Letter to My Adopted Child’s Teacher at the Beginning of School

Dawn Davenport

20

School Issues in Adoption

Have you ever written a letter to your child’s teacher at the beginning of the school year to ask for a positive approach to adoption?

Dear Teacher,

Johnny is excited about this school year and so are we. I wanted to share some information about our son that will help you get to know him.

Johnny was adopted at (age) and we have (limited information on his early life, are in an open adoption with his birth family, etc.)

You are in a powerful position to send a message about adoption to both our child as well as to other children in the class.

We would like for you to send a positive message that families are formed in different ways. Some children are born to their parents and some children are adopted by their parents. Regardless of how families come about, they are all “normal” and all are good.

I thought it might make your job easier if I shared some appropriate responses to some typical questions children may ask.

Where are Johnny’s real parents?

Johnny has two sets of real parents–the parents that gave birth to him and the parents that will raise him and be his mom and dad forever. That’s Mrs. and Mr. Smith, who you know.

Why didn’t Johnny’s birth parents keep him?

Johnny’s birth parents weren’t ready to raise a baby when he was born.

Why doesn’t Johnny look like his mommy?

Children usually look like the parents that gave birth to them. Johnny probably looks like his birth parents.

Some school assignments may be hard for us. I’m not asking that you change the assignment, but I would like advanced warning and some creativity of how we can adapt the assignment to fit our circumstances. An example of challenging school assignments would include:

  • Family tree
  • Baby pictures
  • Birth or young infancy stories
  • Inherited traits

I would love the opportunity to meet with you after you have had a chance to get to know my wonderful boy. Can we schedule a time to talk in about three weeks? I would also love to come in and read some books about adoption to the class–we have quite a collection.

We are looking forward to working with you to make this a great year for Johnny. Thank you so much for being on our team.

Best wishes,
Johnny’s Loving Parents

Optional

Depending on your child and whether you think this information needs to be presented up front or if it can wait for your meeting, you may want to include the following type of information. Adapt it to fit your child, but always start with the positive.

Johnny is enthusiastic about everything and loves school. He tries hard to please.

  • Due to his early life experiences ______
    • he carries around a lot of stress. When more stressed is added, you may see him ­_______. He usually responds well when you _____.
    • he struggles to remember boundaries and you may see him ____.  He usually responds well when you _____.
  • He has some developmental gaps that make learning hard.
  • English was not his first language and that makes language arts harder for him.
  • He does not have an IEP, but we have found that the following techniques work well to help him learn:

Have you ever sent a letter to school? What did you include and what was the response?

 

Image credit: horizontal.integration

03/09/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Other Adoption Resources | 20 Comments



20 Responses to Letter to My Adopted Child’s Teacher at the Beginning of School

  1. Grace says:

    My sons teacher told my son he or his brother are probably adopt it because both of them are nine he had mentioned his older brother bday was a month before his during a presentation so she went on to explain that it takes nine months for a mother to have another child and said well one of u has to be adopted in front of the whole classroom later my boys got teased and harassed by other kids at recess. My 3 children are all adopted but my husband & I haven’t told them yet. My children felt embarrassed and confused and questions have arrised . As parents were devastated of the situation and can’t figure out why a teacher and educated person would make such a comment to a child in front of several other fourth graders.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Grace, I’m sorry this happened. Yes, a teacher should have been more sensitive, but it also speaks to the importance of telling children the truth from a very young age. Even if the teacher had not said that, your children would soon have figured out that kids one month apart in the same family can not happen biologically. This is a great opportunity to start talking to your kiddos about adoption and how they came to be yours.

  2. Amanda says:

    Emily, I’ve sometimes said, in a very gentle way, “I’m not actually allowed to talk about the details (of why Johnny was placed for adoption) but I can tell you (insert a general comment here).” Most people respond, “oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…” Or, “oh, right, that makes sense,” And then I say, “oh, no biggie,” and continue the conversation responding in a general way or switch to something more current, like one of my child’s hobbies or a fun thing that happened recently. That way, I haven’t had to be rude, and no one feels like they committed a gaffe. Basically, I’m choosing to not be offended by someone’s ignorance about the complexities of adoption. If someone were to press and ask why I can’t talk about it, I either say there are legal things involved or that my child’s past is her personal information and it is not my place to share it. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Most are not just being nosy, they really do want to understand. And who knows, my response may open someone’s heart about adoption if I am gentle and honest.

  3. cb says:

    “The question is actually so rude I just can’t believe people ask.”

    Emily, at least when someone asks:

    “Why didn’t Johnny’s birth parents keep him?”

    They are at least realising that there might be reasons why bparents aren’t parenting. Many people *think* they already know the answer to that (i.e. their thinking is “Johnny’s bparents didn’t keep them because they didn’t want him”), and thus ask the even more offensive question:

    “Why didn’t your bparents want you”?

