Talking to Kids About Adoption

Talking to Kids About Open Adoption

Understanding and Connecting with Birth Families

Feelings about being adopted influence a child’s sense of self-worth and esteem. Adoptive parents are caught in the paradox of helping their child understand what it means to be adopted while knowing that in the process, the child may feel rejected, sad, and hurt. Parents worry about how best to talk about adoption.

A child’s curiosity can be a signal for a parent. Answering the question “Where do I come from?” involves discussions about birth, reproduction, and adoption. If your child doesn’t ask, you need to raise the topic yourself; find out what your child thinks and what he wants to know. It is better to respond to questions than to inundate a child with information. It’s your job to give them their information. It’s their right to know the truth.

Basic Elements of Good Communication:

  • Listen with respect – Hear what is beyond the words
  • Position yourself at eye level and make eye contact
  • Pay attention to body language
  • Repeat actions and messages of empowerment
  • Allow for disagreement without triggering oppositional behavior
  • Find areas of agreement
  • Don’t expect full buy-in
  • Keep at it – talking about adoption is not a “one-shot” deal

Communicating with a Young Child About Adoption:

  • Be comfortable yourself – the emotions will be more important than the words
  • Use a lifebook
  • Answer what is asked – don’t tell the whole story in one sitting!

Communicating with School Age Children about Adoption:

  • Model a range of expressions for emotions
  • Feeling SAD → makes me feel MAD → which leads to acting BAD
  • Use stories, movies, puppet play to “practice” and observe lots of emotions
  • Provide physical as well as verbal outlets for emotions

Communicating with Teens About Open Adoption

  • Talk often about family connections.
  • Present thoughts and ideas for them to consider in their media -i.e. music, movies.
  • Partialize the process to the point of acceptance.
  • Don’t back away from the hard questions – i.e. sex
  • Expect relationships to change over time

Source: Coalition 2004 Conference Worhshop Presentation by Sue Badeau,

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