Discussing Adoption with School Age Children

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.

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  • Kindra

    Every situation is different, but saying that the decision was based on that they were not able to parent any child is not always true. My daughter was born between 2 children (each a year apart) her birthmother kept because she knew who their father's were. Since my daughter has an unknown bf she was not able to support her alone. So yes this is because of circumstance but not going to be an easy one to explain, and using “not able to parent ANY child” won't work for us.

  • AdoptAuthor

    HOW to discuss grief and loss is whole other article in itself…and also while these feelings may emerge around 5-8 years of age…discussing them does not make them disappear. They WILL resurface or be kept deep inside, but they will not simply go way.

    I think more than being “discussed” they need to have the feelings VALIDATED and to be given permission to share them, knowing that doing so will not hurt their adoptive parents or their relationship with them.

    Birthparents not able to have “any” child? That pat answer is surely not applicable for all – or even most – circumstances. What if the adoption is open and they do have other children? or have other children by the time the meet them?

    Perhaps it is better to simply to ensure the child the problems that led to them being placed were the birthparents' and had nothing to with them, adding whatever might be known, e.g. age, finances, social stigma…in age appropriate language of course.

    Mirah Riben, author, The Stork Market: America's Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry

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