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The next four tracks will deal with explaining adoption to the following ages: 0-7, 8-12, 12-15 and 16-19.
Do you have clients who have adopted an infant or toddler? Do they have questions about explaining adoption to their child?
On this track, we will first discuss Explaining Adoption to Infants and Toddlers. This will include a Child's Understanding of Adoption, Comfort with Adoption and Gathering Information About the Child's Family. As you listen, think of your client. How does he or she plan to tell his or her child about adoption?
#1 Child's Understanding of Adoption
Have you found, as I have, that some very young adopted children who have experienced trauma, or abuse communicate panic and distress through behavior rather than words? Gracie, age 1 had recently been adopted by Sherman, age 30 and his wife Melissa, age 28. Sherman and Melissa indicated that Gracie may have come from a home where abuse was present, but it was uncertain.
#2 Comfort with Adoption
I stated, "It has been my experience that children who are adopted as infants or toddlers gain the most comfort with the concept of adoption when they have grown up hearing about it. If you can talk comfortably to each other and to Gracie about her adoption now, it could become second-nature to talk about it when she's older. You might show Gracie pictures of the day you brought her home from the hospital, agency or airport and tell her how happy you were when you adopted her. Gracie can learn to understand, in a limited way, that she gained a family through adoption."
#3 Gathering Information About the Child's Family
I stated, "You have a great window of opportunity, while Gracie is still very young, to gather information about her history. By the time Gracie starts to ask questions, her birth parents might have different names, may have moved out of state or may be involved in new relationships that do not allow for contact with you. Perhaps the social worker who helped you get Gracie will have retired by that time. When Gracie has questions or asks for pictures from her birth family years after the adoptive statement, it can be difficult to meet those needs."
I explained to Sherman and Melissa the value of anticipating Gracie's needs for information and concrete mementos from her history.
4 Considerations from Ages 4-7
#1 The Child Telling the Story
Emily stated, "Billy will talk about his adoption to anyone who will listen! Billy was adopted from Korea when he was just a baby. However, when I overheard Billy just yesterday explaining the story of his adoption to his best friend, he mixed up about some of the details. Here's how Billy mixed up the facts. Billy told his best friend, 'I was born to my parents and went to live with another woman in Korea for a year. Now I am back with my real parents.' How should I clear up this misunderstanding with him?"
It seemed to be important to Billy that his adoptive parents be his real parents and to feel that he was where he should be. Billy seemed to understand that another woman was involved in his story, but he misunderstood her role. I stated to Vernon and Emily, "Maybe it is important to Billy to hear about real parents and to understand that both his birth parents and his adoptive parents are real, even though they have played different roles in his life. He may need the reassurance that belongs with you."
#2 The Child Hearing the Story
#3 Being Positive but Realistic
#4 Reassure the Child that the Adoptive Family Won't be Lost
Young children might believe that their birth parents gave them up because they cried too much as a baby, or were the wrong gender, or were too ugly, or in some other way so offended their birth parents that these people left them permanently. In other words, many children assume responsibility for the adult decisions and behaviors that led to adoption. I stated, "Billy may need to be reassured that his position in your adoptive family is permanent."
Do you have a Vernon or an Emily whose pre-school or seven-year-old has mixed up some facts surrounding his or her adoption story? Might he or she benefit from hearing this track?
On this track, we have discussed Explaining Adoption from Infants to Seven-year-olds. This has included a Child's Understanding of Adoption, Comfort with Adoption, Gathering Information About the Child's Family, the child telling the story, the child hearing the story, being positive but realistic, and reassuring the child that the adoptive family won’t be lost.
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