No matter the subject, it’s impossible to completely shield your child from the random comments of strangers. And like any topic, adoption is sure to come up at some point or another somewhere in the universe where your child is bound to hear. Like any other issue important to your family, the best defense is a good offense–be it manners, religion, family finances, Aunt Zelda’s bunions, politics (sigh), and yes, adoption. Rather than worrying about what to tell your child each and every time someone should happen to make a comment about adoption, consider doing this instead:

Start the Adoption Conversation Early

How early should you begin to talk adoption with your child? As the saying goes, “There’s no time like the present.” The sooner you share your child’s adoption story, the better. Even if your child is an infant, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t begin to introduce simple concepts and share the story of how you became a family. By starting from the beginning, you are normalizing adoption for your child and also helping yourself to become more comfortable talking about adoption. No need to call a family meeting with your toddler, simply weave in your conversation during those in between times–bathtime, bottle time, bedtime, while making her favorite scrambled egg, while helping her tie her shoe. While she may be too young to grasp the depth of her story, it’s never too early to introduce it. Not sure what to say? There is a plethora of age-appropriate books available to help get you started.

Arm Your Child with the Truth

As with any other topic, there are loads of misunderstandings and myths about adoption. By being the first one in your child’s life to start the conversation, you’re in the driver’s seat so far as helping her to navigate the truths and falsehoods that she’s bound to hear about, read about, or see as portrayed by Hollywood and the media. We’ve all heard them–the opinions of others speaking on a subject they know very little about other than what they may have seen or heard on the news or from a third party. By starting the conversation early and arming your child with facts rather than fiction, she will be able to better understand not just her own adoption story, but the overall concept of adoption itself and be able to recognize when someone is out of touch or out of line.

Also, there are many different kinds of adoption–open, private, foster-to-adopt, international, transracial–make sure she understands where she falls into this mix, rather than lumping your family’s experience in with all the rest. Each adoption is unique and brings its own different history and design.

Keep it Going

One conversation is not enough. You don’t need to bring up adoption on a daily basis, but make sure to leave the door open so that she feels comfortable starting conversations of her own and on her own terms. It’s often been suggested to allow the adopted child to foster and direct the conversation. In other words, answer her question rather than answering what she hasn’t asked. Let her decide what answers satisfy her curiosity at the moment and perhaps, revisit the subject at a later time to make sure she doesn’t have more questions. If she doesn’t seem to want to talk about adoption, consider bringing it up for her, but not at her.

For example, there are lots of movies and books that are great gateways to conversations. You can also share your own thoughts about adoption with her and invite her into the conversation that way to ask her for her opinion, rather than putting her on the spot. Like anyone else, as we learn about something important to us, our need to know and understanding of changes with time. As she grows, her concept and perception of adoption will change and so will your conversations.

For Real

Let her know that her feelings on adoption matter to you and are important to you. She’s sure to have mixed emotions on adoption, you, her birth family, and her friends’ families throughout her lifetime. That’s okay! By normalizing adoption, keeping the conversation going, and allowing her to let herself have her own feelings on the subject that brought you together in the first place, you’re working to put her in the driver’s seat where you once sat when she was too young to completely understand the situation–and this is what all parents are working toward–raising a child into a strong and confident adult who can stand on her own.

Response Time

The day will eventually arrive when your child will over hear and/or be the topic of a stranger’s comment about adoption, be it at the grocery store, school, church, or the playground. Knowing how to respond or whether to respond is a big part of your lifelong adoption conversation with her and how she will eventually react to or ignore these comments. By setting a good example yourself and helping her to decipher what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate for people to ask (and that she’s not obligated to provide an answer), you’ll be providing her with ways and opportunities to express herself that she can “go-to” or apply when you’re not around. By understanding her own adoption from an early age, she will have developed a better understanding of what she feels comfortable sharing, responding to, and whether or not she wants to continue a conversation. And while talking about adoption should be completely natural in your home, it’s fine to let her know to let strangers know that it’s not something she’s comfortable commenting on–with strangers.