Every year as school approaches, I have struggled with whether or not to start the year by speaking with my child’s teacher about adoption. I have adopted two boys who are now in elementary school. I always struggle with how much information I should share with their teachers, and how much ought to remain private. Do I even need to bring it up at all?
Chances are the adoption will come up in conversation at some time or another. Whether it be over a homework assignment regarding family trees, because your family doesn’t “match,” or because of childhood trauma that influences the mental health or behaviors of your child, you may need to discuss their adoption.
For the sake of this article, I am going to assume that everyone considering talking with a child’s teacher has also spoken with their child about adoption. If you haven’t, please do. It would be traumatic for a child to learn of their adoption at school from a teacher or from kids who overheard a conversation about personal things. It is best for a child to hear these things from their parents and to not have to process it as a secret kept from them.
The question remains if you should speak with your child’s teacher about their adoption. I don’t think there is an answer that suits everyone. I think this needs to be handled as individually as each adoption is handled. No two journeys are the same, no two situations are the same. Therefore, as school is part of a child’s journey, how you handle adoption within the school setting should be handled individually as well.
Why Talk About It?
Is there a reason you feel you need to bring up the adoption? Will their adoption impact their school day?
One of my children experienced severe childhood trauma. Because of this, he has some behavioral issues and special needs. His needs do not require an Individualized Education Program or a special education plan. But they do require a bit of knowledge and research on how to handle some situations.
Because of his unique circumstances, I often do have a meeting to discuss these things with his teachers, and this includes discussing his adoption. We are his parents now, but the trauma caused by his biological parents is what impacts his behavior and learning. While I may not necessarily give all the details of his trauma and his adoption circumstances, it is always part of the discussion. I try to share what I think is necessary, without violating my child’s trust and personal story.
My other child doesn’t have the same issues. He was placed with us at birth, and his adoption doesn’t impact his behavior or his learning. However, most of his teachers have been aware that he was adopted just because it comes up when discussing his older brother. His story is kept more private and only spoken about when necessary. For instance, we sometimes invite his grandparents and birth mom to some school events. I may choose to disclose who they are to teachers so that they address them accordingly and are not caught off guard. This is an instance when it may be important to talk about the adoption with the teacher, to prevent an embarrassing moment with his birth family and introductions.
When to Talk About It
Another important question is WHEN to discuss these types of things with your child’s teacher. Is it something that you should talk about before the school year begins? Should you wait until you are asked questions about your child? If there are no obvious reasons to discuss the adoption, do you discuss it at all?
I have noticed that if I start the school year for my older son with a discussion about his adoption and trauma, he seems to have a harder year. I think teachers are quick to assume that all his behaviors are trauma-based behaviors, and I hear much more about trivial missteps he makes in class than I would if they weren’t watching for behavior problems. I find that if I wait until there is a behavioral issue and explain his trauma issues at that time then that there is more cooperation and less focus on the negative aspects.
I think when it is discussed early, a teacher feels a bit on guard and is waiting for negative behavior. This results in things that may not have triggered parental contact or discipline in another student to become an issue with my son.
I also find that one of the hardest things for teachers to do when they know about my son’s trauma is to simply TEACH him without trying to SAVE him from his trauma. His background is difficult, but acting as a parent or friend rather than a teacher makes it much worse. When a teacher takes it upon themselves to try to heal his trauma, they are making our job at home that much more difficult. There are boundaries that need to be respected. This is the best way to help him grow and learn. I understand it may be difficult, but our family needs these boundaries to function.
If My Child Has No Special Needs Should I Talk to the Teacher Still?
If an adopted child has no special needs or requirements for school success, is there a need to disclose that the child is adopted to the school and teacher?
In my opinion, no. Would you discuss that you had a cesarean section or vaginal birth of a child with their teacher? Not likely. Therefore, if adoption isn’t brought up in a natural conversation, there is no real reason to discuss it. You are your child’s parent, and there is no need to explain how that occurred.
If your child brings up adoption at school and the teacher wants to discuss this with you, then discuss in a way you feel comfortable and give the details you feel are okay to share. You do not have to speak about your adoption journey to everyone that asks. A teacher usually has a child’s best interests in mind, but oversharing is not necessary for a teacher to do their job.
It may be uncomfortable for your child if too many people know their background and their adoption story. All adoptions are different and have different circumstances. Some kids are more sensitive and prefer privacy, while others are more carefree and open.
