Among adoptive parents, it’s common to feel a great deal of anxiety about the whole idea of telling your child that he or she was adopted. Accordingly, it can be easy to ignore the issue. But it’s never a good idea to choose not to tell your child. But when should you start talking about it? The best answer—as soon as they start asking about it and no later than middle childhood. Though there’s no hard and fast rule, as every situation is different, your child should know about the adoption before he or she starts middle school or junior high, but preferably much sooner.
The First Questions
It’s not uncommon for children to start asking questions about babies long before they start school. This can be the ideal time to start an initial introduction to the idea of adoption. Children don’t have any expectation that they must have come from your womb, so it doesn’t have to seem wrong or unusual that they were born to someone else, but are a part of your family.
The first discussion may be nothing more than “babies are born to women” and “you were not born to us.” You may also say that many children don’t live with the parents to whom they were born. Your child may or may not ask questions—let them. Try as best you can to answer the questions honestly, using simple and direct language. Let your child know that his birthparent loved him, but was unable to take care of him. Also tell him how much you wanted him. You can also talk a little bit about the process of bringing him home.
When Your Child Goes to School
Once your child starts school and starts to socialize on a regular basis, things will change dramatically. Your child will have greater exposure to other children and their families, and, if you haven’t talked about the adoption, may start to sense that he or she is different. In addition, your child will quickly learn to pick up cues from you and others, things they may not have noticed or understood before, that will cause them to wonder about themselves. Parents of their friends may unwittingly disclose the adoption to their children, so that your child becomes the target of taunts or learns of the adoption from someone else.