Monday, December 3, 2012

The Importance of Talking to Your Child about Adoption

In the past, it was believed that parents should not tell their children that they were adopted. Parents felt that telling their child would upset him and that the child would feel different. Many parents were also afraid that their child would reject them.

Today, many parents continue to have the same fears, but experts now believe that it is important to tell the child she was adopted as early as possible, and that the repercussions of not telling may have damaging effects on their relationship. Despite various reasons why parents may not feel comfortable talking to their child about being adopted, the longer they do not tell the truth, the more difficult the conversation becomes. When the conversation does not occur, parents are in a position where they choose to lie to their child or may be evasive in talking with them. Children are very perceptive and read body language. They can tell if a parent is uncomfortable or is avoiding a specific topic.

A common reason parents do not talk to their child about adoption is they don’t know how to start the conversation. The conversation will need to be revisited many times during the child’s life and needs to be developmentally appropriate based on the age of the child.

 Below are some recommendations adapted from Explaining Adoption to Your Child by the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (
  • Convey to your child that the circumstances leading to the adoption were not his fault. Children’s magical thinking often leads them to believe that their bad behavior or thoughts caused the relinquishment, parental death, or divorce. 
  • Children sometimes believe they were placed for adoption because they were not good enough to be kept. If your child was adopted as an infant, emphasize the fact the birthmother probably chose adoption long before your child’s birth, and did this because she cared about her child and wanted her to have what she could not give her. 
  • Don’t say, “Your birth mother loves you, but…” because love will be equated with abandonment very early in life. The birthmother may have been a wonderful and caring person, but the bottom line was that she could not parent a child at that time in her life. 
  • Don’t use the poverty explanation for your child being placed. Saying “your birthmother was poor” may cause negative feelings. Children are likely to feel sorry for the birthmother and feel guilty about being adopted, thinking “Why didn’t someone help her to keep me?” 
  • Don’t depict your family as “savior” of your child, which may place a burden on the child. 
  • If your child was adopted as an older child, the emphasis is likely to be on the fact that the parent was unable to parent because of various problems. 
  • Do stress the fact that these problems were unrelated to your child, but made the parent incapable of being an adequate parent to any child at that time. 
CAS's APAC program has many resources to assist adoptive parents with initiating and continuing this conversation. Give us a call at 866-803-2722 or email us at for more information.  


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