For instance, if you tell your child’s teacher that they were placed with you after the biological parents were arrested and incarcerated, your child may feel uncomfortable. While we hope that others will not judge our child based on this information, we cannot guarantee that won’t happen. If other kids in class hear this information, your child may face teasing or bullying. It is important to think about what information should and shouldn’t be shared and why.
Another example on oversharing would be to share abuse of your child prior to becoming a family with teachers. If your child was abused, they would likely want the details to be kept private. Depending on the age of your child, you could ask them what they are okay with sharing with their teacher. If a child is too young to really discuss the topic of their trauma, it is best to err on the side of caution when sharing. Put yourself into their shoes and consider how much you would want others to know.
What About School Projects?
Many parents who have adopted dread the inevitable “family tree” assignment. This doesn’t have to be dreaded, and you can make this project a teaching moment. There are many versions of this project which include both birth parents as well as adoptive parents. A common way to include both is by placing birth parents at the roots of the tree, where a tree begins growth. This would also be a place to include other biological family if you know them (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc). In the branches of the tree, construct the tree as usual, listing parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.
The only time I think this project is worth dreading is if you haven’t discussed adoption with your child. Keeping the adoption a secret may make your child feel distrust or shame. The old days of closed and secret adoptions are starting to go away, in favor of open adoption, or at least open communication regarding adoption circumstances. Because of the shift in society’s views on adoption, there is no longer a negative perception of being an adoptee or adopter that used to plague the adoption community. However, when adoption is a secret, or a topic not discussed, it can bring about negative feelings. So if the assignment of the family tree is the first discussion about adoption, I can see why it would be dreaded.
If your child wants to keep his or her adoption private, or doesn’t want to discuss it beyond immediate family, they may choose to not participate in class assignments that discuss biology or family trees. Often, if you explain the child’s hesitation to discuss their private background, a teacher may give an alternative assignment. If your child feels unwilling or uncomfortable disclosing that they are an adoptee to their classmates, this would be a time to discuss the adoption with their teacher if school projects interfere with their wishes.
We all know that kids can sometimes be a bit cruel. I recall a situation from my childhood where a girl shared that she was adopted in class. Sadly, some of our classmates used this information to bully her. Things kids say can be cruel.
If this is something you fear, as a parent, it is understandable. But to be honest, kids will likely receive some form of bullying at some point in their lives. We, as parents, cannot protect them from everything. If we choose to be proactive and confident in who they are then the things bullies say will leave little impact on your child’s self-esteem.
In my case, my older son is old enough to remember his adoption. It was discussed with him before it happened, and after. Because he was older at adoption, he has a more unusual story than most would consider when speaking about adoption. Many assume adoption involves newborns, and they don’t think that some adoptees may have been older child adoptees. Because my older son has no contact with his biological family, I do think he is more influenced by negative thoughts when it comes to talking about adoption topics. He will be more likely to feel less secure, and more uncertain in his life.
My younger son does not remember his adoption but is in contact with his biological family regularly. His adoption has been openly discussed since he was born and never secretive. He knows he is loved and feels secure in himself; if someone said something negative about adoption he would likely not pay it much attention. When he is asked about his feelings on adoption, he says he feels adoption is “happy.”
In the end, we have to try to always make the best decision possible as parents. When it comes to sharing our child’s adoption story, we should use caution when considering how many details to share.
There are times when some details may be necessary in order for people to be able to properly care for your child. This is the case with my older son. Because of his early childhood trauma, he has an attachment disorder. I need to discuss this with caregivers and teachers in order to be sure they understand why he behaves the ways he does, and how to handle it properly.
With my younger son, I may not discuss his adoption with teachers at all. It isn’t necessary. There is nothing about his adoption that pertains to his education or behavior. However, if the topic is brought up in a conversation, I do not shy away from it or avoid it. I am happy to advocate for adoption and explain that my family has grown by adopting.
You must make the decisions for your family, and do what you feel is appropriate. If you feel it is important for your child’s school year success to discuss their adoption with their teacher, then make a time to do so.
If you feel that adoption is not a topic you wish to discuss at school, there is no need to do so. You are your child’s parents, and you get to decide how to handle these discussions. Just be sure that your decisions are based on your child’s best interest, and you will be doing the right thing.
Good luck with your school year!
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