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Adoption-Telling the Child about Rape, Incest and Other Birth Circumstances
Adoption: Telling the Child about Rape, Incest and Other Birth Circumstances - 10 CEUs

Section 2
Family Conflict

CEU Question 2 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Adoption
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed Explaining adoption from Infancy to Age 7.  This 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.

Do you have a client whose adopted child denies that he or she was adopted? 

On this track, we will discuss Explaining Adoption from Ages Eight to Twelve.  This will include the preadolescent's perception of adoption; even if they're not talking, they're thinking; the acknowledging the birth parents technique; and letting children know they can love two sets of parents.  As you listen, think of your client.  How do you respond to him or her?

3 Challenges to Explaining Adoption for Ages 8-12

#1 - The Preadolescent's Perception of Adoption
First, let's discuss the preadolescent's perception of adoption.  By the time children reach the age of eight, their ability to think in abstract terms increases dramatically.  At this point, children comprehend the meaning behind the words in their adoption story.  Children in the middle childhood years are striving to be successful and industrious in school, in sports, and with same-sex peers.  Have you found, as I have, that it is important to preadolescents to be capable and similar to their friends?

I have found that children understand the concept of adoption for the first time around the age of seven or eight, and therefore, at seven or eight, they realize that a significant loss has occurred in their lives, the loss of their birth parents.  If they were adopted as infants, the children are now mature enough to understand the significance of this loss.  Children have lost connections and a relationship with the birth family, knowledge of their own history and roots, and perhaps cultural understanding and continuity. 

Even if adoptions are open, children have still lost the lives they would have lived with their birth families.  Because they become aware at this age of the significance of these losses, a grieving process begins, even though several years may have already lapsed since the separation.

Darryl, age 40, and Vera, age 37, were the parents of Madeline, age 9, who had been adopted.  Darryl stated, "Madeline's teacher called me the other day, and said that Madeline has been telling people she's not adopted.  I had no idea!  At home, Madeline had stopped asking to hear the story of her adoption, which she used to ask for all the time when she was seven or eight…but now, she seems as though she's ashamed of being adopted!" 

I stated, "The first stage of the grieving process is denial, which Madeline may be experiencing.  I have found that it is not uncommon for adopted children around the ages of eight or nine to stop asking questions about their birth parents or insist that they were not adopted.  Madeline may be considering not only that she gained a family through adoption and lost one in the process.  Madeline is also struggling with the fact that she was actually given away." 

I have also found that many preadolescent children worry about the fairness of adoption.  Madeline might have been wondering if she was with the right family and fantasizing about her birth family.  This is another reason that Madeline might have been reluctant to ask questions about her adoption or about her birth family.

#2 - Even If They're Not Talking, They're Thinking
In addition to Madeline's perception of adoption, Darryl, Vera and I discussed that just because Madeline wasn't talking about her adoption, it didn't mean she wasn't thinking about it.  I have found that adoptive parents sometimes interpret children's reluctance to discuss adoption as an indication that they know their story and no longer need to talk about it.

Technique: Acknowledging the Birth Parents
I asked Darryl and Vera to try the "Acknowledging the Birth Parents" Technique.  I explained that by no means did they need to force Madeline to talk about adoption-related issues, but they could help her to be aware that they were comfortable with the subject when she was ready. 

I stated, "You might periodically remark about Madeline's skills, looks, or interests indicating that some of these positive attributes might have come from her birth family.  For example, you might say, 'You have such great musical ability.  I wonder if anyone in your birth family has talent in music like yours.  Do you ever wonder about that?'  This way, you are creating opportunities to let Madeline know that you are not threatened or angry about questions regarding her birth family and history." 

I went on to explain that as with other grief reactions, Madeline might experience anniversary reactions at the time of her birthday or at the time of her adoption.  Darryl and Vera could learn to anticipate these feelings and help Madeline express it.  I stated, "For example, you might say, 'I always think about your birth mother when it's time for your birthday.  Do you think about her too?  Do you have any questions about her that I could answer?'"

#3 - Letting Children Know They Can Love Two Sets of Parents
Have you found, as I have, that preadolescent children are often concerned about fairness and loyalty?  I have found that children at this stage are likely to believe that if they have feelings or even questions about their birth family, they are being disloyal to their adopted family.  I stated to Darryl and Vera, "Madeline may need to know that she does not have to choose between loving her birth family and loving you.  She may need to know that it is okay if she has feelings for both of you." Vera stated, "Darryl and I have withheld some information from Madeline about her parents' drug abuse.  When do you think is an appropriate time to tell her that?" 

I stated, "Because adolescents often do not believe what they are told by adults, especially their parents, you may want to share your information before Madeline enters adolescence.  If more information is needed, you may wish to re-contact your placing agent.  If you end up contacting your placing agent, you may want to bring Madeline with you to hear the information firsthand.  This way, Madeline will not later accuse you of distorting information."  I explained that Madeline would probably need to learn about her history in order to form her identity during adolescence.

On this track, we discussed Explaining Adoption from Ages Eight to Twelve.  This has included the preadolescent's perception of adoption; even if they're not talking, they're thinking; the acknowledging the birth parents technique; and letting children know they can love two sets of parents, also providing specific information, perhaps related to birth parents, about drug abuse prior to adolescence.

On the next track, we will discuss Explaining Adoption from Ages Twelve to Fifteen.  This will include the early teen's perception of adoption, the allowing control technique and the being prepared for anger technique.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Beijersbergen, M. D., Juffer, F., Bakermans-Kranenburg, M. J., & van IJzendoorn, M. H. (2012). Remaining or becoming secure: Parental sensitive support predicts attachment continuity from infancy to adolescence in a longitudinal adoption study. Developmental Psychology, 48(5), 1277–1282.

Kim, A. Y., Kim, O. M., Hu, A. W., Oh, J. S., & Lee, R. M. (2020). Conceptualization and measurement of birth family thoughts for adolescents and adults adopted transnationally. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(5), 555–565.

Farr, R. H., Bruun, S. T., & Simon, K. A. (2019). Family conflict observations and outcomes among adopted school-age children with lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(8), 965–974.

Tener, D., Lusky, E., Tarshish, N., & Turjeman, S. (2018). Parental attitudes following disclosure of sibling sexual abuse: A child advocacy center intervention study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88(6), 661–669. 

Walkner, A. J., & Rueter, M. A. (2014). Adoption status and family relationships during the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Family Psychology, 28(6), 877–886.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 2
Why might it be helpful to share information about drug abuse with a child prior to adolescence? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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