Talking With Your Adopted or Foster Child About the Hard Parts of Their Story

Talking with your adopted or foster child about the hard parts of their story can feel like a daunting task. Should you tell your child that her birth father is in jail or that her birth mother is addicted to drugs, or that she was conceived by rape? If so, how in the world do you share this news. We talk with Lesli Johnson, an EMDR therapist who specializes in adoption and foster care and an adult adoptee; and Susan Myers, a licensed Master Social Worker with Adoptions from the Heart Adoption Agency with offices throughout the northeast.

In this episode, we cover:

  • Should you tell your child these difficult parts of their history? 
  • How should you tell your child these hard parts of their background?
  • How do you lay the groundwork with young children in order to fill in the details later?
  • By what age should you have shared all of your child’s story with him?
  • Give specific examples of how a conversation might go with a preschooler, and how would you fill in the gaps for a 6 year old, 10, 13 year old, etc.
    • Child abuse
    •  Addiction
    • Parent in jail
  • Can you use a lifebook to talk about rape, imprisonment, drug and alcohol addiction?
  • What is a lifebook and what should be included in a lifebook?
  • How to use a lifebook when there is jail, rape, abuse, etc in the child’s story?
  • Specifically, how should parents tell their child that they were conceived during a rape?
  • Oversharing can happen with both parents and with children.
  • It’s tempting when your child is an infant to tell people private information. Why should foster and adoptive parents avoid this?
  • When might it be important to share some details of the child’s background?
  • How do you help your child understand how much of his story he should share with others outside the family?
  • How can adoptive parents help their children understand that they are more than the hard parts of their history and that they are not doomed to repeat their birth parents’ mistakes?

Additional Resources:

Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child: Making Sense of the Past, by Betsy Keefer  and Jayne E. Schooler

Talking with Children about Difficult History,  by Holly van Gulden 

Lifebooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child (2nd Edition September 21, 2011), by Beth O’Malley M.Ed

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Music Credit: Michael Ashworth

Image Credit: Cottonbro