school issues for adopted kids

Every year right about this time, children everywhere are going back to school. The lines at the discount stores are long. Shopping carts are full of brand new boxes of crayons and brightly colored spiral-bound notebooks. As thoughts turn to school, parents of adopted kids often wonder if they need to do anything extra to ensure their child has a smooth school year.

In most respects, the beginning of the school year is no different for adopted kids than for kids born into their families. You buy the same school supplies and new clothes, fill out reams of paperwork and send them off with a kiss and a prayer. But adoption can add layers of complication to your child’s school experience:

  • Maybe your family is transracial, and you worry that your child will have to field questions about your family.
  • Your child might have a large, extended birth family, and you wonder if you need to give the teacher a cheat sheet card to know who is who.
  • Your child came to you with the emotional scars and behavior of a hard life, and you wonder how much information to share with her teacher.
  • Johnny has learning differences/disabilities caused by prenatal alcohol or drug exposure, and you question what, if anything, the teacher needs to know to help.
  • Maybe you are worried that your Suzy is a little fuzzy on the difference between privacy and secrecy and has a tendency to overshare information that she may later regret telling her peers.
  • And then there are the dreaded school assignments that may just draw unwanted attention to how your child joined your family.

There are negative stereotypes about adoption, and we get it – you don’t want to needlessly burden your child or overshare with his teacher. On the other hand, you do want to be proactive to avoid any potential problems. We discussed these concerns on this recent podcast, Back to School with Foster & Adopted Kids, featuring Heather T. Forbes, LCSW.

Beginning of School Checklist for Adopted Kids

  1. If your family stands out, prepare your child to answer questions from other children.
  2. If you want to ensure that different families are valued in your school, ask your child’s teacher if you can come to class to read a book about different ways families are made. Check out our list of the best books that highlight different types of families.
  3. If your child was adopted internationally, consider asking the teacher if you can do a lesson about that country. Hint: bringing candy from that country to share is always a hit.
  4. Share the information about your child’s life necessary for the teacher to help your child. It is usually not necessary to share intensely personal details with the school.
  5. If you are concerned about specific behaviors, consider talking with the school counselor in addition to the teacher. Brainstorm ways to help your child and ask for open lines of communication.
  6. If your child freely and proudly shared details about his adoption and life before coming to your family, consider whether he is oversharing details he will regret later. Being proud to be adopted is one thing. Sharing that you were abandoned in a field or that both birth parents are in jail might be too much. Some kids need help understanding the difference between privacy and secrecy.
  7. Ask your child’s teacher if there will be school assignments that might be problematic for your child, such as creating a family tree, bringing baby pictures, or sharing early life stories. Creating a Family has specific suggestions for handling these assignments on our resource page, School Issues for Adopted Kids. We also have a related resource page, School Issues for Foster & Kinship Kids.
Image credit: William Warby