When You or Your Child Are Bullied About Adoption

If your child is being bullied, it's important for you to be there to teach confidence, courage, and coping skills.

Susan Kuligowski November 19, 2015
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“Be yourself because the people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind.” -Dr. Seuss

Sticks and stones blah blah blah. We all know that name calling and bullying can hurt and can leave long-lasting scars. I remember the day my six-year-old daughter came home from school and shared that a “friend” had told her that she could never be beautiful because she has brown hair, eyes, and skin. While my first instinct was to do something potentially illegal, my backup plan was to boost up my baby girl and assure her that she was, in fact, beautiful. Because she is. Not to mention sweet. And smart. And caring. And a perfect target for bullies, who we all know lash out at those they feel intimidated by, because despite their outwardly confident appearance, inwardly, they feel they are none of the above.

While my first instinct was to do something potentially illegal, my backup plan was to boost up my baby girl and assure her that she was, in fact, beautiful. Because she is. Not to mention sweet. And smart. And caring.

That same year, she also found herself in the crosshairs of a “mean boy”—her words—who happened to be in her after-school program. He’d been saying nasty things to her, but she’d been handling it when he took things to the next level by destroying a craft she’d been working on by scribbling all over it.

Although my kids’ school preaches a “No Put Downs” policy, which it actually does its best to put into practice, we all know there are those who feel the rules don’t apply to them, and that sometimes trying to explain to a teacher that someone is being mean is easier said than done. My daughter came to me baffled by Mean Boy’s behavior and unsure of what she was supposed to do, as sometimes the teachers weren’t around to witness what he was up to.

She was just six at the time and sported a speech delay that prevented her from stringing together too many words at once, making it difficult to verbally express or defend herself—I’m sure another reason she was easy pickings. And so, before we’d even emptied her backpack that day, we worked out a plan together. That when someone said something that clearly was out of line, she would defiantly place one hand on her hip, holding the other hand in front of her, and say, “I don’t have time for this.” And then she would turn and walk away. No matter what. Letting the offender know he was not in control of her.

We worked on the hands and the words like a dance routine until she had it down pat. By firmly taking control of the situation, my little girl would turn the tables and take away whatever control the bully felt he had over her. While this trick did make her smile and we laughed while practicing, the next time Mean Boy confronted her, and she used it on him, he responded with “Well, you better make time!”

Oy vey.

These are not the moments for which any parent is prepared. We’re supposed to be focused on all of the exciting things our children have to look forward to—learning new skills, making new friends, along with the important things like sight words and tests and even (gasp!) homework. Thankfully, the school stepped in at that point and we found out the boy had been bullying quite a few other kids. He was dealt with and my daughter never experienced another incident. And thankfully, so far, her adoption has not been an issue.

One of the best ways to prevent your child’s adoption from becoming a target for bullies is to make sure he is comfortable with his situation before someone else swoops in and makes it uncomfortable for him.

Although the fact of being an adopted family should not be shocking in this day and age, for some “mean people,” it’s viewed as a perfect point of entry to wound and hurt—not necessarily because of the situation itself, but because bullies will use whatever ammunition they think may make the biggest impact on a would-be victim. I believe one of the best ways to prevent your child’s adoption from becoming a target for bullies is to make sure he is comfortable with his situation before someone else swoops in and makes it uncomfortable for him.

And what about you, mom and dad? What should you do if you find yourself being bullied about adoption? Be it from a stranger who launches a rude comment toward your family or a family member who is passive-aggressive about their feelings toward your adoption? Personally, I’ve found most adoptive parents to be made of pretty strong stuff. We know going into things that not everybody will react as we’d hope. And I’d like to think that the adoption community has a pretty strong “open arms” policy of helping one another deal with the less-than-friendlies who present themselves like unwelcome ants at a picnic. Same as for your child, one of the best ways to prevent yourself from becoming a target for bullies is to make sure you are comfortable with your situation before someone else swoops in and makes it uncomfortable for you.

So, what can you do?

