How to Explain Difficult Adoption Details to Kids

Adoptive parents understand the importance of telling their children about their adoption from the moment they bring them home. Adoption should be a normal, everyday conversation and, for most adoptive parents, that’s an easy thing to do.

However, sometimes a child’s adoption story isn’t as picture perfect as we would like it to be. Perhaps their birth parents were facing addiction, a criminal history or other challenges at the time of your child’s birth. When adopted children start asking about the details of their adoption stories in these situations, the questions can be difficult to answer. Just remember, there is a difference between age-appropriate explanations and stretching the truth to avoid hurting your child’s feelings.

One of the best things you can do in this situation is to speak to your adoption professional or a trusted counselor. They likely have some experience in these manners and can give you individualized advice for your particular situation to help you explain your child’s adoption story in a positive and healthy way.

In the meantime, here are some things to keep in mind when telling your child about the hard parts of their adoption story:

Always use respectful language when talking about their birth parents.

Even if certain details about your child’s adoption story are negative, it’s important that you always speak about his or her birth parents in a reassuring and respectful way. Younger children especially consider themselves solidly connected to the person who gave birth to them, so if you speak ill of their birth parents, they’ll see it as a reflection upon themselves. Focus on the positive qualities in their birth parents when you speak of them, and emphasize the love they had for your child to make the choice for adoption.

Be honest and age-appropriate when speaking of their birth parents.

Don’t make your child’s birth parents into someone they’re not; if you create a fictional adoption story to avoid answering those harder questions, your children will eventually find out the truth — and it could forever impact your relationship with them. Instead, tell them the truth about their birth parents as they ask for it — but in a way that’s age-appropriate. Your adoption professional can help you understand what that may look like.

Don’t make assumptions about their birth parents.

If you don’t have a lot of information about your child’s birth parents, it’s better to stick with what you know than draw assumptions about them. Remember, it’s okay to answer some questions with “I don’t know.”

Support them in their interest about their birth family.

You may wish to protect your children by keeping difficult details from them, but it’s important that you let their natural curiosity about their birth parents exist. Don’t try to shut down their interest in their birth family or refuse to answer their questions. Instead, give them the truth (in an age-appropriate way) and support them in any search they may wish to make for their birth family.

For many children who were adopted later in childhood or through the foster care system, they may have vague memories of the true story of their adoption and who their parents were. Therefore, it’s important to affirm those truths that they already know, rather than confusing them by offering them information that’s not entirely true.

Explaining the truth about difficult adoption details to children can be complicated, but with the proper preparations and counseling, you can tell your child’s adoption story in a positive, respectful way that helps them learn more about their identity and their past.

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