Adoption STAR facilitates a class called, “Talking About Adoption.” In this class prospective adoptive parents are challenged to look into the future and identify how they may handle adoption related situations based on the developmental stage of their child. Talking about adoption is an overwhelming thought for many prospective adopters, many who have not yet even shared their desire to adopt with some family members, friends or co-workers. So adding the extra piece of how one would answer young children’s questions about adoption can be intimidating. The following list provides 10 suggestions on how we should talk to children about adoption.
Start Early. Yes, start talking to your child about adoption during infancy! Even though your child may not understand, it’s practice for you. Your child, even as an infant, gets to hear the word “adopted” in a positive context. The word adoption becomes as commonplace as everyday terms.
Use Positive Adoption Language. Using appropriate adoption language such as “placed for adoption”, “made an adoption plan”, makes the process of adoption less intimidating then having your child hear words like, “given away” or “given up.” It is your job to become familiar with positive adoption language so that you can naturally share your knowledge with your child and those around you.
Answer the Questions Your Child Asks. Be sure you know what your child is asking. If you are not sure what the question really is, ask your child what s/he means by returning the question to your child. Often a child does not have the same terminology as we do and you may not be answering your child’s question at all. Listen to your children and give them what they need, not what you need. A tall order, perhaps, but it is the real meaning of parenthood.
Be Honest. By being honest you must also consider your child’s developmental stages. The adoption story belongs to your child, and the child has a right to know that story. It is natural for parents to want to make everything sound perfect and to take away any possible loss or pain for our children, but it doesn’t give us the right to replace missing facts or soften harsh ones. “Developmentally appropriate” conversations require you to think carefully about how to discuss difficult issues without lying. “For example, if you know your child was conceived by rape, you don’t want to start out by saying your mommy and daddy loved each other very much,” says Lois Melina, author of Making Sense of Adoption and Raising Adopted Children. “You can say something that would imply that their parents didn’t know each other very well.” If you don’t know the answer, say so. Show that you share your child’s curiosity and that you would like to know too.
Include Information About Your Child’s Actual Birth. Many adoptees report they grew up thinking they weren’t born like other people are. In Adoption STAR’s Talking About Adoption Class, participants often laugh when they hear about pre-schoolers explaining they weren’t born, they were adopted. Sharing your child’s birth story is as important as their adoption story. It is often missed because nobody talks about their birth, because it occurred before you. Share as much information as you have about your child’s birth and if you aren’t blessed with that information be sure to let your child know that s/he was born just like everyone else.
Keep Talking. Don’t wait for your child to raise the subject about adoption. Keep the communication lines open. Raise the subject every once in a while by saying, for example, “I was remembering when we adopted you and when we went to the agency…” or “I was just thinking of your birth mother and wondering…” Your child’s understanding is developing and growing all the time. Don’t assume that s/he got all the details the last time you spoke about it. Repetition helps a child absorb the concepts surrounding adoption. So it’s important for the parent to revisit the information frequently. Another technique is to use indirect conversation, that’s talking to another person while your child is in the room. This type of conversation allows parents to keep the subject open without forcing the child to participate. “It’s directly meant for the child to hear, but it’s not talking to the child,” says Joyce Maguire Pavao, Ed.D., founder of the Center for Family Connections in Cambridge, MA, and author of The Family of Adoption. For example, she says, a dad- knowing his child is nearby-might ask his wife, “I always think of Lisa on Mother’s Day because she’s Sally’s birthmother. Should we buy flowers for Lisa and put them on the mantel in honor of her, or should we send her a card?” Another idea is as adoption expert, Holly van Gulden calls, “leaving pebbles.” You make a small comment about a topic and then see if the child responds. For example, a stranger’s nosy questions could prompt you to say later, “Wow, that woman was really nosy about our family, I wonder what she was thinking?” Wait to see what, if anything, your child says and use that response to set the course of conversation. Also don’t forget that the direct approach may work just as well by simply asking, “Do you have any questions about adoption?”
Talk About Birth Parents. No matter the type of adoption, refer to your child’s birth parents by their name, if known. Your positive attitude and comfort to talk about your child’s birth parents is very important in building your child’s self-esteem. It also sends a message to your child that you are there for them to talk to and if they ask about their birth parents, it will not upset you. Adult adoptees often share that they were concerned they were hurting their adoptive parents if they asked questions about their birth parents. Talking about famous birth parents, famous adoptive parents and famous adoptees often excites a child to see that every day people and celebrities are touched by adoption.
