Talking with Children About Adoption at Different Ages and Developmental Stages

Talking about adoption is like throwing pebbles into a pond. We may not necessarily start a conversation, but we are creating ripples of understanding.

The topic for yesterday’s Creating a Family show—Talking with Children about Adoption at Different Ages and Developmental Stages– is near and dear to my heart on a professional level and makes me squirm just a bit on the personal level. It’s all fine and good to talk about what to say about adoption and how to do it, but what if your child doesn’t ask questions. What if your child shows precious little interest when you bring up the topic? And what if, let’s just say in this hypothetical example, you’re an adoption educator who is supposed to know how to talk with kids about adoption, but can’t get one of her own to talk?

We tell parents that they must talk about adoption with their children. We tell them that if they adopt a child of a different race, they must talk about race. (Although arguably all parents should talk about race regardless whether their family is monochromatic or rainbow hued.) As Debbie Riley, adoption therapist extraordinaire, Director of the Center for Adoption Support and Education, and guest on yesterday’s Creating a Family show, said (paraphrased from my notes): “Adoptive parents don’t have the luxury of waiting until their kids ask questions about adoption. Their role is different; they must talk about adoption even if their kids don’t ask because they must help their kids understand what adoption means.”

What if Your Child Is Not Interested in Talking about Adoption?!?

I’ve always said that we can’t let supposed lack of interest stop us from periodically raising the subject. When my child was younger, I read lots of books about adoption as a conversation starter. True, those conversations were mighty one sided, but then again, my standards for what constitutes a conversations with a 6 year old are also mighty low. My approach as my kiddo has aged has been to periodically throw some adoption or race question “out there” and let her decide whether to pick it up or let it drop. Most often it drops, but at least she knows I’m ready and willing to engage if she chooses.

I loved the analogy Debbie gave in the show of our conversation starters as little pebbles that we are throwing in a pond. They may not necessarily start a conversation, but they still create ripples. I hope they are ripples of understanding and comfort.

If I’ve learned anything over my many years of parenting it is that humans are amazingly and wonderfully unique. And adoptees, just like the rest of the human race, fit right into this description. I’m in the midst of interviewing adult adoptees for a future project (book? huge blog? major motion picture?). Although I’m not surprised, I can’t help but notice that their experiences and attitudes about their adoption are all over the board. For some reason, this diversity makes me very happy.

So here’s the deal: Some kids will want to talk about adoption. Some kids will have lots of questions. Some kids will actively grieve and angst over what might have been. And some kids won’t. Our job as parents is to look for opportunities to engage in this topic regardless of the outward manifestations of interesest or lack thereof.

What’s been your experience? Do you have a talker or one who shows little interest? How do you start the conversation? 

Do yourself a favor and listen to this Creating a Family show. Such a wealth of information!


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What We Talked about On the Creating a Family show:

  • How to talk with a baby or toddler about adoption?
  • What is the goal of talking with babies or toddlers about their adoption?
  • How much do babies and toddlers understand about the concept of adoption?
  • At what age do children begin to notice skin color differences?
  • What is the primary goal when talking with children between the ages of 2 and 6 about their adoption?
  • What are some good ways to initiate this discussion of adoption in the preschool years?
  • Why are lifebooks so important?
  • When should you start talking about the “hard issues” of adoption with your child?
  • Should you tell your elementary aged child about issues such as  such as conception by rape, imprisonment, addiction, neglect?
  • How can you prepare children to handle the inevitable questions they will receive from others about their adoption?
  • At what general ages do children really grasp the entirety of what adoption means?
  • Should parents follow their child’s lead when talking about what it means to be adopted?
  • How is grief, anger, or anxiety about adoption expressed in a child?
  • How to talk with your child about her birth father when you don’t know who he is?
  • How to talk about adoption with a child who does not ask questions and shows little interest?
  • How do adolescents understand adoption?
  • What role should parent’s play in discussion adoption with a teen?
  • Why is adolescence a potentially problematic time for adoptees?
  • How to find a therapist that is competent in the issues of adoption?

Image credit: aspecticide

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