Starting school is fun for kids and parents alike. However, any new beginning can come with apprehensiveness and anxiety. This year, my daughter started kindergarten. She’d completed two years of preschool and knew the drill of how a school year went, but she also learned that there were differences in her family and others.
We are a transracial family—my husband and I are white, and she is black. Though she goes to a diverse school, she has yet to encounter many families whose children are also adopted and look different from them. This year, this caused some concern for her, and she was worried how she would share this with other students.
Though being adopted used to come with a stigma, it’s not that way anymore. However, children still may have concerns when their goal is to fit in. We know as adults the importance of uniqueness and standing out, but kids still want to just be like everyone else, no matter what we tell them. There is also a real concern of bullying, and kids who just haven’t had the lived experiences that mine has may not understand adoption or have seen families who look like ours.
There are many things we routinely do when our child starts a new school year that have helped her feel adjusted, able to talk about her family, and if necessary, be able to educate those that may have questions.
Prep Your Kiddo Using Her/His Concerns as Your Curriculum
My daughter and I have a lot of conversations before school starts from what she’ll be taking for lunch, to learning her new routine, to even what backpack she wants and what she’ll plan to wear on the first day. Through these discussions, worries and apprehension creep out that I can address later on in a way that makes sense for my child based on her age and experiences.
We start our school year addressing the “what-ifs” and “worries.” (If you have a child that also is dealing with this, I can’t recommend the books Ruby finds a Worry and Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster enough!)
This year, my daughter has started understanding more about race and racism and had some fears about this that were both age-appropriate and timely. We were able to talk these through, and I was also able to allow her to talk this out with some older kids. Unfortunately, she has heard unkind words at such a young age, and this is a topic we will continue to address throughout her life, so there’s no time like the present.
I find that conversations around books are the best for my daughter currently. If we can read a story that illustrates what she is thinking about, she usually feels better. These are books I also tend to donate to the classroom as well—if she has that concern, there’s a chance that other students do as well.
Send in a Book (or 20!)
We have a pretty big library in our house that consists of amazing books about adoption and inspiring women—many of which are racial mirrors for my daughter. These books help empower my daughter, but I realize that many other families may not have as diverse of a home library due to many circumstances. I love to send a book about adoption for the classroom. One of my favorites is The Not in Here Story, which does such a wonderful job of explaining adoption in a way that young kids can grasp, whether they’ve experienced it or not.
Also, check with your child’s teacher to see if it’s possible to send in copies of your favorite adoption book to send home with students. (Though it may not always be possible, you can speak to the administration about buying adoption books like these to donate to the school’s library for other staff and students).
I find that books are a great way to educate young minds, but children’s books can often help adults as well learn the correct terminology, better understand a topic, and even more importantly, find ways to communicate these things well to younger children.
Talk to the Teacher
I find it is helpful to talk to the teacher ahead of time. We’ve figured out how to handle questions from other families, kids, and even how to navigate the dreaded family tree project, but I do feel that it’s important to chat with the teacher. In years past, we didn’t have to have a conversation about adoption because we would meet other families and the teachers on back to school night. As that didn’t happen this year, I wanted to let the teacher know that we are a transracial family, and that my daughter worries sometimes what other kids will think of this. She had already planned for kids to send in pictures of their families to school so that, without a doubt, would help my daughter not have to “have a conversation,” but it’s still hard for young kids to grasp why families may look different, so there are other things you can do to help with this.
Ensuring that teachers and administrators know that you’re available to talk if any conversations should arise where they need your support is also important. Consider having resources ready to share should they be necessary. I have compiled my suggestions for how to talk to children who aren’t adopted about adoption here.
Find Other People from the Adoption Triad to Lean On
I know quite a few moms that have also adopted who I share resources and often chat with when I need support, but I lean heavily on other women of color and adult adoptees to help me when questions arise that my daughter has.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t always have the answers, but I also know that understanding someone else’s lived experiences can be critical to how we understand, learn, and grow, so it is imperative that I find someone who can answer questions correctly.