Talk About It

Talk to your child about his adoption from an early age (it is often recommended that you begin in infancy, if that’s your situation). Encourage your child to express himself. Give him the floor. Let him know that it’s okay to ask questions, and be ready to share with him age-appropriate answers. Empower him in his adoption so that when the time comes, he is more confident in who he is and less likely to allow others to paint for him a picture of who he is not.

Encourage your child to express himself. Give him the floor. Let him know that it’s okay to ask questions, and be ready to share with him age-appropriate answers.

Not only have we always talked to our children about their adoptions, but we remain active in a local support group for other local families who have adopted children. While the adults are able to relate on one level, the kids are also able to talk about and share their feelings. More importantly, they are able to see that they are not the only one experiencing life as an adopted child and that adoption is not what makes them unique in this great big world—it is just one part of their entire makeup. I encourage all adopted families to search out support groups or consider starting one.

Be the Example

Let your child know what to expect. It’s okay to discuss the fact that at some point in her life, someone may ask her an awkward or inappropriate question about her adoption and that it’s okay to feel taken aback or uncertain about how to or whether or not to respond.

Just like us parents, who sometimes find ourselves taking a deep breath, counting to 10, or determining how to appropriately respond to an adoption-related question, you can count on the fact that your child will experience the same thing in school or on the playground. Why not help her to prepare?

Remember that she is watching how you respond to similar situations. All children look to their parents to be the example, no matter the circumstances. If she’s feeling unsure, let her know some of the situations that you’ve encountered and how you’ve handled them. Advise her that she may determine for herself if she’s dealing with a friend or a foe. Remind her that her adoption story is her adoption story and she is in control of what she shares and with whom; and that only she can control how she feels about her adoption–not the bully who attempts to make her feel bad about herself.

While adoption is not a joke, being able to laugh it off rather than cry about it can oftentimes bring things into focus.

Remind her that there is no shame in simply walking away and shutting out a would be bully. It’s important to let your child that also know that not every comment is meant as a jab—some are the result of the asker just not knowing how else to say it—or not knowing that they shouldn’t have said it at all. I think as parents, we quickly learn that humor is a great way to talk ourselves down from the angry ledge—while adoption is not a joke, being able to laugh it off rather than cry about it can oftentimes bring things into focus.

Requesting Backup

Should a situation involving bullying escalate, as it did in the instance of my daughter, you may need to call in the calvary. Although our kids’ school encourages the children to approach a teacher if they find themselves the target of a bully, kids sometimes push back against parent and/or teacher involvement when it comes to what they feel is an already-embarrassing situation. They may feel as if they’ll receive even more unwanted attention or appear weak.

The more confident you are with your choices, the more confidence you can instill in your child.

My older daughter, who is better at standing up for herself, would’ve been appalled if I’d suggested I was going to talk to her teacher. The truth is—and so many recent and tragic headlines concerning bullying incidents support this—bullying can quickly take a dangerous turn. By reaching out early for support, you are providing your child with a quick and safe way to turn the bullying off. Stopbullying.gov offers a clear definition of bullying, as well as ways to prevent and respond to it.

As a parent of an adopted child, make sure you surround yourself with healthy relationships with people who are there to support you. The more confident you are with your choices, the more confidence you can instill in your child.

All for One

Make sure your child has a voice in this process so they do not feel powerless in their own battles, which may just lead to more anxiety. Just as you would want to be, let them be part of the solution in speaking with the school so that they understand what will happen—that they are not chicken. Our job as parents is to teach our children coping skills and to build our children up to eventually stand on their own, but we also need to teach them that there are resources available—that they are not alone. Standing with your child is a great opportunity to strengthen your bond and to let them know you are in this together—and that’s what family is for.

At the end of the day, I want to spend my time focused on my family and on living our lives. I want to focus on the exciting new things my kids have to look forward to—and yes, the important things—even (gasp) homework. I don’t have time for bullies. Nobody has time for bullies.

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Susan Kuligowski

Sue Kuligowski is a staff storyteller at Adoption.com. The mother of two girls through adoption, she is a proposal coordinator, freelance writer/editor, and an adoption advocate. When she's not writing or editing, she can be found supervising sometimes successful glow-in-the-dark experiments, chasing down snails in the backyard, and attempting to make sure her girls are eating more vegetables than candy.


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