How to talk about adoption

In a recent blog, we discussed those questions that adoptive parents absolutely never want to hear. But what about parents and their adopted children? Are there things that parents can say to biological children but not to their adopted children? Are there other words that parents should go out of their way to use? Experience of these families tell us, yes, we must be a bit more careful with our words when it comes to adopted children.

  • Don’t make a big deal about differences in appearance.

Multicultural FamilyEspecially between the kids and parents or non-biological siblings, keep any comparisons to a minimum. All kids are sensitive about their appearance at a certain age and especially about anything that makes them “abnormal.” Bringing up these differences only makes them pay closer attention to how they don’t match the rest of the family.

If the child wants to talk about their appearance, they will make it apparent. They may just mention that they notice the differences or they may want to change their appearance in some way to make them look more like the norm. Take this opportunity to appreciate their uniqueness and encourage them to look at their difference as a positive.

In transracial adoptions it will be important that all your children understand how to deal with discrimination, and that the experience of one child might be vastly different than the other. There are many resources out there for how to talk about race with your children.

  • Do use the same language that you would use with a biological child. Say “real” and “own” when talking to them about their place in your family.

sad-adoptionThis is very similar to the advice given to friends of adoptive parents, but even adoptive parents can make mistakes in this way. Especially in the early stages of parenting an adopted child, this slip up can happen. As children get older, make an extra effort to use those familial words: say my child, our children, or my own kid. Hearing these words will make your adopted children feel more secure.

Love adopted childSome of these phrases that may be very true, but are imbued with negativity. Using illegitimate, give up, give away, unwanted child or taken away all cast a dark shadow on the birth parents and the child’s early experiences. There are some easy replacement phrases that are neutral or positive: born to unmarried parents, terminated parental rights, make an adoption plan, child placed for adoption or court termination.   The way you frame these neutral words is important. Pair this information with an affirmation about the happiness that came when the child joined your family.

Parenting is difficult. Parenting adopted children can be even more difficult to nagivate. With support and practicing using positive language in place of negative, parents and children can come out with better communication and a more open dialogue about their adoption.

Some parents may have very different views than the ones expressed in this post. Our adoption agency welcomes any feedback about what works and doesn’t work for your family. Share your experience with us on Facebook!