Every year right about this time, children everywhere are going back to school. The lines at Walmart are long and shopping carts are full of brand new box 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 make sure 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. We buy the school supplies and new clothes, fill out reams of paperwork, and sent them off with a kiss and a prayer. But adoption can add complications at school.
- Maybe your family is transracial, and you worry that your child will have to field questions.
- Maybe your child’s family is filled with birth parents, birth siblings, etc., and you wonder if you need to give the teacher a score card to know who is who.
- Maybe your child came to you with the emotional scars and behavior of a hard life, and you are debating how much information to share with her teacher.
- Maybe your child has learning differences/disabilities caused by prenatal alcohol or drug exposure, and you question if the teacher needs to know the cause in order to help.
- Maybe we worry that our child is a little fuzzy on the difference between privacy and secrecy, and perhaps has a tendency to overshare information that he may later regret telling.
- And then there are the dreaded school assignments that may just draw unwanted attention to the way our child joined our family.
There are negative stereotypes about adoption, and we don’t want to needlessly burden our child or his teacher. On the other hand, we do want to be proactive to avoid any potential problems. We talked about all of these on this Creating a Family Radio Show: School Issues for Adopted Kids and Families.
Beginning of School Checklist for Adopted Kids
- If your family stands out, prepare your child to answer questions from other children.
- If you want to make sure that different types of 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.
- If your child was adopted internationally, consider asking the teacher if you can do a lesson on that country. Hint: bringing candy from that country to share is always a hit.
- Share the amount of information about your child’s life that is necessary for the teacher to help your child. It is usually not necessary to share intensely personal details with the school.
- 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.
- If your child freely and proudly shared details about his adoption and life prior to coming to your family, think about whether he is oversharing details that he will later regret. 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.
- 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 on how to handle these assignments on our School Issues for Adopted Kids page.
Image credit: William Warby