The elementary school-age years are an important time for parents to lay the foundation for the potential turbulence of adolescents. What can parents do to help their children process adoption in the ages between 6 and 12? We’ve come up with a list of nine things we think adoptive parents must do to before their child hits adolescence.
1. Keep lines of communication open.
Kids at this age often don’t raise the subject of adoption. Only in my dreams has one of my kids said: “Mom, I’d like to talk about what it feels like to be adopted.” This means parents have to take the responsibility of periodically raising the subject.
Look for opportunities in movies, television, popular culture, or books. We must raise the subject, rather than waiting for our kids to draw the connection. For example, when watching Stuart Little, we might say: “I can understand why Stuart wanted to find his birth family. His dad didn’t seem to understand. What do you think?”
Don’t force the conversation. Throw out the opener and allow your child to decide how far the conversation will go.
2. Become a trusted resource.
Seek information on any question your child asked. If you don’t know the answer do your best to get it. Share your efforts with your child so he knows that you are a good resource to come to with the hard questions.
3. Don’t take it personally.
During the ages between 6 and 12 children begin to fully grasp the meaning of adoption. They understand not only the joy of your and their gain by coming together but also the sadness of leaving or being relinquished. And relinquishment for any reason can feel like rejection.
Some kids are simply not naturally curious, but others are. Our kid’s questions about adoption and their first family are not about you, so don’t make it about you by taking their natural curiosity personally.
And for goodness sakes, get over the need for them to use “politically correct” words. If your daughter says she thinks about her “real mom” frequently, thank your lucky stars that she is sharing this with you and forget about her word choice. She has chosen you (YOU!) to share something deep and personal with. Just sit with that a moment. She chose you! And believe me, she knows that you are real too.
4. Share what you know by age 12.
The information about their first family and how they came to be placed for adoption belongs to your child. It’s his information—all of it, even the parts you wish you could erase. We have resources to help walk you through how to share some of the hard pieces of their story, such as drug abuse or violence.
5. Foster openness with birth family when possible.
One of the best ways for children to understand their adoption is to have a connection with their birth family. If meetings aren’t possible, can you do phone calls or text messages? How about a closed Facebook group? If connecting with birth parents is not possible, can you reach out to grandparents or aunts? Demystify their adoption and birth family by getting to know them.
6. Show a positive attitude about birth parents.
Adoptive parents should convey a positive image of the birth parents to their child, even in instances of abuse and neglect. Separate the birth parents from their behavior so that the child does not feel that he is bad because the birth parents did “bad” things. You should not discount the bad things the birth parents may have done, but most children can understand that parenting is a difficult job and many people do not learn how to parent well. They can also understand that addiction is a disease.
7. Read adoption-themed books to your kids.
Books can provide an excellent opportunity for parents and children to discuss adoption in a non-threatening way. Books written by adopted children and adults can help children realize they are not alone in their experience.
Discussing grief and loss should not be a one-time event. Adoption is a life-long process that needs to be revisited by parents and children as the children age and their understanding grows. Creating a Family has a fantastic list of children’s books that touch on adoption. It is broken out by age to help you choose.
8. Be around other adoptive families.
When our children are preschoolers we often join adoptive playgroups or seek out other adoptive families. As our kids age, it’s harder to find the time for these groups because our families grow and our children get involved in other activities. It takes more effort to find other adoptive families that you can gather with, but being around families that look like theirs helps children.
9. Get help when needed.
There is no shame in seeking help if you or your child is struggling. In fact, you are teaching your child a valuable life lesson: strong smart people get help. We have resources for finding a therapist that specializes in adoption.
What would you add to the list?
Image credit: Lotus Carroll; Richard Richter; prettywar-stl