Acknowledge and Accept Your Child’s Feelings. Listen for the feelings behind your child’s comments and questions. Curiosity and sadness are natural responses to being adopted. Don’t take expressions about wanting to meet birth parents as a reflection on you or your parenting. We don’t like to see our children experiencing sadness or pain, but adoption is a mixture of joy and pain, loss and gain for all of us. Acknowledge this and help to make your child feel comfortable about talking about it. It is also beneficial with young children to help them develop a feeling-word vocabulary. Also look for nonverbal ways to help your child work through adoption issues. Some children might benefit from drawing pictures about their adoption story. Older children can write in a journal.
Prepare a Lifebook. Lifebooks are storybooks for children and are excellent ways to share your child’s adoption story with them. Be sure to include birth family information, foster family, orphanage, etc., as applicable. Include photos of birth family if available.
You Are the Parent. As a parent, you know your child best, don’t forget that. You are your child’s parent and talking about adoption will be comfortable in time if you allow yourself to acknowledge you are the expert, you are the parent. As adopted children develop adoption understanding, increasingly complex questions and issues arise. The more comfortable you are as parents, the more your child will entrust their questions, thoughts and feelings to you. This is the cornerstone of communication within a healthy family. Parents need support too, so don’t forget to also lean on adoption professionals. Remember Adoption STAR is here for you. Join SOFIA, the adoptive parent support group, if you haven’t already. Talk to other adoptive parents, share and learn from them.
In 2009, the Western New York community suffered a devastating event: the crash of Continental Flight 3407: 50 lives were lost and our entire community still grieves with those families. It’s remarkable how the families came together to demand government-enforced reforms for airline safety and to also find special ways to remember these loved ones and memorialize their lives.
Laura Voigt, sister of the late Elly Kausner, approached Adoption STAR about remembering her dear sister. Elly was a 24-year old second year law student who was interested in adoption law and was devoted to her young niece and nephews. Elly’s family established Elly’s Angels Foundation to support the Ellyce Kausner Memorial Scholarship at Clarence High School and Adoption STAR’s special needs adoptions.
Cheerleaders from Sub Zero All Star Cheer Teams, including the Sub Zero Flurries (WNY’s only special needs cheerleading squad) are at the heart of the Foundation’s efforts. We are honored that Elly’s family sought out Adoption STAR and that our special needs adoptions have a special angel.
Children with special needs who benefit from future generous donations from this foundation will be known as Elly’s Angels. These Angels will be placed in a home where they can achieve their highest potential, receive all of the care and love that they deserve, and be provided with unique opportunities.
Here are 25 ways to deal ways to approach the “ready and waiting” process in the healthiest way. There is so much to learn about adoption and parenting, so embrace this time.
1. Have faith
Having faith is having confidence, trust, a conviction, a belief that you will adopt and that the process works.
2. Take adoption classes (not just the required home study classes!)
Your agency offers you optional pre-adoption classes as well as information on upcoming adoption conferences and workshops throughout the year. Pay special attention to adoption events during the month of November, National Adoption Month.
3. Look for adoption announcements and memory books
There are so many creative ways to announce that you have adopted and to record your adoption journey and your child’s arrival. You can purchase pre-made announcements or memory books or you can create your own.
4. Become familiar with adoption terminology
The agency provides you with a list of words that introduces you to adoption terminology. This education is not to be “politically correct” but rather to introduce you to important terms that you will need to know throughout the adoption process. Becoming comfortable with many of these words will prepare you to talk about adoption with your child and others in your life.
5. Build an adoption library for your child
Becoming familiar with the many adoption storybooks now available will prepare you for one day reading to your child. The gift of a book is a gift that keeps on giving.
6. Read adoption and related books
In addition to building your child’s library, begin to purchase or borrow books on adoption, parenting, etc., that will prepare you for your journey.
7. Nurture your relationship
If you have a significant other, don’t forget each other. One day you will be parents and need to build in the time for each other. Right now is the time to stay committed to date nights, spontaneous and planned trips, etc. Do not put your relationship on hold during the adoption process.
8. For those exploring domestic adoption, update your profile and update your birth parent letter
Listen to the agency staff if they provide you with suggestions to tweak your profile and even if they don’t, change it every so often… maybe a new front cover, or a new paragraph to your introductory letter?
9. Place your profile on the adoption agency website!
The agency provides you with the ability for a small fee every few months to post your profile online if you are pursuing a domestic adoption.
10. For those exploring international adoption, enroll in a language class
What language will your child be hearing or speaking when you meet? It will be a great comfort to your child if you can learn a few phrases or simple songs in their language to support them during their transition into your family. You may not learn to speak fluently but it will certainly enhance your understanding of your child’s culture.
