What to Do When Your Child Is Triggered by Adoption Themed Movies

2015-10-17-15-08-32Guest blogger Eden Fried notes that adoption story lines can encourage beneficial dialogue between adoptive parents and adoptees.

As much as you want to protect your child from all things scary, evil, harmful, or potentially traumatic, you won’t succeed 100%. There will always, almost certainly, be things that your children will encounter that will frighten them, hurt them, and even emotionally trigger them in negative ways. So when you can’t protect them, what do you do? More specifically, what do you do when what was supposed to be any easy going family night out to the movie theater turns sour due to an adoption themed movie?

You embrace it.

That might seem off putting. Perhaps “embrace” isn’t the proper word. Instead, I’ll say, “use the experience as a teaching moment.” After all, as a parent, you’re one of the most important teachers in your child’s life and we all, adoptees and non-adoptees alike, have a lot to glean from the movies, especially adoption themed movies!

Start by opening a dialogue

Was your child triggered by Finding Dory? Does he or she feel sad or angry that they can’t suddenly go find their birth family? Does your child feel worried that they might suddenly be returned to their birth family after watching Despicable Me? What about Stuart Little? Did your child react poorly to the negative adoption language throughout that movie?

What’s my point? Ask.

Ask questions. Perhaps your child is having a tantrum in the back seat of the car on the way home. Or perhaps they’re suddenly quiet, something quite unlike them, after watching an adoption themed movie. Either way, as the parent you can sense that something isn’t quite right with your child. So start the dialogue. Ask questions. Let your child know that it’s okay to feel certain emotions and invite them to talk about their feelings with you.

Point out the difference between fantasy and reality – fact versus fiction

You know your child’s story is much more complex and unique than whatever was portrayed in the movies. But that might not be so clear to your child. So make those differences abundantly clear! When you help your child to understand that what happens in the movies isn’t always like what happens in real life (like your family’s adoption story) you help them to develop an understanding of fact versus fiction so that they can identify those differences in the future. Likewise, you provide them with the tools to cope with negative adoption portrayals in the media that they might encounter down the road.

Talk about ALL adoption messages within movies, positive or negative

Your child can be triggered from positive adoption themed movies in the same way they can be triggered by negative ones. So talking about all adoption themes is important. In some cases, your child might not even be old enough to understand the difference. It’s important for you, as the parent, to talk about all adoption messages so that your children can begin to develop an understanding about what’s positive, what’s negative, what’s real and what isn’t. Your willingness to facilitate a healthy conversation will go along way to developing your child’s healthy understanding of his or her adoption story.

What to do when your child doesn’t react?

You just walked out of an emotionally charged kids movie with prominent adoption messages (positive or negative) and your child seems clueless. Hey, it happens! Sometimes adoption messages will go straight over your child’s head. But, depending on their age, you might want to consider highlighting that adoption message, whether or not it was a positive one. Again, adoption themed movies provide teachable moments. Use those opportunities to help develop an understanding of, and even relationship with, adoption.

Talk to your children whether or not they’re adoptees, and whether or not they were triggered

Why does society perpetuate negative adoption stereotypes in the first place? It’s due to a lack of education. When we see or hear something negative, we need to speak about it. We need to educate our children, our friends, our family, our neighbors, and our teachers. Whether your child is adopted or not is irrelevant when it comes to adoption conversations. If there was a negative adoption message portrayed within a child’s movie, your child will internalize it and could believe it to be true. So, be sure to speak up, speak out, and use those teachable moments to educate your children on adoption.

Should you prescreen and avoid certain movies?

So, you’re kicking yourself because your child has been hurt by a negatively themed adoption movie. Now you’re likely to read every review and prescreen every movie and television show before allowing your child to view it. Should you do that? Are you crazy if you do that?

No one is here to judge or shame you for your parenting style. You know your child best. If you believe certain adoption themes to be negative all around for your child, with no upside… then perhaps it IS best to avoid certain media all together. You’re the parent; your call is ultimately the best one. But there is something to be said for using those teachable moments to help your child work through challenging moments and experiences.

Just as I mentioned earlier, try as you might to prevent your child from any harm, you’ll fail. It’s impossible… one of the world’s greater faults. So, you just might want to expose your child to adoption themed movies while they’re WITH you so that the next time it happens when you’re not around (and it will), they’ll have the tools, resources and mindset to work through it on their own.

Thoughts? Let us know what you think in the comments below. If you found this article helpful, feel free to share it with friends, family, or your social media networks.

For additional adoption resources, check out the rest of our blog!

Eden Fried is a book nerd, an exercise junkie and a freelancer writer and blogger. She’s the daughter of Michele Fried (Founder & CEO of Adoption STAR) and sibling of several adoptees. She’s not adopted and has never adopted, but she’s been touched by adoption and that’s been enough to fuel her lifelong passion and advocacy. Follow Eden’s journeys by checking out her blog or drop her a follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn (because who’s not on social media these days?).