For parents of adoptees in elementary school, it is important to understand that your child will most likely have to engage and interact with their adoption in some capacity at school. School can be a challenging place for young adoptees as they may be eager to fit in and be accepted. Owning and walking in their unique story at this age can be really hard. Thankfully, there are ways you can support them during these transformative years.
- Partner with teachers. Establish open lines of communication with your child’s teachers. Where appropriate, share necessary information about your child’s adoption and any specific considerations that may allow them to better support your child in the classroom. Additionally, educating teachers about adoption prior to the school year starting can be even more beneficial.
- Pay attention to what your child is learning. There may be topics your child is studying in the classroom that will require you to engage them in it at home such as issues of social justice or racism. Pay attention to the projects in school your child is doing and the books they are reading and be prepared to engage them in thoughtful conversations. Certain topics in the classroom could trigger emotions and feelings for adoptees about their story and they may need you to be prepared to initiate and facilitate conversations about it.
- Address questions and curiosities asked by other classmates. Children are curious and often lack boundaries. Classmates may ask intrusive questions or utilize inappropriate language when talking or asking about adoption. If you have a transracial adoptee, chances are good students will notice the difference in race when you drop off your child at school or they see your family at school functions. This can lead to them asking questions to your adoptee or even other siblings in your family.
It is not your adoptees role to educate others on adoption or share their story nor is it their siblings job to share or answer questions. It is also not the teachers job to share or answer questions on behalf of your child. Coming up with a plan to address how questions and comments about adoption are handled ahead of time is crucial so that these situations can be shut down appropriately or avoided. Help your adoptee and any other siblings come up with “safe” answers so they are ready when these situations arise and are prepared to navigate them.
- Advocate for inclusivity in the classroom. Advocate for inclusive language and materials that reflect diverse family structures, including adoptive families. Examples of this could be the books in the library, the curriculum or posters on the wall in the classroom. The best classrooms implement a “windows and mirrors” framework. Windows means that when children look around, they see others and mirrors means when they look around, they seem themselves. This can help children build a positive self-identity as well as appreciate and celebrate differences.
- Connect with other adoptive families. Even if their children are in different grades than your own, connecting with other adoptive families at the school can help create a support network for you and your family. This can provide a sense of community, shared experiences and help you better address and navigate adoption challenges at school.
Navigating adoption at school can be hard, and as a parent, your go-to instinct will probably be to step in and protect your child. Parenting with your child, their teachers and other families to support adoptees is crucial in creating a school system that celebrates, supports and cares for the diverse stories and backgrounds of students.
By: Ramya Gruneisen