    That is something one sees it in the media, on TV, movies and books all the time. That is why I find it amusing when some people “feel the need” to tell us that not all bparents are loving – do they really not think that that might in fact be something that adoptees hear/read etc every day? We ain’t stupid. I’ll personally never know the answer to a lot of questions, so I’ll always assume that my bmother could have felt antyhing from A-Z – one thing that has helped to me to do is to try and talk more in a general way than about her particular situation.

    Thus back to the main question, talking in a more general way can be a good approach when answering questions. For example, one can say “I don’t know the full story for my child but from what I’ve heard about (country) and/or (era) etc, (this) was the situation that people faced” etc. Because I don’t know the full situation re my own relinquishment, I do sometimes talk about the agency which arranged my adoption and what things were like at the time for many women, without actually saying that that was the case for my bmother.

  4. cb says:

    I agree Amanda that “unable to parent” is better than “not ready to parent”.

    The problem with:

    “Johnny’s birth parents weren’t ready to raise a baby when he was born”

    Is that people in general WILL judge the bparents from that statement. As most people don’t understand how adoption works, they will just assume that “Johnny’s bparents” just “weren’t ready and decided not to try” and that they then walked off and then in came the APs to pick up all the pieces.

    I try to think what would be the best way to answer (to paraphrase for my own situation):

    “Why didn’t CBs birthmother keep her?” (don’t know anything about bfather so left him out)

    and my short answer would be “It’s complicated” 🙂 Btw there is nothing wrong with giving that answer or even “I don’t know”. If I’m going to discuss what I know of my bmother’s reasons for relinquishment, I would want to be true to what I know and give a well rounded expanation OR give nothing at all, otherwise I think I would be shortchanging my bmother. To me, saying that my bmother “wasn’t ready to raise a baby” doesn’t really start to cover any of the reasons why relinquishment happened, so it is not a reason I would give.

  5. Amanda says:

    Clarification To my teacher comment: it is definitely helpful to know which students are adopted, but you don’t need a list from every parent about what to do in your class about it. So, let your teacher know Johnny was adopted, but don’t feel like you need to point out that family trees will be hard unless the teacher seems freaked out by the adoption news or is a fairly new teacher. A visit with the school counselor may be a better choice. She’s the one you’ll have a many-years relationship with and can work with the teachers.

    • Amanda, going to the school counselor is a good idea, but I’ve found that teachers don’t always know what type of assignments might be problematic for some kids. You’d be surprised how often someone will post on our online support group about an “obvious” assignment that they received no warning about and the teacher never realized might be problematic. And let’s face it, every adoption situation is different. For example, a family tree assignment might be a great learning experience for a child in an open adoption, with good access to his birth family. There are wonderful grafted family tree templates that you can use and fill out both biological and adoptive family history. The teacher would have no way of knowing that this would be a fine assignment for your child unless you have some communication and she/he knows that you have access to this information.

  6. Amanda says:

    Regarding , “not ready to parent,” or “didn’t want to parent,” I often prefer, “unable to parent.” Seems less judgemental and leaves the door open for the imagination to think up a number of scenarios in which one may be unable to parent, which means you haven’t revealed a lot of personal info. Any thoughts?

  7. Amanda says:

    I’ve never written a letter to the teacher, and, as a teacher, I don’t think it’s necessary. There are a LOT of adopted kids, so these concerns should be on any teachers’ radar. That said, I do take time to speak with my kids’ teachers a bit about the particulars of their adoptions if necessary, and did get something like, “advanced warning of potentially stressful situations,” into the 504 plans.

    Regarding the teacher’s possible response to the child’s question about birth parents, maybe something like, “I haven’t met Johnny’s birth parents, but I do know that Johnny has a very loving family.” No need to go into greater details with little kids, but I think it’s very important they know Johnny is loved.

    • Amanda, I too think it’s best to keep any responses from the teacher short. It’s not their place to explain any details. I do think it’s helpful to give them some succinct and easy to remember phrases to use. I like the one you suggested.

  8. Emily says:

    We don’t know why the parents couldn’t raise our child. We were given conflicting stories but I suspect a death. This issue is huge and I dread the question. My response to outsiders is thanks for asking about x but that is private. I really don’t know what I should say. The question is actually so rude I just can’t believe people ask.

    • Emily, I prefer the “give a general answer and change the subject” approach over the “it’s private” approach. People will ask simply because they are curious and don’t think through the ramifications first. Most don’t mean to be rude, even though they are. The real reason you answer is to model to your child how best to answer these type of questions.

      “It’s private” implies something dark and encourages speculation. Come up with a couple of general answers that are true, but provide little personal information. If you are so inclined and if you care enough about the questioner you can also provide some basic adoption education. “Suzy’s birthparents weren’t able to parent and they wanted to make the best plan for their daughter as possible. There are as many reasons for placing a child for adoption as their are birth mothers. How about the crazy weather we’ve been having!” If you feel the overwhelming need to “put them in their place” or they were over the top with their question you could add “By the way, this type of question is actually asking for really private information. I just wanted you to know so that you don’t make the mistake of asking an adoptive parent or person something that would be seen as asking for something that is rude and really isn’t your business. I realize you didn’t mean it that way, so just wanted you to know.”

