Educating Children (Who Aren’t Adopted) About Adoption

As an adult, I don’t think I had all of the correct information about adoption and I’m sure that I wasn’t using the correct terminology. But, once you’re part of the adoption triad, you learn quickly about the unique nuances of adoption and you want to make sure that the other people in you and your child’s life do as well.

Though I firmly believe everyone should be educated about adoption, I feel strongly that we need to ensure that children learn the concepts of adoption, proper terminology, and the importance of accepting all kids, no matter who their parents may be. Though we live in modern times, there are still some very outdated stigma and bullying attached to children who have been adopted.

The Struggles for Families

When children don’t have enough knowledge about adoption, they can be cruel to children who have been adopted. Remember, without their own personal knowledge or experience about a situation, it can be hard for them to process, and sadly, some situations, prompt meanness.

“When my daughter was in third grade, two boys at lunch walked up to her and said, ‘We know you’re adopted and that means you were stolen from your real mom and that you don’t belong here. You should go back to where you belong.’ This from the mouths of 8-year-old boys,” says Becky Fawcett, co-founder of Helpusadopt.org.  “I ask you to go back and re-read this quote and now imagine your child is on the receiving end. “

Tracey Zeeck, author of The Not in Here Story, notes that there are a lot of common misconceptions that children have about adoption. For instance, she notes that there is a unique adoption story for every adoption and that “no two adoptions are alike.” Tracey also touches on the reality that some children are unkind about birth parents. “[Birth parent love] is the greatest love there is: selfless and real,” she says. One of the most disheartening questions that Tracey’s son ever got was asking if he was picked out of the pound like a dog.

Unfortunately, stories like Becky’s and Tracey’s are not uncommon. Recently, at a class of kids, 4 to 5 years old, someone told my daughter it was weird that she didn’t have the same skin color as her parents. She brushed it off, but it was frustrating to me that a child who is soon to be in school with countless kids that looked different from them would not only harbor these thoughts, but vocalize them to my child. Yet, it’s a lack of education about adoption that causes this, not necessarily a malicious intent.

Becky explains that parents can provide the first step in educating their children about adoption. “The conversation has to start at home and other parents and educators have to be willing to take the subject on openly and honestly,” she says.  “In my opinion, there is still a lot of whispering and dancing around the subject because they just don’t know what to say. There are plenty of resources available these days—if you need help talking about adoption just ask!”

Unfortunately, many children learn these behaviors and the words that they say to others from their own parents. You can read about my own experience in being told that I wasn’t a “real mom” from an adult here. Understanding and checking your own biases and realizing that you need some education to educate your children is the first step in this process.

As mothers through adoption, both Becky and I are happy to share our stories, answer questions for other parents, and even provide resources when we can. It is my philosophy that I’d rather a child OR an adult ask me questions to get valid information rather than to be unkind to another.

“Kids don’t wake up one day thinking negative or unkind thoughts about adoption. They hear it from someone else first,” says Becky. “Think before you speak.”

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Recently, I was talking about adoption with a colleague and he was a little bit offended when I asked him not to say “gave up” for adoption. We don’t use that and most people who are involved in adoption don’t as well. We say that my daughter’s birth mother “made an adoption plan.” I wasn’t angry, but I did correct him—using this terminology could be triggering for people involved in adoption and I wanted to be sure that this was something that he understood.

Again, though no malicious intent was meant, the reality is that lack of information makes it difficult for people to navigate these conversations. You likely don’t know what you don’t know about adoption—and that’s okay—we’ve all been there! But, you have to be willing to admit this and seek information that will help you understand, so that you can better educate children about adoption!

Seek Information to Support You

If you are reading this and realize that it may be time to help educate children that you know, teach, etc., you’ll want to begin to find the right information to start these conversations.

One of the best things that I think that adults can do is to read books about adoption from the perspective of adoptees to better gain insight into this process. One of my favorite books is All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung and it’s one that I’ve passed on to countless adults who had questions about adoptees’ perspectives, finding birth families, etc.

For specific information that will address questions that you or your child may have, utilizing the search bar at Adoption.com is always a great step. I also highly recommend learning more about adoption terminology to ensure that you’re using the proper terms when speaking about such a sensitive subject.

