Discussing Adoption with Pre-School Age Children

Pre-school age children do not yet have the capacity to understand adoption. However, there are several very important reasons for introducing the subject at this age:

  1. From the beginning, adoption should be a household word and subject that is discussed comfortably in the home.
  2. Talking openly about adoption aids in the adoptive parents’ comfort level with this topic.
  3. The child will have a positive association with the word adoption, even though he/she does not grasp its full meaning.
  4. The child will understand that the word adoption applies to him/her, even if he/she cannot pronounce it correctly. For example, “I adopted.”
  5. This openness lays the groundwork for positive self-esteem connected with the word adoption, which, in turn, facilitates understanding in the school age years.

One of the parents’ tasks in the pre school years is to create an atmosphere that gives their child permission to ask questions about adoption. If they talk about the subject periodically and seem comfortable talking about birthparents, the child will realize that it is OK for him/her to ask questions and verbalize curiosities.

We encourage parents of pre-school children to discuss adoption in a simple manner. It helps to remember that he/she needs concrete information at this age because he/she cannot grasp abstract concepts. Parents can share photos of the birthparents so the child has something specific to connect to the word ”birthparents.” Or if there are visits, the child will see the birthparents as a concrete reality in his/her life, similar to other caring relatives who come to visit.

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  • lisa t.

    There are a lot of birth parents on the IAC fan page as well. Many of these suggestions could carry over to discussions about adoption with the children they are parenting. In open adoption the birth siblings are often a part of visits and contact. What are some good ways for birth parents to incorporate adoption talk in a positive way for the birth siblings to cope and understand?

  • sbryson

    Great idea. Perhaps Kathleen can post advice for birthparents on IAC's new Birthparent Blog

  • ksilber

    Lisa, thanks for your comments. You are right that many of the same issues apply when birthparents explain adoption to the children they are already parenting. I highly recommend the book “Sam’s Sister” to aide in this discussion.

    As with discussing adoption with adopted children, it is important for birthparents to provide their children with concrete information, rather than abstract concepts. Open adoption and ongoing visitation help make this subject concrete. The children see that the baby didn’t fall into a “black hole”. Instead, he/she is in a loving home, and they can maintain an ongoing sibling relationship with him/her. The children come to understand that while the baby doesn’t live with them, he/she will always be part of their family.

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