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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 7
Family Conversation (Part 1)

CEU Question 7 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Adoption
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed Core Issues for Adoptive Parents.  These have included loss, shame, rejection and the acknowledgement technique.

Do you have a client who is confused about how or when to discuss adoption with his or her children?  Does he or she wonder how much to tell the children?  On the next three tracks, we will discuss the Nine Suggestions of Telling.  

On this track, we will discuss The First Four Suggestions of Telling.  These will include Initiating the Conversation, the Movie Technique, Using Positive Language, Telling the Truth and Allowing the Child to Express Anger Without Joining In.  As you listen, think of your client.  How and when does he or she plan to tell the child about the adoption?

While few rules are really written in stone, I have found that nine suggestions, when applied consistently, can enhance communication about adoption.  These suggestions can also provide some welcome direction to adoptive parents besieged with well-intentioned advice from family and friends who really do not understand the complexities of adoptive parenting.

4 Suggestions for Telling about Adoption

#1 - Initiating
The first suggestion is to initiate a conversation with the child about adoption.  In my experience, parents often believe that they should wait until the child asks questions about adoption to talk about it, and even then only answer the questions asked.  For Emma, to be described next, this strategy was not helpful in assuring that she understood her own history.  As you know, children often believe that they are being disloyal to the adoptive family when they have feelings and questions about the birth family. 

As a result, children may avoid conversation about the adoption and the birth family even when they have tough questions or troubling feelings.  Adoptive parents must look for opportunities to raise the issue of adoption and ask the child for questions.  In this way, the adoptive parents assure the child that his or her feelings are normal or expected, and that they, as parents, do not feel threatened or believe that the child is disloyal.

Rick and Sandy came to me about their adopted daughter, Emma, age 15.  Emma had been adopted as an infant.  Rick and Sandy had talked to Emma when she was three or four about her adoptive history, but they had not mentioned the adoption or her birth family since that time. 

Rick stated, "Sandy and I found out yesterday that Emma has been secretly meeting with a twenty-six-year-old man!  Emma is completely out of control!"  After covering several other issues, I asked Rick and Sandy how often they had talked about Emma’s adoption issues.  Sandy stated, "We don’t talk about adoption ever because Emma doesn't talk about it…I guess we just assumed that her silence meant that she didn’t have any questions or concerns about her adoption…"

I met with Emma, and discovered that she was consumed with fantasies, identity conflicts, and confusion, regarding serious trust issues and her adoptive parents.  However, Emma did not feel comfortable discussing her adoption, because she feared Rick and Sandy would be hurt if they knew she wondered about her birth family.  I felt Emma’s internal struggle was displayed in part by her interest in a 26-year-old.  She felt blocked in addressing her questions directly and honestly.

Technique: Movie
Rick and Sandy were puzzled about how to bring up the topic of adoption.  I suggested they bring it up by stating, "I know we haven't talked about your birth parents in a while.  What are your thoughts about them?"  Among other suggestions, I felt that Rick and Sandy might benefit from trying the Movie Technique. 

I stated, "The Movie Technique can introduce the topic of adoption within your household while nurturing Emma’s self-esteem at the same time.  If a program or movie with an adoption theme is on TV or in a theater, you might watch the program with Emma.  Draw parallels and contrasts between the situations in the program and Emma’s own adoption.  You might use this conversation as a springboard for any additional questions that Emma might have."

#2 - Using Positive Language
The second suggestion is to use positive language.  I explained to Rick and Sandy that when talking with Emma, their friends, and extended family members, they might choose to model positive adoption terminology.  I explained that careless use of language can inadvertently give rise to negative ideas about the birth parents, Emma’s history or adoption itself.  Some examples of positive language include birth parents versus real parents or natural parents, birth child versus real children, and choosing parenting versus keeping a child.

#3 - Telling the Truth
In addition to Initiating the Conversation, the "Movie" Technique, and Using Positive Language, the third suggestion is telling the truth.  Lying about a child’s birth parents or history can generate serious trust fissures.  When the truth is revealed in the future due to a search, a slip by either the adoptive parent or extended family, or an accidental discovery of adoption-related documents, a serious rift in the parent-child relationship can occur.  What began as protection of the relationship with the adopted child can become termination of trust and intimacy in that relationship.#4 - Allowing the Child to Express Anger without Joining In
I explained to Rick and Sandy that the fourth suggestion was to allow Emma to express anger without joining in.  Adoptive and foster parents often find themselves in the position where they share the child with another family without being an insider in that family.  While Emma might have been allowed to express both positive and negative feelings about her birth family members, Rick and Sandy might not want to echo any of her negative sentiments. 

As you know, many children who are caught up in multiple family systems may find themselves torn by divided loyalties.  If members of any of those family systems put other involved families down, the conflict of a child like Emma can be greatly intensified.

Refusal to join the child’s anger can be easy to grasp, but difficult to accomplish.  After all, many foster and adoptive parents are angry at birth family members who harmed their children through abuse, neglect, abandonment or emotional maltreatment.  When the child expresses anger or outrage, it can be extremely difficult to restrain oneself from sharing that outrage.

Some alternative comments can be helpful to the child.  For example, I stated to Rick and Sandy, "You might say, ‘I’m glad that we are able to keep you safe now,’ ‘I can understand why you are so angry,’ or ‘That must have been an awfully hard time for you.  Is there anything I can do to help you now?’"

Do you have a Rick or Sandy who is struggling to initiate conversation about adoption with his or her adopted child?  Might he or she benefit from hearing this track? 

On this track, we have discussed the First Four Suggestions of Telling.  These have included Initiating, the "Use a Movie" Technique, Using Positive Language, Telling the Truth and Allowing the Child to Express Anger without Joining In.

On the next track, we will discuss Suggestions Five and Six.  These will include Omitting Until Age Twelve and Not Trying to Fix the Pain.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:

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. 

Levy, I., & Eckhaus, E. (2020). Rape narratives analysis through natural language processing: Survivor self-label, narrative time span, faith, and rape terminology. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(6), 635–642.

Messina, R., & Brodzinsky, D. (2020). Children adopted by same-sex couples: Identity-related issues from preschool years to late adolescence. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(5), 509–522.

Von Korff, L., & Grotevant, H. D. (2011). Contact in adoption and adoptive identity formation: The mediating role of family conversation. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(3), 393–401.

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 7
What are the first four suggestions of telling a child about adoption? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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