Sponsored Content l January 17, 2020

Talking to Your Child About Adoption

If you’re like many adoptive parents, it can come as a surprise when your elementary school-aged child, who has always “known” they were adopted, begins to ask questions you thought were answered years ago. You have probably told your child their story many times and answered their questions. But something transformative happens between the ages of six and eight that shakes everything up. As your child moves into middle childhood, they experience cognitive changes, from newly found reasoning and problem-solving skills to being able to take another person’s perspective for the first time.

By this age, most children are not only able to notice what makes them similar to and different from others, but they are able to arrange their thoughts into questions about skin color, family composition, and reproduction—which allows them to think about their adoption in a whole new way. It’s an exciting time, but also comes with some sadness and confusion as many adopted children are now able to understand that relinquishment led to their being adopted.
Here are some tips to support you during this stage of adoption development.

Go Slowly and Listen Carefully. Try not to rush in to answer your child’s questions or fix what might seem like a problem. Instead, listen carefully and ask your child simple questions to help them express what’s on their mind. With a focus on listening, you will learn to see the world from your child’s perspective and be better prepared to respond to your child’s unique needs.

Keep Playing. If you’re getting tripped up over finding the right words, you are in luck because helping a young child make sense of adoption also happens through play. Play themes of caretaking, nurturing, separation and reconnection, belonging, being lost and found are common among all children and can have an added layer for adoptees. Your child may incorporate elements from movies or stories that worry or delight them. Through their play, they express their emotional experience symbolically. It’s not necessary to correct a child’s play or to interpret the story line. Enjoy the intimate experience of being included in their imagination and take note of their concerns or themes.

It’s Not about You. At this age, children are able to ask direct questions about their biological family, and some parents feel hurt by their curiosity. Keep in mind that your child’s interest in their birth family is not a rejection of you. It’s hard, but crucial, that parents do not take this personally. Even at a young age, children are experts at picking up on this kind of defensiveness, and if your child feels that they are upsetting you, they may retreat from future discussions.
Use Props and Resources: Using props to move conversations forward is especially grounding when emotions run high and we can literally “hold on” to something to help us stay on topic. Picture books help to identify feelings, reflect diversity in families, and show images from birth places. Children’s literature is now bursting with adoption-themed stories, including chapter books. There are non-competitive games to encourage communication and build attachment as well as videos to help children and adults understand adoptive family life. This is an ideal time to attend a Lifebook workshop with your child to help facilitate conversations about their adoption story.
Build Your Community: Making connections with others who understand what you and your child are experiencing can’t be overestimated. At Spence-Chapin, we believe that adoption is a lifelong journey and help parents build their community early with our Bagels and Blox events. This is where young children and their parents can meet to play and socialize. We also have Play Café which gives adopted children 6-9 a place to explore their feelings through arts and crafts. Visit our events calendar at www.spence-chapin.org/events to learn about our LGBTQ family brunch and walking with us in the NYC Pride March.

Any parent who wonders how much their child needs to know about adoption and how to share it with them can benefit from a coaching session. Spence-Chapin’s coaching services can support you to gain clarity and receive guidance.

Contact us at 646-539-2167 or postadoption@spence-chapin.org to schedule an initial consultation.

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