It’s usually the good old family tree project. Or maybe it’s the assignment on culture and ethnicity. Inevitably, there comes a time when an adopted child is placed in the uncomfortable position of having to explain what ends up being a confusing assignment in a school setting—or maybe acting out in an attempt to avoid it. 

Many adoptive parents want to normalize experiences for their children. They want their sons or daughters to feel included, as part of the family. They want them to be treated just like everyone else. They don’t want to call special attention to their adoption situations in every conversation and in every setting.

At the same time, the truth is there, and it should be acknowledged. Adoptees who, like me, have always known that they were adopted enjoy the comfort of feeling that they are part of the family. But they also know there are differences. They don’t have the same features as their adoptive parents or other biological members of their extended families. And when a comment like “You look so much like your father” is made, or an assignment in school requires them to research their roots or write about their backgrounds, there often becomes an undercurrent of discomfort and the desire for avoidance.

So how do you avoid or minimize these situations for your adopted children? Do you talk to their teachers about their adoption stories? I’m not sure the answer is very clear. My personal opinion is that you keep it casual. If the opportunity arises, perhaps during the parent/teacher conference that usually takes place toward the beginning of the school year, maybe you can mention that your child is adopted and simply ask that the teacher be mindful of the potential discomfort that might arise as a result of certain assignments like the family tree.

But I’m not sure it’s necessary to go out of your way to try to make it a point of seeking out the teacher to talk about your child’s adoption story specifically. That may end up causing over-attention to the situation, making the child feel uncomfortable by having his or her circumstances highlighted in some way.

I think the bottom line is that most kids just want to fit in, to feel welcome in whatever setting they are part of—family, school, sports teams, whatever. On the one hand, making too big a deal about the situation can cause discomfort, but on the other, ignoring it altogether can have the same result. How to handle the situation may be different for different children, and it may be best to make a judgment on a case-by-case basis as assignments are given or other situations arise. In the end, it might not be a bad strategy to talk to your children directly to see how they would like it to be handled. After all, they are the ones who are most directly impacted.