Talking with young children about adoption
How to talk with young kids about adoption. What to say and when to say it.

This is the first of a 4 part series on Talking with Children About Adoption. If you have adopted, please share your wisdom of your experience and especially your favorite books and resources in the comment section. Also, how would you have answered the typical questions I list below?

Talking with Infants about Adoption

Infancy and early toddlerhood is a gift to adoptive parents –a gift of time to practice talking about adoption. Most adoptive parents think they shouldn’t feel awkward talking about adoption, but the reality is that most of us do, and it helps to practice before your child has a clue what you are saying.

Start talking about adoption and birth parents from the very beginning as you change diapers, kiss his pretty toes, and rock him to sleep. Buy a couple of adoption books for young children (we have a list at our Best of the Best Adoption Books for Kids) and incorporate them as part of your nighttime reading routine.

Your baby won’t understand what you are saying, but you will get used to telling the story. Many of the books we list in our also have a section for parents, which is an added bonus.

Talking with Toddlers and Preschoolers about Adoption

Toddlers and preschoolers are curious and observant little beings. They notice differences, including skin color, and they are beginning to put the pieces of their world together.  They have figured out that babies grow in mommy’s tummy (or uterus). They need their parents to help them begin to make sense of how of this relates to them.

Their attention spans are short, so they don’t need “The Talk”; rather they need for their parents to be open for many small seemingly inconsequential talks that gradually adds to their understanding.

When in doubt, answer the question asked in the simplest way possible, without a lot of added information.

Adoption is Cool Stage

Toddlers and preschoolers are generally accepting of what their parents say and the attitude in which they say it. If their parents have been open and matter of fact about adoption, most preschoolers are proud of being adopted. They love to hear about their adoption and often readily share their story with anyone and every one.

Parents must be careful to talk respectfully about their birth parents and pre-adoption life. I was speaking at an adoption conference once and a 4 year old struck up a conversation with me. As we chatted I learned that she was adopted from China, then clearly repeating what she had been told, she blithely said: “I was left by a pile of garbage, kind of dumped by the dump.” At her developmental stage, this information didn’t mean much to her other than to feel happy that her parents “rescued” her, but I wondered how she would process this information as she matured.

5 Most Common Questions Young Children Ask about Adoption (and Answers)

Why didn’t I grow in your tummy? (I want to have grown in your tummy.)

“You grew in Suzy’s (or your birth moms’s) tummy. I wish you could have grown in my tummy too, but I’m glad you grew in Suzy’s tummy because I like you exactly the way you are.”

Why don’t I look like you? (Why is my skin brown?)

Children usually look kind of like their birth parents. You have brown skin like Suzy because she is your birth mom. I have white skin like Nana because she was my birth mom.

Why did you adopt me? (Adapt to your situation)

I wasn’t able to grow a baby in my tummy, but Daddy and I really wanted a baby (or child) to love and take care of. We were so so happy to have you.

Why didn’t my first mommy keep me?

Depending on what you know you can answer in the following way.

Suzy and Johnny were not ready to be the parent to any baby when you were born.

We don’t know for sure, but we think your birth mommy and daddy were very poor and didn’t have enough food and money to take good care of you.

What does my birth mother look like?

If possible, get a picture of her birth mother for her to keep and look at whenever she is curious. If not possible, answer something like this.

I’m not sure exactly, but I think she must be very pretty since you are so pretty (or handsome). I bet she has light brown skin just like you and dark brown hair and brown eyes with a little bit of yellow, just like you. Why don’t you and I draw a picture of what we think she looks like.

What to do If Your Child Doesn’t Ask about Adoption

Some kids ask lots of questions about adoption, but some never say a thing. Regardless whether your child asks, you still need to make sure that he understands the Six Crucial Things Toddlers and Preschoolers Need to Know About Adoption . Quite frankly, it’s easier if the child asks question. Adoptive parents have to be more creative if they have a silent type.

Make sure that you read adoption books and books about the different ways that families can be formed on a regular basis. Ask her questions while reading. Respect her desire to answer or not, but continue periodically to look for opportunities to talk about adoption.

Don’t Confuse Healthy Independence with Attachment Problems

Two and three year olds are known for their “independence”, otherwise known as resisting their parents by frequently saying “NO”. This is the stage that children start differentiating from their parents and experimenting with trying to control some aspects of their world. This is often a messy process for both kids and parents.

It’s tempting to confuse this normal developmental stage with attachment issues, particularly if parents are feeling a little insecure. If you are not sure of the difference, consult with an adoption therapist.

Resources for Talking with Young Children about Adoption

Creating a Family has a list of the best of the best adoption books and other resources to help you talk with your toddler and preschoolers about adoption.

What were your favorite resources for talking with your young child about adoption. How early did you begin?

Image credit: Kevin Conor Keller