When is the best time to talk to my child about being adopted? Many adoptive parents are apprehensive about discussing adoption with their child. They are concerned about whether their child will understand adoption, how the information will affect them emotionally and whether it will change the parent-child relationship.
As both an Adoption Consultant and an adoptive parent I am convinced that the best time to introduce adoption is right from the beginning of your relationship with your child. Whether a newborn or a teenager, it is never too soon to start talking with a child about their adoption story. I often encourage parents even before their adopted child is placed with them to begin by telling the adoption story to each other to establish a sense of ease and comfort with the information. With this approach there is no need to choose a time to tell your child about adoption because they’ve been hearing about it since you became a family.
It is important when thinking about your child’s adoption story to remember that it did not begin when he or she joined your family. Your child, no matter what their age at the time of adoption, already had some very significant experiences before you became their parent. These experiences must be acknowledged as significant to the child’s history and should be included in their story.
The story is best developed over time and with great consideration for the child’s current developmental capacity. A child at the age three can best manage the basic themes of their story, while each new stage of development will present an opportunity to provide information with greater detail. Children need to hear their adoption story at each developmental stage so they have an opportunity to ask questions that fit with their new experiences and understanding of the world. A child at the age of three will want to know whose tummy they came out of while a child at age of six may wonder why their birth mother chose an adoption plan.
Sometimes a child’s journey to adoption includes upsetting and potentially hurtful events that may be difficult for adoptive parents to discuss with their child. It is important to remember that the details of a child’s history are shared according to the child’s social and emotional development rather than all at once. Regardless of the degree of unpleasantness a child needs to know the truth about his or her story in keeping with their developmental capacity to understand and tolerate the information.
A child develops the ability to accept their own story and all of its complicating factors based in part on their perception of their parents response to the information. When I am consulting with loving and well intentioned adoptive parents who are unable to tell the story of their children from beginning to end with clarity and confidence I am immediately concerned about the well being of their child. If the adults in a child’s life are not comfortable talking about the child’s history it will be difficult for the child to make sense of it. When an adoptive parent is missing key information about their child’s history in spite of their best efforts, these missing pieces become a part of the story. There are times when a parent must work through their own grief and loss whether historical or at present before they are able to handle the grief and loss of their adopted children have experienced.
If you have not begun to share your child’s adoption story with them it is never too late to start. It may be startling information for a child who experiences it for the first time in their middle childhood. It will require a great deal of empathy, understanding and patience for parents to support their children in understanding their story and accepting it as a part of themselves. Once the child is able to make sense of their own experiences they are better prepared to move forward with their development and engage in healthy relationships.
Article courtesy of Andrea Chatwin, MA, CCC
Consultant, Educator and Therapist