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Talking about adoption

In "Talking With Your Child About Adoption: Guidelines for Adoptive Parents", Pat Fenton of the Adoption Council of Ontario says:

1. Start Early. Even though your child may not understand, it's practice for you. Your child, even as an infant or toddler, gets to hear the word "adopted" in a positive context.

2. Be Honest. If you don't know the answer, say so. Show that you share your child's curiosity and that you would like to know too.

3. Use Positive Adoption Language. See Pat Johnston's recommended vocabulary at

4. Answer the Questions Your Child Asks. If you are not sure what the question really is, ask her what she means.

5. Include Information About Your Child's Actual Birth. Many adoptees report they grew up thinking they weren't born like other people are -- they were somehow hatched -- because nobody talks about their birth. At the least, let your child know that she was born just like everyone else.

6. Don't Wait for Your Child to Raise the Subject. Keep the communication lines open. Raise the subject every once in a while by saying, for example, "I was remembering when we adopted you and we made the trip to ... " or "I was just thinking of your birth mother and wondering if you ever think about her ... " In middle childhood, your child may not seem as ready to talk as she was earlier, but a lot of new understanding is developing at this point.

7. Once is Not Enough. Your child's understanding is developing and growing all the time. Don't assume that she got all the details that you told her the last time.

8. Paint a Positive Picture of the Birth Parents. Refer to them by name if known. Your positive attitude is very important to building your child's self-esteem.

9. Acknowledge and Accept Your Child's Feelings. Listen for the feelings behind your child's comments and questions. Curiosity and sadness are natural responses to being adopted. Don't take her expressions about wanting to see her birth family as a reflection on you or your parenting. We don't like to see our children experiencing sadness or pain, but adoption is a mixture of joy and pain, loss and gain for all of us. Acknowledge this and help to make your child feel comfortable about talking about it.

10. Prepare a Lifebook of Photos and the Adoption Story. Be sure to include birth family information, foster family, orphanage, etc., as applicable. Include photos of birth family if available.

11. Check Out Your Child's Understanding From Time to Time. Tell her "Mary was asking about ... (something to do with adoption). What would you say to her?" Read about child development and children's understanding about adoption.

12. Reach Out to Others. Join a support group. Talk to other adoptive parents, share and learn from them. Consult an adoption professional, if you feel the need. If you are troubled by issues you face as an adoptive parent, reach out. Others can help you work through these issues so that you can be comfortable in talking with your child about adoption.

Adoption Clubhouse, Activities and information for adopted children aged 8-12, so they can experience a sense of belonging to a wider adoption community of peers. Kids write stories and poems about their experiences. Message board for kids to talk to each other. Homework help: tackling tough school projects, like the "family tree"; reviews of books and movies about kids who were adopted. National Adoption Center, Philadelphia.
Adoption Learning Partners, Fee-based online courses: adoption training for prospective and current adoptive parents, and adoption professionals. Founded 2002 by The Cradle adoption agency, Evanston IL.
Center for Adoption Support and Education, Post-adoption support. Responding to intrusive questions. Adoption questions in school. Teen issues. Burtonsville MD.
Developmental Stages, Resources for adoption issues surfacing at specific stages in the lives of adopted children, from infancy through adolescence. Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Explaining Adoption to Your Children, Family, and Friends, Child Welfare Information Gateway. 2001.
Get Talking!, Adoptive Families magazine's guide to talking about adoption. Articles for adoptees and non-adoptees.
Gracious Answers to Awkward Questions About Our Adopted Kids, Deborah McCurdy, 1995.
How to Talk to Young Children About Adoption, Jane Brown.
Identity Crisis Years, Children face being adopted. 1995.
"Is Her Father Chinese?", How to answer four difficult questions from strangers. Anne Brittle, Dallas.
Parental Guidelines for Helping Children Cope With Loss, 1995.
Questions Without Answers: A Memo to Adoptive Parents, Questions your adopted teenage will ask. Boh Hyung Peck.
Speaking Positively: Using Respectful Adoption Language, Positive adoption language helps destroy the myth that adoption is second-best. Pat Johnston, Perspectives Press.
Talking to Your Child About Adoption, Preschool years. Pat Dorner, 1995.
Talking to Your Child About Being Adopted, 7 points. Canadian Paediatric Society.
Talking With Your Child About Adoption: Guidelines for Adoptive Parents, Pat Fenton.
Talking with Children About Adoption, Effective techniques. Barbara Russell.
Unsolicited Comments, Dealing with rude questions about your adopted chld. Leceta Guibault.
You Are Me: a Letter to My Son, "You don't have my genes but you have my heart." Larry Carlat.


Bernstein, Anne C. Flight of the Stork. Uses three 12-year-olds to discuss sex and birth. Assisted reproductive technology, donor insemination, surrogacy, stepfamilies and adoption.

Bothun, Linda. When Friends Ask About Adoption. How to gently educate people who would say the right things if they only knew.

Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) , W.I.S.E Up Powerbook. Tools for adopted children aged 6-12 to handle intrusive questions about adoption.

Chennels, Prue. Explaining Adoption To Your Adopted Child: A Guide for Adoptive Parents. British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, London. 1987

Dorner, Patricia Martinez. Talking To Your Child About Adoption. Schaefer Publishing Co., Santa Cruz, California. 5th Edition. 1991.

Keefer, Betsy and Jayne Schooler. Telling the Truth to your Adopted or Foster Child: Making Sense of the Past. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 2000.

Komar, Miriam. Communicating With the Adopted Child. Walker and Co., New York. 1991.

Melina, Lois. Raising Adopted Children: A Manual for Adoptive Parents. New York: Harper and Row, 1998.

Rosove, Lori. Rosie's Family: An Adoption Story. Asia Press: Ontario. 2001. . For parents to use in talking to young children about their birthparents and adoption.

Stergianis, Sofie and Rita McDowall. What is Adoption: Helping Non-Adopted Children Understand Adoption. Toronto: Wisdom Press, 2006. Answering questions about adoption from children aged 5+, both non-adopted and adopted.

Watkins, Mary and Fisher, Susan. Talking with Young Children about Adoption. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.


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Contact: Robin Hilborn,
Box 1203, Southampton, Ont. N0H 2L0 Canada
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URLs verified, Mar. 22, 2007
Updated, May 7, 2012

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