sometimes have two mommies or two daddies. Sometimes children live with their grandparents or another relative. In the case of adoption, a child is placed with another family because the child’s birth mother wasn’t ready or able to be a parent at that time in her life.
Explain to your child that though a child may look different from their parents or siblings, they are as much family as the other members. Remember to emphasize that blood doesn’t make a family–love is what makes a family.
Emphasize the Love
It’s important for you to emphasize the love involved in adoption. Stress that while the birth mother wasn’t ready or able to take care of her child at that time in her life, she did, in fact, love her child very much. Deciding to place a child for adoption is a very loving decision. A birth mom who places her child for adoption wants to give her child the life she cannot provide for them. She wants to give her child the opportunities she cannot give them.
Adoptive parents love their children as much as any biological parent does. If your child’s friend was placed with an open adoption, you could tell your child that they have two families who love and care about them–their birth family and adoptive family.
Use Age-Appropriate Language
Children will be able to understand and learn more about adoption as they grow up. It’s important to be mindful about what your child may or may not understand at their age.
Be careful not to talk negatively about adoption or birth parents in front of your child. If you have a toddler or preschool-aged child, they won’t understand a lot about adoption, but they will understand the attitude you have about adoption. They will see adoption as a positive thing when you speak positively about it to them.
A toddler or preschooler doesn’t have a big attention span. Plan for several small conversations about adoption before your child’s friend comes over for a playdate. Answer your child’s questions truthfully and as simply as you can.
Once your child is in early elementary school, they will be able to understand the different ways in which families are formed. Remember to use terms like “birth parents” and “adoptive parents” when talking to your child about adoption. If your child asks about their friend’s “real parents,” be sure to correct them.
Be Available for Questions
Let your child know that they can ask you any questions they have about adoption. Kids, especially young children, do not have filters, so they may inadvertently ask their friends questions that can come off as insensitive or nosy. Encourage your child to run any questions they have by you before going to their friend to ask them.
Read Books About Adoption
Books are a valuable resource for teaching kids about adoption. Here are some books you might want to consider reading with your child.
We Belong Together: A Book About Adoption and Families by Todd Parr: This book uses kid-friendly language to help children understand the different ways in which people can come together to make a family. The book features bright, colorful illustrations and touches upon the reasons people come together as families.
Todd Parr also wrote The Family Book, which helps kids understand the different forms families can take. The book includes single-parent families as well as families with two mommies or two daddies. It also features noisy, quiet, clean, and messy families.
Horace by Holly Keller: This book is about a leopard who is adopted by tiger parents. The book is great for helping kids learn that all members of a family may not look alike.
Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz: This book is inspired by the author’s own experiences. This is a great book about international adoption. It depicts the excitement adoptive parents feel as they wait for their adoptive child to arrive.
My Family is Forever by Nancy Carlson: This book emphasizes it doesn’t matter where you were born or whether you look different from your family; family is about love. The book depicts the adoption journey and life after the placement has occurred. This book is particularly good for helping kids begin to understand transracial adoption.
Lucy’s Family Tree by Karen Halvorsen Schreck: This book may be a good choice for older children to learn about different types of families. Lucy is a Mexican child who was adopted by an American couple. Her teacher assigns her the project of making a family tree, but Lucy fears she can’t do the assignment because she is too “different.”
Lucy’s parents challenge her to find three families that are the same, so she begins exploring her friends’ families. She discovers that each family she believes is “typical” is unique. For instance, Lucinda has a stay-at-home dad and a bread-winning mom, the Malones are coping with the loss of their daughter who was in a car accident, and the Keaton children have a stepfather.
Movies to Help Kids Understand Adoption
There are also several movies you can watch with your child to help them learn about adoption.
Tarzan: This is a movie about a boy growing up as an orphan among a group of gorillas. Even though Tarzan is a human, the gorillas welcome him with open arms, raising him with love and care. Tarzan questions his origins, but he comes to realize that the gorillas are his real family.
Meet the Robinsons: Lewis is a 12-year-old inventor who has had 124 adoption interviews, none of them panning out in a forever home for him. Mildred, the orphanage director where Lewis lives, remains positive, telling Lewis that there is nothing wrong with him and that he will eventually find his family.
Annie: Annie is a young girl living in an orphanage run by Agatha Hannigan, a cruel woman who makes the orphans clean constantly. Oliver Warbucks wants to improve his public image, so he decides to invite one of the orphans to live with him in his mansion for a week. Annie is the one chosen.
Though dismissive of her at first, Warbucks develops affectionate feelings for Annie and decides to adopt her.
I absolutely loved this movie when I was growing up. The songs are catchy, and the movie has a happy ending. It’s such a sweet portrayal of what family is and helps kids learn about adoption.
The Tigger Movie: This movie can help kids understand that families come in all shapes and sizes. Tigger wants to find his Tigger family, but he is unsuccessful in finding them. What Tigger realizes, in the end, is that his friends are his family.
Lilo & Stitch: Nani is a waitress struggling to take care of her sister, Lilo, after their parents die. When Nani loses her job, she’s told that Lilo will be taken away from her and placed in foster care unless she can find another job. Nani struggles to find work so she can continue to care for her sister.
Teach Your Child Acceptance
Remind your child that even though their friend’s family may have formed a different way than yours did, adopted children are no different than other kids. Encourage your child to treat their friend in the same way they treat all of their other friends. Kindly tell your child not to pressure their friend to talk about their adoption or birth family. In no way is adoption a shameful thing. However, while some children are open about their adoption stories, others aren’t comfortable sharing their stories with their friends.
Encourage your child to be kind to everyone and to accept others as they are. Remind your child that we are all unique–we are all different from one another. It is these differences that make the world a beautiful and fascinating place.
If your non-adopted child has a playdate with an adopted child, talking to your child about adoption before the playdate is a great idea. Using proper, age-appropriate, and positive language when teaching your child about adoption will help them accept adoption as the beautiful thing it is. Books and movies make great teaching assistants for kids, and reading a book or watching a movie about adoption with your child is a great way to facilitate conversation about the topic of adoption. Above all, emphasize that what makes a family is love.Are you considering adoption and want to give your child the best life possible? Let us help you find an adoptive family that you love. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.
Sierra M. Koester is an award-winning freelance writer and professional blogger. She earned her BA in Psychology in 2004 and has worked with several nonprofit agencies. She began her writing career in 2006 and has written extensively in the areas of health, psychology, and pets. Sierra advocates for the adoption of children as well as homeless animals. When she isn’t writing, you can find Sierra with her nose in a book or hanging out with her two kitties, Carmine, a wise old orange tabby Sierra adopted when he was a kitten, and Tylan, a cat whom Sierra adopted after he was rescued from a hoarding situation in Thailand. You can learn more about Sierra by visiting http://www.sierrakoester.blogspot.com.