Grade School: Improving Your Child's School Experience

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This information has come directly from Child Welfare Information Services

Being adopted can affect your child’s school experience. Peers may pose innocent questions that cause hurt feelings, or they may tease an adopted child about being adopted. Some classroom assignments may create tension, self-consciousness, or sadness. Children with learning disabilities may struggle to complete assignments, while children with emotional or behavioral problems may find it challenging to succeed socially or academically in school.

While you cannot protect your child from all of these possibilities, you can take a proactive approach to ensure that adoption is taught and respected as a valid way to create a family. Following are some actions you can take to improve your child’s school experience.

Note: This section focuses specifically on adoption and school. Other delays and disabilities that may affect adopted children are not covered here, although they may also affect your child’s school experience. These might include sensory integration difficulties, lack of trust, difficulty with transitions, and issues with self-esteem. For more information on other issues that may affect children who have been abused or neglected, see the following areas of the Information Gateway website:

Another resources you may find helpful: 7 Core Issues in Adoption (Kaplan-Roxia and Silverstein)

Talk to Teachers About Adoption

Rase the topic of adoption at school:

  • Ask your child’s teacher(s) to include adoption in lessons on family diversity and nontraditional families.
  • Offer to make a presentation about adoption to the school staff or to your child’s class (but only with your child’s input and approval).
  • Encourage school personnel to use positive adoption language. (See “Choose Your Words Carefully”)
  • Donate books and materials about adoption to the school library.

In deciding how much information to share with school personnel about your child’s history, follow the “need to know” rule. Share only the information needed to ease your child’s adjustment and ensure his or her needs are met.

Advocate for Adoption-Sensitive and -Inclusive Assignments

Common grade-school assignments about families can raise concerns for adopted children as well as for other children in the class who lack access to family history or early family photos. Family tree or family history assignments are challenging to children who may feel they must choose between birth and adoptive families. Assignments about life histories can leave adoptive children feeling left out, as they may not have access to the information or photos requested. Ask your child’s teacher to make simple adjustments to these assignments that will offer other ways for children to complete a project without changing the goals and objectives of the curriculum, such as:

  • Instead of asking children to bring in a baby photos, ask them to bring in a photo of themselves when they were younger or to draw what they liked to do when they were younger.
  • Instead of requiring children to draw a traditional family tree with all family members, provide an option to show roots and branches, allow children to create two or more trees, or replace the tree with a more flexible structure altogether (such as houses and rooms) for those who know little about their “roots” or birth family history.

In any case, request that the teacher discuss with the whole class any options for children who are adopted or who have other family structures.

Prepare Your Child to Handle Adoption Questions or Comments

Help your child decide how to talk about adoption with classmates and others:

  • Ask your child to think in advance about how he or she wants to respond to questions about adoption.
  • Offer “What if…?” scenarios and practice responses with your child.
  • Teach your child that it is up to him or her to decide how much personal information they share.
  • Help your child understand the possible results of what he or she tell others.
  • Coach your child in using phrases such as “That’s private,” or “I don’t want to talk about that.”
  • Work with your child to master some general statements about adoption that can be used to educate peers.

Continue to Grade School: Seeking Help for Mental Health Concerns or return to Adoption Parenting


Child Welfare Information Gateway. Available online at