Though I have learned about the adoption process and know my own personal experiences with adopting and being an adoptive mother, I don’t have the perspective of being a woman of color, being an adoptee, or being adopted by parents that are a different race. For this, I have built a community of people who can help walk me through issues that arise. I have a lot of friends that are women of color and adult adoptees, but I reached out to other people through forums online, and even went as far as to send emails to authors of books I admired, etc., to make contacts to ensure that I could help my daughter. This will help you answer questions and will help your child more than you can ever know.
This is extremely important as your child starts school. Kids learn a lot of things from other kids. Some of these things are awesome, and some aren’t so great. If your child knows that there is someone he or she can connect with when questions arise and you know that you have someone to reach out to when this happens, you’ll feel better prepared, and your child will feel more comfortable when she or he has to navigate new and sometimes tricky situations.
Help Educate Others about the Nuances of Adoption
When we first adopted our daughter, we got a lot of questions. Some of them were entirely inappropriate, and frankly, hurtful. My first instinct was to not say anything and avoid what felt like could turn into confrontation, but I quickly learned that as unfortunate as some questions may be, they often stem from curiosity and lack of education in general about adoption. Typically, providing resources is helpful for people. Having resources, and being educated and calm yourself, can be helpful. One of our biggest hurdles as a family is talking about “why we do what we do.” People don’t understand learning about different cultures, the unique nuances of being a transracial family, and we have had to have lots of chats about why our daughter wears her hair in protective styles and why no matter how other people “think she should wear it,” it’s not always culturally appropriate, healthy for her hair. It’s difficult to go through this, but being an advocate for your child and your family should be a priority.
These questions started to come at my family before we were in school but happen even more frequently now that we are in school with so many other families. My daughter now also gets asked questions as well as us, so ensuring that we can give her the tools she needs to navigate these conversations and having resources to share is very important to me.
In fact, I started writing about adoption in order to help educate others. Some of the things I’m more apt to share are articles like this about transracial adoption, and I also like to share more about doing my daughter’s hair when the topic comes up. (I wrote an article about my own experience and the people I turn to for help. You can read it here).
Make sure you browse adoption sites like this one for topics that come up or you feel less able to discuss so that you’re prepared should you have to have these tough conversations with your child or others.
Plan Events for National Adoption Awareness Month
If possible, talk to your administrators, teachers, etc., about celebrating National Adoption Awareness Month in some capacity at school. Whether you just help to prepare materials to share, etc., it’s a good way to get kids and their families talking about adoption. Not all families are built the same way, and children are never too young to start to understand this topic. There are many places to find materials. It’s also a great idea to help the library or classroom highlight books about adoption in November.
Though not all schools will be receptive to larger events, finding a way to celebrate adoption in the school newsletter, email, social media, or even volunteering to come in and read a book are all helpful.
I’ve Never Faced Any Issues: What Should I Do?
If you’ve never had any situations happen, that’s amazing. I hope you never do. However, whether it’s been an issue or not, finding ways to educate children and educators about adoption never will do harm, so if there’s still a way to take one of the more simple steps like send in a book or encourage the PTO or school to mention that it’s National Adoption Month can never hurt. It’s also a good time to just let your children know that you’re there to talk to them (or can find someone who can) if an issue ever does arise so that they feel comfortable coming to you if that ever does occur.
Never Stop Learning: Learn and Share about Adoption
Before and since adopting, I’ve been learning. I like to read and listen to adult adoptees and people of color share their lived experiences. I learn something new all of the time, and because of this, I feel better equipped to talk to people at my child’s school, help her navigate these situations, and feel better able to connect her with people that can help have these tough conversations because I know that—one day—I won’t be able to address them in the way that she needs. I will never stop meeting new people, engaging on discussion boards, and reading and listening. For my daughter to be prepared from kindergarten through college (and maybe even grad school?), I need to learn so that she can have the tools that she needs.
School is a fun time for kids, and starting a new school year is always a great time to talk about things when your child is eager to share.