By Robin Hilborn, Family Helper editor

You adopted your child. Should you tell her teacher? There's pro and con on this so I'm going to give you both sides.

Yes, you should

• Teachers need information about adoption and adopted children so they can avoid stereotyping them. A teacher uninformed about adoption may unknowingly display a negative reaction to your child. Discussing adoption can help dispel the myths.

• By giving information ahead of time, you help teachers respond positively when the topic of adoption comes up in class. They will be ready to answer questions appropriately.

• Teachers can respond appropriately to playground teasing, if it occurs.

• When the teacher plans a unit about families, you can offer resources, or propose to talk to the class about adoption.

• It may help teachers understand some behaviours in the early school years. They can work with you on your child‘s development.

• The teacher needs to know about the higher incidence of learning problems among adopted children.

• Teachers appreciate hearing from you directly. They want a clear message about your expectations.

• Your child will likely disclose her adoption as she feels positive about it. The teacher needs to know how to reinforce these positive feelings.

No, you shouldn't

• To avoid your child possibly being treated differently just because she was adopted.

• To avoid the subject being brought up in class and directed at your child. To avoid her being labelled or stereotyped.

• To respect her privacy and personal life.

• Because an older adopted child does not want teachers to be told.

• The teacher needs to be told of a child's language delay, but needn't know it was caused by a long stay in an orphanage.

• Because the child was never told she was adopted.

• Because you believe it's nobody's business knowing your child was adopted. Or because adoption is not an issue. Or you can tell the teacher but not the classmates.

• Wait until a problem arises pertaining to the child‘s adoption before telling the teacher.

What and when to tell

• Tell the child‘s age at adoption; birth history; birth place. Advise if the classmates may be told.

• Special circumstances: history of child abuse; learning or behaviour difficulties.

• Some say to tell the teacher every year, up to grade 6. Others say don't tell the teacher after grade 2, as the information is irrelevant in later grades. It depends on the child‘s circumstances. At some point your child may not want this to be the first thing a teacher thinks about her at the start of the year.

• Older adopted children will know what specific information they want to have shared. Consult them first.

• Tell the teacher what the child knows about the adoption and what should or should not be discussed with the child.

Some advice

It is important to respect your child‘s feelings. Listen carefully if she is upset by something a teacher says or does—let her know you care for and support her. What should be done? Give her time to think; usually the problem doesn‘t need to be solved immediately.

Remember that after you finish doing whatever you decide to do, she must return to the classroom and work in that environment with the teacher and her peers. You don't want to jeopardize your relationship with your child, or her relationships at school.

When your child is given an assignment that is hard to complete because she was adopted (e.g. family tree or birth history), try to rework the assignment so that its objective can be met while recognizing her adoption. Help her plan how to discuss this change with the teacher. (See Biased class assignments.)


In my opinion, it's best to tell your child from the start that she was adopted, using explanations appropriate to her age.

But not everyone else needs to know. Your decision to tell a teacher or anyone that your child was adopted is a personal one. Don't forget that your child has her own thoughts about adoption and sharing personal information with others—include her in any decision you make.



The challenge of school for the adoptee
School issues your child will face
Help your child deal with racism
When birds don't flock together
Should you tell the teacher?
You can give an adoption talk
Language development is key

Learning disabilities

What are learning disabilities?
Detect learning disabilities early
Cope with your child's LD
Brodzinsky on learning disabilities
Do adoptees need special ed classes?
Are LDs inherited?

Special needs

Accept your child's special needs
FAS: Friendly school environments
Helping students with FAS
ADHD and the school system
Manage your ADHD child in school
Strategy for the parent advocate
You may reproduce this item with the credit:
"From Family Helper," ________________________________________
First published in Family Helper No. 45, "Adoption Goes To School", ISBN 0-9733470-4-X. Adapted in part from Post-adoption Helper No. 7, "Adoptive Parents' Guide to Your Child in Primary School", edited by Jennifer Smart.