It’s that time of year again . . . the pointy pencils, the shiny lunchboxes, the first-day jitters. It’s back-to-school time! As a teacher and a mom, I have to say that I love this time of year. Everything feels new, like a blank slate. Everything seems possible. For many families built through adoption, however, this can be a tricky and anxiety producing time of year. Will my child fit in? Will the teacher like her? Will she feel safe enough to learn successfully? Will she be able to self-regulate when things don’t come easily? Will there be another dreaded family tree assignment?
Should you talk to your child’s teacher about adoption? The answer is a resounding maybe! This really depends on your child and her specific situation and needs. Especially as they get older, some children who were adopted will be able to negotiate these conversations themselves (or decide that they do not even need to happen). If your child is beyond the early childhood years, a good place to start is to have a conversation with her. Ask if she wants you to communicate with her teacher before school starts and what information she thinks should be shared. With younger kids, you will need to use your own discretion. If you decide that you do want to talk to a teacher about adoption, here are a few pointers to keep in mind.
Choose an appropriate time, place, and means of communication.
Please do not try to share your child’s story with her teacher at Open House, Back-to-School Night, or the morning of the first day of school. A quick e-mail is a good option, or ask to schedule a brief conference with the teacher early in the year. Be sensitive to your child’s comfort level. She may wish to be included in this conversation.
Convey information that will ease your child’s transition.
As a teacher, I want my students’ transition to school to be as happy and easy as possible. Just as you would communicate information about food allergies or medical conditions that may impact your child during the school day, it is a good idea to let your child’s teacher know about any triggers that may send your child into fight, flight, or freeze mode (large crowds, emergency drills, unexpected physical contact, stories with themes of abandonment). Depending on the situation, you may want to make the school’s guidance counselor aware of this information as well.
Err on the side of privacy when it comes to details.
Teachers are professionals and are bound by confidentiality rules. Still, I always tell my daughter that her adoption story is her own. She never has to share details with any person or in any situation where she doesn’t feel comfortable. And she can even blame it on me! “My mom said I don’t have to share that if I don’t want,” is an acceptable response as long as it is said in a kind tone of voice. While you may find it helpful to share some basic information about adoption or early trauma with your child’s teacher, it is not necessary to share all of the details of your child’s story. If it’s not pertinent to your child’s experience in the classroom, it’s a good idea to err on the side of privacy.
Set the tone for a positive home-school connection
Like it or not, school will likely be a big part of your child’s life for years to come. Make an effort to set a positive tone. Be respectful of teachers’ time. Give them the benefit of the doubt (and a chance to explain the situation) when your child comes home with information that makes you angry. Smile and tell them what you appreciate about them. Volunteer to help out with tasks (in the classroom or at home) if you can. Keep the lines of communication open and let them know that you are available if they have questions or would like more information about how adoption and early trauma can impact students in the classroom. If you are positive about school, your child will likely follow your lead.
Do you talk to your child’s teacher about adoption at the beginning of the school year? What would you add to this list?