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Help adopted kids understand their birth heritage via open dialogue

Help adopted kids understand their birth heritage via open dialogue

Ongoing, open dialogue is crucial in helping your adopted children understand and come to terms with their birth heritage and blood ancestry. Over the past century, there have been drastic changes in the adoption process and the amount of openness. Families were once told to keep all family information secret, but this has now changed. We now know that the more knowledge adopted children have about their past, the less emotional trauma they will struggle with in later years.

Many research studies have found that not knowing actually leaves adopted children feeling alienated and disconnected to their past. Talking to your adopted children openly about their biological roots is your opportunity to educate on the topic and help them define their attitudes toward adoption before others have the chance. Curiosity about the past is a very normal interest and should not be viewed as maladjustment—or as having any lack of love for adoptive parents.


Do

Do begin talking as early as infancy

It is never too early to start talking to your child about adoption. The earlier you start, the easier it will be as your child ages and begins to understand the language of adoption.

Do advantage of the everyday teachable moments

Try to balance facts and hard data with feelings and emotions. You want your child to be comfortable discussing both. Use everyday happenings to spark conversation. Help your children identify and label their feelings surrounding their past.

Do keep the discussion at a developmentally appropriate level

Make sure you keep the conversation at an age-appropriate level for your child. Preschoolers do not understand abstract concepts, such as racism. They do not know about reproduction or how babies are made. Only give them what they are able to understand and can handle at the time. Hold the more difficult facts and/or painful details for the later tween or teen years.

Do be honest with the facts

It is your job as a parent to help your children make sense of their past and deal with their adoption in a positive and appropriate manner. Keep the story concrete and honest. Don’t let it sound like a storybook fairytale. It is their story and you do not want to deny them the truth. Unravel the story as your kids are ready. For example, a 10-year-old child cannot understand what rape or incarceration means, but a 16-year-old can.

Do talk often and keep it conversational with a matter-of-fact tone

Maintain a casual and ongoing dialogue. Always use positive adoption language. Make your children feel comfortable bringing their feelings about the adoption to you. Remember it is your children, so you can direct the flow and create the rules.


Don't

Do not lie about the facts of the adoption

Adopted children are entitled to all information about their birth families at some point throughout their childhood. Lies only shroud the topic of adoption with shame, leading to lower self-esteem and self-confidence in the child. Research has shown that openness and truth are the best route. Make sure you handle the truth at understandable levels of development.

Do not assume you know what your child is feeling

Not every problem your child will have can be attributed to being adopted. Ask open-ended questions to get kids to open up. If you feel that your kids are stuck and cannot discuss the situation with you, be sure to offer them a professional counselor from the outside, without making them feel guilty about it.

Do not pry or push too much on the topic of adoption

If your children are hesitant to talk or avoid the topic of adoption, leave it alone until another time. You know your children best, and you know what information they are ready for when the opportunity arises. Respect and protect their privacy. The preteen years brings more abstract thinking and the need to fit in with peers. During this time, being adopted may make them feel different and they may shut off. Give them space, but be sure to stay informed on their activities and behaviors.

Do not allow kids to feel disloyal by being curious

Let your child know that there is nothing wrong with loving two sets of parents, other birth-siblings or two families. Reaffirm both the sameness and the differences that the two of you have. Whether similar or diverse, both can be viewed in a positive light.

Do not cut your child off or stop talking about the adoption

Most children, adopted or not, develop a fantasy family or family romance. This usually develops between six to eight years old. Invite your children to share their fantasies about their birth parents with you. This will open up their private thoughts and feelings surrounding the adoption, bring the two of you closer, and create more future opportunities to talk as they mature into teens.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Always maintain ongoing openness and honesty with your adopted children concerning their biological roots, and in the story of why and how they came to be placed with you. Do not postpone talking about it until later years. It should begin as early as infancy. This will create ongoing normality and comfort using adoption language in the home.

Take advantage of the everyday teachable moments to talk about adoption and stay within a casual and normal tone. Be sure to maintain the conversation at an age appropriate level for your child. Never lie about the facts and don’t assume you know what your child is feeling.

Encourage open feelings and emotions to surface without excessive prying. Remember that it is their past, and they have a right to know it. Never let them feel that they are being disloyal to you by their interest and curiosity.


More expert advice about Adoption and Foster Care

Photo Credits: © Vitaly Maksimchuk - Fotolia.com; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Sandy EndersOnline Educator

Sandy Enders, MS, SYC, MA, teaches in the Social & Behavioral Sciences department at Central Texas College and Housatonic Community College. She resides in Connecticut with her husband and son, Adam, who the two adopted at birth from Guatem...

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