Every kid goes through an experience with bullying, but with adopted kids we often get to witness a special layer of unkindness. For my girl, fourth grade was the year she heard “Nobody wanted you!” and “That’s not your REAL mom” and “Whatever, you’re adopted.” Interestingly, fourth grade was also the year my husband found me Googling “black magic spells other people’s children Kansas City.” After forbidding me from going to a local Santero’s shop I ended up finding less, um, proactive ways of handling adoption bullies. Here are some tools I discovered:
- From the stopbullying.gov web page we learned a great trick with the acronym WISE.
W = WALK AWAY, or ignore what you hear.
I = IT’S PRIVATE, I do not have to share information with anyone, and I can say that appropriately, even to adults.
S = SHARE SOMETHING about my adoption story, but I can think carefully about what I want to let others know.
E = EDUCATE OTHERS about adoption in general. For example, I can talk about how adoption works today, successful adoptees, inaccurate information in the media, etc. I know a lot about it.
This really helps sort of “weed out” the responses our kids can use—it reminds them that they are in control over their information and that they have the choice to educate, shut it down, or walk away. I feel like this is amazing for even grown-ups to use (I’m looking at you, uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner table conversations.)
- Teach kids to understand the difference between a genuine question and a statement designed to hurt feelings. Kids are curious, and sometimes a question is really without guile. We talk a lot about listening to our feelings, and being able to discern if someone is trying to make us upset. If she felt nervous, sad, angry, or uncomfortable with what was being asked, I gave her permission to say “I don’t feel like talking about that” or “Let’s ask my mom!”
- Talk about our differences AND our similarities at home. Especially in cases of transracial adoption, our kids may feel like they are betraying their adoptive parents if they express interest and curiosity about their bio-roots. When we openly celebrate all of the cultures we share in the adoption triad kids are less likely to feel ashamed or self-conscious about the differences between first and forever families and that confidence makes responding to peer questions easier.
- Consider taking the bull by the horns: call the school administration or the church youth group and ask if you can give a presentation about adoption. Use your bully pulpit to teach correct terminology and to demystify the situation. There are so many resources available on the internet, including handouts, worksheets, and even scripts that you can use. Plus if you bring in cupcakes everyone wins.