Find the Right Books

There are a ton of books out there for children about adoption. If you still feel ill-equipped to handle the conversation with your kids, consider finding a book that helps. One of my favorites for kids (and one that I’ve been gifting like crazy to both children who have been adopted and those who haven’t) is Tracey’s book, The Not in Here Story.

I think one of the reasons I like it so much is that it’s so difficult for children to understand not only how people come to adopt, but also how birth parents work. We all tell our children different stories of how they came to our families. I have a lengthy story I tell my daughter every day, which is that we were totally unprepared for her. (We had had failed adoptions and I wasn’t sure if being parents was actually in the cards for us).  My husband wasn’t home. There were several inches of fresh snow on the ground and it was still coming down—AND it was a Sunday, so the roads weren’t clear. We had to drive several hours to get to her, etc. She loves it and knows it to be her own. However, the majority of kids she knows were carried in their mother’s stomach—her story is strange to them.

The Not in Here Story does such a phenomenal job of explaining not only how a family can feel when they’re struggling to conceive, but also that there are different ways to be a parent—one being to adopt!  (Also, the illustrations are phenomenal and fun—kids LOVE them!)

We have been reading adoption books since my daughter was an infant. It helped her story not be something we sat down and told her, but something that she just grew up knowing. She literally grew up knowing that adoption was just another way that people built their families and she also had a strong sense of her own story before she started preschool. She wanted to weigh in with her favorite books about adoption (those of which we have gifted to other children she knows). Each of these is simple enough for children of all ages to grasp and they hold a special place in my heart as well.

Check out some of my daughter’s favorite books about adoption below:

I Wished for You: An Adoption Story

We Chose You: A Book about Adoption, Family, and Forever Love

How I was Adopted

I’ve Loved You Since Forever

For more books to read (for you and your child), check out the following links:

9 Books About Adoption for All Ages

11 Great Adoption Books You Should Read

10 Beautiful Picture Books About Adoption

Reading is always the best first step, but I found in my own journey in adopting my daughter that speaking with others is also extremely helpful!

Engage in Your Local Adoption Community

You likely know a family who is adopted, who has adopted, or maybe you even know an adoptee. For the most part, we are happy to share not only our stories, but also resources to help start these conversations.

Just a few weeks ago, I had a mom come up to me at one of our kids’ activities. She said that her son was curious about adoption. When he had asked my daughter why her skin wasn’t the same color as mine, I guess she looked at him strangely and said, “Because I am adopted, silly!” When he asked what that meant, she said, “I was born in a birth mother’s belly.” She’s still learning (well, and she’s only 4!), so she didn’t have enough answers for this little guy. She asked if he could ask me the questions that he had because she was afraid she wouldn’t know the answers or answer incorrectly. It was such a great experience. Both her son and my daughter sat on my lap while he asked questions. Some of them she could answer and some of them, she didn’t know and was excited to hear about. It was a great way for me to learn what information kids might be lacking and for my kiddo to understand that people ask questions not just out of rudeness, but out of a genuine need for the information. (Fun fact: this interaction prompted me to write this article!)

Though I’m an open book to some extent, I am very private about my daughter’s personal story and her birth family—to which most families are, so please remember that when asking questions. Her story isn’t mine to tell—the story that I can tell is the one where I adopted a child. Everything else belongs to her and is up to her if it is shared.

However, it is always best to ask people if you have questions, read if you need to, and do what you can to find the information that you need.

“Please don’t be afraid to talk about adoption with your friends and family…whether they’re adoptive, adoption-adjacent or even those with no clue whatsoever,” pleads Tracey. “It’s not weird or bad or taboo, it just used to be a private thing people did and now it’s not. Some people just need an assist when it comes to talking about it/what to say. They’re afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings by listening to them!”

Overall, if you are curious about aspects of adoption, likely your kids are too, so ask those questions! Educate yourself so that you can better educate your child. Even if you think that your child isn’t thinking about adoption to ask these questions, remember that he or she may be around a child who is adopted and being armed with the correct information, terminology, etc. will make all the difference in your child’s interaction with others.

 

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