Sensitivity in Communicating About Adoption

Michele Fried

As mentioned in previous blog posts, the Child Welfare Information Gateway is an incredible resource for adoptive families. Adoption STAR highly values the information shared via the agency’s website and various print publications (as evidenced by the fact that we’ve incorporated some of their pieces into our agency’s Adoptive Parent Education Manual). Having that said, here’s some valuable information from the Child Welfare Information Gateway regarding how to talk with your child about adoption

Communicating About Adoption

Parents who feel good about adoption, are comfortable talking about it, and can openly acknowledge their child’s feelings are best able to help their children do the same. Parents who tense up when the topic is raised or who keep it a secret may send the message that something is wrong with being adopted.

Choose Your Words Carefully In Communicating with Your Child:

  • Think about how your words might be understood by your child. Many adoptive parents try to build their child’s self-esteem by saying things that may seem positive but that can be misinterpreted. For example:

“Your birth mom gave you up for adoption because she loves you so much.” A child may start to wonder if the adoptive parents will send him or her away because of their love.

“You are very lucky to be adopted.” Adopted children should not be expected to be grateful to have a family or to be cared for. This can lead to a self-esteem issue (i.e., Why am I less deserving of having a family than other children?)

“We chose to adopt you – you are special.” Adoptees may later realize the loss that is implied by being “chosen” (they first had to be “unchosen”).

  • Do not sugarcoat the adoption experience. Doing so denies children the support they need as they grieve their unique adoption losses. For example, talking only about how wonderful it was for your child to be adopted ignores the fact that gaining your family also means losing the experience of being raised with the birth family. All adoption involves loss.
  • Practice talking about adoption in an adoptive parent support group or with others in your support network, and let them give you feedback.