Adoption is a topic that can be difficult to discuss with children, but children often want to know where they come from. It is important to share in a way that is appropriate for their age and developmental level. Here are some tips on how to talk to a child about their adoption story based on their age and brain development.
Infants & Toddlers (0-2 years)
Infants and toddlers don’t have the cognitive ability to understand their adoption story. However, you can still talk to them about their story in age appropriate ways. You can start by using simple language when talking to them about how much you love them and how happy you are to have them as part of your family. If you have an open adoption, this is also the age you may determine what names each member of the adoption triad will take and encourage your baby to recognize each member according to these pre-determined titles. You can begin to read books about adoption that feature pictures of children and families at this stage as well.
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Preschoolers are starting to develop a sense of self-awareness and may begin asking questions about where they came from. When talking to a preschooler about their adoption, it is important to use language they can understand. You can explain that they grew in someone else’s tummy and that their birth parents entrusted them into your family. Books and pictures are a wonderful resource at this age. Lifebooks can be a wonderful resource at this age. If you have an open adoption, this is a good time to begin conversations with their birth parents about what each person is comfortable sharing so you are prepared for conversations and timelines of disclosure as your child gets older.
Elementary School Age (6-11 years)
Children in elementary school often have more questions about their adoption story and may be more curious about exploring their connection with their birth parents. When talking to an elementary-aged child about adoption, it is important to provide accurate information and be honest. This age is where you can begin conversations about the reasons why their birth parents choose adoption and answer their questions. If you have an open adoption, your child may want to ask questions directly to their birth parent. Going back to the plan for timelines and appropriateness of disclosure is important to maintain the relationships between all members of the adoption triad during this age range.
Teenagers (12-18 years)
Teenagers may have complex emotions and thoughts around their adoption, particularly those with more complex circumstances surrounding their adoptions. They often have more questions about their birth parents, connecting with extended birth family, and questions about their culture and heritage. This is an age of self-discovery and determining what parts of others they wish to retain as parts of themselves, and what parts they shed as they grow into adulthood. When talking to a teenager about their adoption, it is important to be honest and acknowledge their feelings. If you find that your child is struggling with their adoption story at this age, it may be helpful to introduce a therapist to help navigate their questions.
As your child grows and develops, conversations regarding their adoption grows and develops along with them. Each member of the adoption triad may find comfort in a social group of supportive peers as you navigate these conversations. Using age-appropriate language, creating a plan and timeline that is most comfortable to all members of the triad, providing accurate information and acknowledging your child’s feelings are an important part of this process. Connecting with your child by sharing their adoption story can help them feel confident in themselves as well as nurture feelings of love and support within their family.