Talking to your child about their adoption as they grow

If your child is young now, it’s a great time to start talking about adoption – opening up the conversation now gives your little one the chance to grow up feeling comfortable talking about their adoption story, and it gives you the chance to start practicing how to tell that story before your child is forming full, long-term memories. This can be useful as a way to make sure you’re comfortable telling your child’s story in a positive way that can provide the tools to cope with the more difficult parts of your child’s story.

However, as your little one grows, what they need and want from conversations about adoption are going to change as well, and not being caught off-guard by these changes can help you feel prepared to meet them as they come.

The toddler years

At this age, your child will probably be interested and happy to hear their adoption story because toddlers’ favorite kinds of stories are the kind where they’re at the center. This may mean that your child wants to talk or hear about their adoption a lot, so it’s important to feel comfortable having those conversations.

This is a great time to make sure you’re introducing positive language around adoption – language like “given up for adoption” might have an impact on young children’s self-esteem as they grow, and using the correct adoption language such as “made an adoption plan” helps to frame the choice in a thoughtful, loving way. Making sure to use language that frames the adoption story as one that is based in love, both from your family and from your child’s birth parents, or first parents, can help children feel more positive about their own stories as they grow.

At a certain point late in the toddler years, your child may begin to have questions about where babies come from – around this time, many young children start to ask about their own origins, too. This may come up even if you’ve already been having conversations with your child about their adoption story, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the way you’ve been talking about it. Instead, it’s just a function of the fact that young children can take some time to really process and understand big concepts like adoption. Talking about it early on lays the groundwork for strong, useful conversations as your little one grows, but getting to the point where your child can formulate questions about it is part of the growth process.

Early childhood

As your child grows out of toddlerhood and into school-age, they may go through periods of time when your little one is more or less interested in their adoption story and birth parents. Children in this age-range may fantasize or wonder about their birth parents, even if they previously haven’t shown much interest in these things. This isn’t a negative reflection on their current relationship with their parents.  Instead, it’s a way of trying to come to terms with their identities and where they came from.

Children around this age also grow increasingly able to notice and categorize differences, and to understand the ways in which their families may be different from other families. This can lead some children to feel self-conscious about their adoption stories. You can help your child feel comfortable with the many diverse ways families can be formed by making sure there are books and other stories in your home that feature many different types of families.

While many children in this age range may express their interest in and changing feelings about their adoptions by asking questions, others might feel less comfortable or confident bringing these questions up – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. Parents can offer the opportunity for children to express themselves by opening up conversations about or related to adoption.

Later childhood and adolescence

All pre-teens and teenagers go through periods of having conflicted feelings as they grow up and work on figuring out who they are. Children who were adopted have an extra layer of identity to sift through as they’re working this out, and that’s true no matter how positive their relationship with the family they’ve grown up with is. Some pre-teens and adolescents go through stages of intense interest in their birth parents, and may search for them if they haven’t already met, or push for more contact with them if there is some contact already. Parents’ support can be extremely important during this time.

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