  9. cb says:

    Also further to my comment re Arleta James, I actually also disliked this bit of her article:

    “Thus, changing the thoughts, releases the feelings—behavior improves! The result is a calmer, happier family member! The child is free to attach to the family. Connected children act more like their parents. Their behavior mirrors their adoptive mom and dad!”

  10. cb says:

    Your replies are mostly pretty good.

    However, I personally don’t really like the following sentence as a stand alone one.

    “Johnny’s birth parents weren’t ready to raise a baby when he was born.”

    i.e, it can be misunderstood if no further explanation is given. Many members of the General Public are probably going to hear the statement as “Johnny’s birth parents weren’t ready to raise a baby when he was born and they couldnt be bothered make the effort to get themselves ready to do so”, even though in fact, the truth may be a lot more complex.

    Thus, if one is going to say that sentence and further explain, eg “Johnny’s birth parents weren’t ready to raise a baby when he was born because of A, B & C etc” or at least elucidate what one means by “weren’t ready” then fair enough. However, as the point above is not to to give too much information, I feel that using the sentence by itself is simplistic and could inadvertantly send the wrong message.

    I don’t really know what the right thing to say is. I always feel it is worth emphasising the “security angle” because in some ways that covers all types of birthparent, caring or uncaring. Perhaps a sentence that could be used when talking to older children/adults re the reason is “I don’t really know why but I would assume that they felt that they wasn’t in a position to parent effectively”.

    Btw even though it is not quite the same, it does remind me a bit of an article Arleta James wrote once. From what I can gether, Arleta James is an attachment therapist who deals mainly with children adopted from foster care and in fact, I’ve read many of her other articles re attachment therapy from FC and I thought th she offered some great advice. In act, the basic premise of the following article isn’t bad, it is just the words she suggested using:

    http://www.arletajames.com/articles/ithinkiact.doc

    The above article was meant to be for those whose children were adopted under the age of 1, including those who were relinquished on a “voluntary basis”. However, the last couple of sentences in the following paragraph rubbed me (and plenty of other adoptees) up the wrong way:

    ***Therapeutic goals like “anger management” or “enhanced self-esteem” are not quite on track. The goal needs to be “anger resolution.” We want to help the adoptee resolve the grief associated with the trauma—rather than manage it! We must also understand that adoptees are not necessarily angry. Many are profoundly sad or scared. Immature in their emotional development, all feelings are often expressed in an angry manner. Enhanced self-esteem may really be “developing a sense of self.” Children, who displace the abandonment on themselves—“I must have just been born bad or something”—have no self-concept to improve, increase or enhance! In such a case, we are building a totally new image of self! We must say, “Your birthmom did not leave you because you were bad. She didn’t want to be a mom. This was about her. This was not about you.”***

    Many people commented on the original article (comments not included on above article) and politely tried to explain to her that the actual sentence “She didn’t want to be a mom.” was a judgment call and not necessarily the truth – to use it when one has no idea what the bmother’s motive was seemed rather inappropriate to me.

    • cb, I also don’t like the statement “didn’t want to be a mom”. From my experience talking with birth mothers, that is almost never the case. Not ready to be a mom is more likely to be a better explanation. However, this letter is intended to give a busy teacher some short age (early to mid elementary) children a short quick explanation. We can’t expect our teachers to go into a detailed explanation, nor would I feel comfortable sharing a lot of detail about my child’s birth family’s story with a teacher unless it was absolutely necessary for my child’s education.

      Can you think of a short answer for kids 6-10 years old?

  11. I actually do send a letter every year. I start it fairly generally, with an introduction of where DD fits in context of our whole family. I include some general information about her adoption and about how her diagnosis affects her classroom experience. Lately, I’ve had to include some pointed information about her anxiety issues and some of the tools we/she has learned in therapy for coping with the feelings of anxiety and stress. Every teacher so far has welcomed the context of her as our daughter AND the details about how we are parenting at home. I always include a link to Karyn Purvis resources or other such tools that help in both a family and educational setting. And a separate sheet of the “FAQ’s” of adoption per the age of her classmates, like the ones above in your post. It’s not an original letter to me, but a series of tweaks and personalizing I’ve done from a letter shared with me several years ago.

    The response is always positive upon first reading and opens a dialogue for future conferences and touching base as the year goes on. However, two of the last three years, I’ve found that a “refresher” on my child’s context is almost always necessary when difficult conversations have to happen later in the year or at IEP meetings.

    I don’t personally believe that most public school systems get enough training on educating kids from difficult beginnings – but given the demographic they serve, they SHOULD! So I’ll keep wriiting the letters and speaking up not just for my daughters but for other kids from traumatic starts!

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