The school year can bring a new set of challenges for adopted children. Often, it is the first time kids are left to explain adoption, without having a parent nearby to help. Facing school projects and describing adoption to new classmates can bring on numerous complex emotions. It is important for parents to understand how to help their adopted kids fit in at school.
- discuss adoption with teachers
- use school projects about heritage or origin as a communication tool
- help your children decide how much information to share
- underestimate the importance of education
- forget to normalize adoption
- cause shame by encouraging secrets
- overlook the need to seek help
It is important for parents to talk to the teachers of young students. Begin with a little information and watch how the teacher uses it. Then decide whether or not to share more information. The following ideas are a good way to begin the conversation:
- “We are an adoptive family.”
- “Our child knows his or her story.”
- “If you are starting a unit on families, heritage or immigration, please let me know.”
Utilize school projects as a way to chat with your children about how adoption makes them similar and different from their classmates. Offer your children and their teachers tools for managing their family tree projects. If your children just want to use your family on their tree, that is fine, too.
Be sure your children do not get blindsided by this project. Create a family tree in their “All about Me” lifebook before third grade. Also, remember to ask teachers to alert you when heritage or origin projects are coming.
It is vital to help your kids decide when and how much to share, as well as how to tell their story. Ask your children who will tease them if they share a specific piece of information about their adoption as kids know the bullies at school. Try opening the discussion with: “What will (the bully) say?” and “How will you respond?”
Spend time connecting yourself and your child with other adoptive families in your community. Families who network have a stronger support system. Talk to the school social worker, a local adoption agency or go online to find a support group nearby.
It is crucial that your children do not feel out of place because they are the only adopted individual, person of a certain ethnic background or child with a specific learning/behavior struggle in his/her grade or at school.
Offer to lead a classroom activity around the meaning of adoption. Or suggest creating a presentation about holidays that are specific to your child’s ethnic background. You can read a book to the class or play a game. They key is to make it fun for the class.
When you educate your child’s class by leading an activity on what adoption means, be sure not to focus these activities specifically on your child. Your goal is to normalize adoption–and not make your child self-conscious. Most parents stop presenting in class by third grade for two reasons: Many children become embarrassed to have their parents present in their class, and children are getting old enough to decide what to share or not share on their own.
Help your kids manage their responses. If kids are not sure how to manage the anticipated teasing, they usually edit themselves. Make sure your child understands it is okay to tell only some of the adoption story, if he or she prefers not to tell the entire story.
Be proactive and do not wait. If your student is struggling at school, get help. Some adopted students come from high-risk genetics, poor prenatal care or tough life experiences. Not surprisingly, these kids are more likely to have learning disabilities or behavior challenges. A good teacher-student fit, extra services and medication can sometimes make a huge difference. If your child’s school is overwhelmed, unknowledgeable or unresponsive, talk to an adoption-competent therapist or psychologist.
Attending school is tough when you feel different or misunderstood. Consequently, educating your school and helping your child share his or her story helps normalize school experiences. Remember that it is okay to ask for help. Use your network or find an adoption-competent therapist to help you and your child.