A child’s understanding of adoption increases during the school age years. Assuming that parents introduced the subject of adoption and talked openly about it (in a simple manner) during the pre-school years, now they can focus on the circumstances of why the birthparents made an adoption plan. As in the pre-school years, they should use concrete examples.
This age group struggles to understand why they were placed for adoption, and there is a tendency to blame themselves. For example, “I was an ugly baby, “I cried too much” and so on.
- The child needs to understand that the adoption decision was based on the birthparents’ circumstances and that they were not able to parent ANY child. This removes the burden of responsibility from the child.
- Grief is an issue at this age (typically ages 5-8). Suddenly the child realizes that he/she “lost” someone—that he/she had another set of parents before the adoptive parents—and he/she grieves for this loss. This is normal! The child will experience stages of grieving (anger, depression and so on) similar to adjusting to the death of a loved one. Children will be able to successfully work though this stage if parents help them verbalize their feelings.
- Permanence is also an issue at this age. It is important to emphasize the permanence of adoption and his/her family. Parents can explain the commitment involved in being a family. When contact with birthparents is ongoing the birthparents can also provide reassurance to the child of the permanence of his/her family. For example, the birthmother could say “I wish I could have been your forever Mommy but I couldn’t, and that is why I chose your Mommy and Daddy to be your parents.”
- School age children don’t want to be different from their peers. Parents can explain that he/she is not different, but there are numerous ways in which families are formed.
During the school age years parents should continue to talk openly with their child about his/her adoption.