Parenting the Adopted Child
Raising a family today is difficult. Raising an adopted child presents unique challenges. As your child grows, she will be influenced by family, friends, school, and the community. She will also be influenced by her past and the genes passed to her by her birth parents. Both are powerful factors in her development, personality and temperament. By understanding the role adoption plays in how she perceives herself and her world, you can help her accept her own uniqueness and be proud of who she is!
- Honesty and openness -
- Preschoolers - Talk with your child about adoption as soon as she is able to understand (3-4 years of age) to help her know it is an open and acceptable subject. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. Talk with your young child about the joy you felt bringing her home that very first day. Answer any questions she may have honestly and in a way that will be easy for her to understand. Keep it simple and be careful not to overwhelm her with too much information! If you do not know the answers, be honest about that also. Developing trust is essential for nurturing a healthy, warm relationship.
- School-agers - Children are now aware of themselves as persons separate from their parents. It is typical for them to begin to question where exactly they fit into the world. Understanding why their birthparents were unable to take care of them is important for children this age. While a preschooler sees adoption as special, the older child may perceive themselves as being ‘different’. It is essential to talk with your child about how to handle questions she may encounter from her peers at school. Role play scenarios and let your child work out what questions they feel comfortable answering and how.
- Pre-Teens - This stage of development is characterized by moodiness and a strong desire for independence. Because adolescents value privacy it is important that parents recognize and take advantage of opportunities to communicate. Ask open-ended questions that facilitate discussions rather than those which yield only “yes” or “no” answers. This stage may also be the time when your child begins to ask for detailed information about his birth parents and the circumstances surrounding his adoption. Answer honestly using positive language but allow your child to express any anger or negative emotions he may be feeling. Also, keep in mind that your pre-teen is now struggling with the vital “who am I?” issue. He needs frequent reassurances he is loved, capable, and worthy.
- Don’t force the issue - Children are unique. Some will be very curious from the beginning; others will be hesitant to broach the subject. Seek to create an atmosphere that lets her know it is OK to talk about adoption or her past, but don’t force the issue.
- Learn as much as you can about your child’s background - This will equip you to anticipate some of the issues you may face in the future and understand better how to meet her needs now.
- Be prepared - Adoptions can be complicated. Because you may be dealing with serious issues involving your child’s past, don’t be afraid to seek professional help for you and/or your child. All children misbehave at times; it is a natural part of development. Don’t always assume that adoption is the cause of every difficulty.
- Nurture ties to your child’s past - Even if the child you adopt has experienced trauma before she came to you, find some positive connection to her past. Oftentimes there are no caring relatives, former friends, or pictures to share. Try taking her for a visit to the town or hospital where she was born. Make a festive ‘scrapbook’ of the positive current events that occurred during her birth year. If you have a child from another country, it is especially important to keep a connection to her cultural heritage.
- All things equal - Every child in your family should be treated the same by you, your relatives, and friends. Avoid referring to her as “my adopted daughter” when introducing your family. Adopted children may feel different from others in the family. Her appearance, abilities, and temperament could be quite different. Be sure to let her know that what makes her special is not the fact she was adopted, but that she is your child! It is important that she knows she is wanted- not any more than a biological child would be and not any less!
By building a relationship based on honesty, love, and patience you and your adopted child can form a deep connection which is as meaningful and fulfilling as any parent and child bond.