If you have adopted an infant or very young child, it can be difficult to discern when and how you to let them know about the adoption and explain what it means for them. The longer you wait, the more awkward the situation gets, and the more you may feel as though you are secretly deceiving your child. When should you begin and how should you talk to your child about their adoption?
It is important that your child understand that they are adopted and what that means for them before they enter middle childhood, and ideally by the time they begin school. Preschool is a good time to start having that conversation. But what should you tell them?
What to Say
Be honest, simple, and direct when you tell them about their adoption. Explain that they were not born from you, that they were born from other parents who could not take care of them. Then explain to them, simply and directly, why you chose to adopt a child. Finally, let them know how the adoption process was and why you chose them.
Let Your Child Ask Questions
Children may want to know about their original parents – who they were, what happened to them, and why they gave them up. You can share a little bit of information, but you don’t need to answer all the details. The most important thing is for your answers to address their questions in ways that fit their maturity level.
Once children are old enough to start school, they need to understand the basics of their adoption. It should not be kept a secret at that point. It is possible that one of their peers will pick up on the adoption, either considering that they “do not look like their parents” or, more likely, overhearing parents or teachers talk about the situation. Even in closed adoptions, it is usually better that the children know they are adopted, even if knowledge of their birth parents is out of reach.
Check Your Own Emotions
It is essential to have these conversations with your child, helping them understand and form their identity. While it may feel easier to just claim them as your own, that puts you in a position of lying to your child, potentially their whole lives. That is not healthy for you or for them. It is far better if you simply give them the facts and allow them to ask their questions, even if you may not have answers for all of those questions.
Withholding information from your child, especially information so crucial to their understanding of their own identity, will eventually come across as a breach of trust. It will undo all of the countless hours, days, and years of love you have invested in them. It may feel like it puts you on tricky footing, having this conversation with them at such a young age, but it will be far easier to move forward if you have it when they are young, rather than waiting until you think they can understand it all better.