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Explaining Adoption

How you explain adoption to your adopted child, your friends, family members and others in your child's life can affect how your child sees themselves and effect their self-esteem and level of trust in you.

With that in mind we developed the information below to help you find the best way to explain to your child what being adopted really means.

How to Explain Adoption

Approaching the subject of adoption with your child can be very straightforward or not depending on your own level of comfort. The more comfortable you are with your personal feelings about adoption, the easier it will be to convey the issue of adoption to your child.

One of the most common questions that adopting families ask is when and how to tell their child that they are adopted. There are books written on the subject that can help you and there are adoption theme books that can be read to children such as Sesame Street's "Susan and Gordon Adopt a Baby", Anne Brodzinsky's "The Mulberry Bird", Jamie Curtis' "Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born", and many others.

In the western world of today, there is no longer a fixed idea of a "traditional" family since there are many kinds of families and many ways a child has a parent. There are biological parents, step-parents, donor-parents, single parents, two female parents, two male parents, grandparents raining the child, other relatives raining the child, and there are adoptive parents. Indeed adoption is just another way of a child entering a family.

Some parents decide to wait to bring up the topic of adoption until they believe the child can understand what they are talking about. Others think it is best that the child never remember a time when they did not know about their adoption. Whatever route you decide is best for you and your child, it is important that the child be told about their adoption more than once. Indeed it should be talked about throughout the stages of their development and talked about in an accepting environment where they can ask and get answers to their questions.

Since it is best that your child learn about adoption from you than from someone else, personally I believe the best time to tell the child is now (as soon as possible). I suggest adopting families talk about adoption from the first day they have custody of the child, regardless of the child's age. Of course a 2 month old child will not understand the words, but they can feel the tone of our voice and, as with all words, they begin to understand the meaning over time. Certainly we read to our children before they can understand the words. And we may teach them about God long before they can understand. But our words and their meanings grow on the child and the emotions we attach to the words also grow with word recognition.

It should be explained that the child has two sets of parents, the ones whose tummy they grew in and the ones who now take care of them, love them, and will be with them. The actual words will vary with each parent and each child but the idea is not to hide the adoption since it is a fact and will always be part of the child.

When discussing adoption, research has found certain words relating to the adoption process carry stronger implications than we may intend. It is suggested you use words such as birth parent, birth father, birth mother rather than the words real parent, real father, or real mother. When referring to the child you do not need to use the words adopted child or adopted brother/sister unless you are specifically talking about the adoption process. Even with the adoption process itself it is better to talk about the birth mother choosing to make an adoption plan rather than words like giving up her baby, relinquishing you, abandoning you, or keeping you.

You may also find the links Adoption and Child Development Issues and Adoption and Schools as well as Adoption Emotional Issues helpful.

Please visit our home page to read about our commitment to assist adoptive parents like you as well as pregnant women and birth parents.

Personal Advice

If you need or want some specific personal advice, contact your adoption agency social worker, clergy, local mental health center, state child welfare agency or your state of residence adoption contact for recommendations of appropriate professionals.

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