11. Attend cultural events and learn more about your child’s culture
Join in some of the community celebrations within your child’s culture. Sign up for a cooking class and research and try recipes from your child’s country of origin.
12. Meet other prospective adoptive parents in person and on-line!
Your agency provides you with an established support group offering social, educational and support opportunities as well as two online groups where you will meet adoptive families in all stages of the adoption process.
13. Join an adoption support group
Involving yourself in an adoption support and social group prior to adopting will provide you with incredible new friendships, a built-in support system, and a group of people who will route for you along the way and celebrate with you when your good news is shared, and is with you even during the disappointments.
14. Find a “mentor” from the adoption community
Your agency provides you with a Mentor List upon request. You can select a Mentor based on topic-areas or experiences. Perhaps you are single and want to connect with a single adoptive parent, or you are hoping to have an open adoption and want to connect with a family already experiencing this. The individuals/couples on the Mentor List have gone through the process and can share their experiences with you.
15. Keep a journal or blog
Write your emotions down in a journal or blog. You can record your thoughts and feelings as well as some of the frustrations you will feel along the way. After you adopt this will be priceless to you.
16. Write a letter to your child
As difficult and emotional as it may sound, writing a letter to your eventual child will provide keep you focused on your goal of parenthood and remind you of all the reasons you wish to adopt. This is another keepsake that will be important to you long after your child arrives, as well as a special gift to your child one day.
17. Prepare for parenthood
Becoming an adoptive parent doesn’t happen over night but when it is time to pick up your child whether it is in your state, another state or another country, you’ll want to be sure you’re ready. Find out from the agency what you should travel with, what will be provided and what you can prepare for before “the day” arrives.
18. Identify a family physician or pediatrician
It’s never too early to look for a pediatrician or family doctor. You will want to meet the physician before your child arrives to be sure you are comfortable with them and their practice as well as to be sure they have experience with domestic/international adoptees.
19. Explore your neighborhood
Though you may have lived in your neighborhood for years, you may not have been educated on the resources important to assist you in the new role of parenthood. What resources are in your neighborhood? Have you been to the local playgrounds? Are you familiar with the closest hospital or emergency centers? Are you familiar with the school districts?
20. Investigating child care options
Whether you are going to be a working parent or not, it is recommended to pre-educate yourself on the daycare options available to you. In addition identify “babysitters” you will be comfortable leaving your child with inside and outside of your family. Just like it is important to nurture your relationship now, it is vital to build in time alone (at least one date night per week.) It is important to have a healthy relationship to be a healthy parent.
21. Safety/childproof your home
Is your house childproof? Have you:
• Installed outlet covers and plates on outlets?
• Installed smoke detectors on every level of your home?
• Used window guards, window stops or safety netting to prevent kids from falling out of windows?
• Removed window blind cords that have loops, which can cause strangulation? Bought safety tassels to replace cord loops?
• Installed doorknob covers to keep children out of dangerous rooms (bathrooms, garage, office)?
• Posted emergency numbers next to all phones?
• Installed safety latches on all cupboards and airtight containers, including refrigerators?
• Stored knives, sharp objects and heavy pans out of child’s reach?
• Stored medications, detergents, soaps, alcohol and other hazardous items out of reach?
• Used back burners when cooking, and remembered to turn handles away from counter edge?
• Equipped faucets with anti-scalding devices?
• Latched trash compactor and dishwasher?
• Ensured there is a fire extinguisher in the kitchen but not close to any heat sources?
• Made sure trashcan has lid and is inaccessible to children?
• Ensured you have a safe cupboard (filled with wooden spoons, plastic cups and lids, and other harmless items) for your child to explore while you are cooking?
• Used child safety gate to keep kids out of kitchen when you are not there?
• Ensured you have a cordless phone to remain mobile with kids around and have at least one cell phone in house for use in emergencies when there is no electricity?
22. Finish Projects
Finish those home renovation projects such as painting, refinishing furniture or even renovating your home.
23. Look for volunteer opportunities with your adoption agency or support group
Your agency is always looking for volunteers to help out in a number of ways, by volunteering for a specific event or project or by joining one of their committees! E-mail or call today to learn of ways you can get more involved.
24. Be expectant (rest, exercise, eat properly, and make plans!)
You’ll need to find ways to deal with the stress of adopting and being “in the process.” Exercise is a great stress reliever. Now may be the time to join that health club, sign up for a Yoga class. (And work with weights – your child will want and need to be held… often! Your arms and back will thank you!)
25. And last but definitely not least . . . Believe!
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