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What age do you tell child they are adopted ?

Posted by on Jul. 13, 2012 at 9:23 PM
  • 32 Replies

 We did Foster Parenting and got our daughter when she was 4 months- She does not remember her birth mom since she was and still is in and out of jail. We adopted her eventually once case plan never was worked-

Our daughter is biracial and my husband and I both are white so its obvious we are not the birth parents... She has made comments in the past year about her skin color and ours. She sees a difference BUT has never ask why- We always tell her what BEAUTIFUL skin tone she has. Most would die for her color... seriously.

Anywho... She is 5 almost 6 about to enter 1st grade. I think MY fear is either a student or Adult making a comment about her being adopted. I dont want her coming home and asking I would rather her know and not finding out that way. My husband thinks she is too young. I dont know what to do.

At what age is a good age?

When you do discuss this, exactly what should they know or should you tell?

Our daughter asks A LOT of questions... I really dont want her asking about the birth mom and I KNOW she is too young to get into the deal of her beinga drug addict, ect. So any suggestions on IF WE SHOULD do this or not- and if we should how to handle it is appreciated.

by on Jul. 13, 2012 at 9:23 PM
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by Claire on Jul. 13, 2012 at 9:39 PM
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From the very beginning. Seriously, start now. In all honesty, you should have started when she was an infant telling her that she was adopted. This is her story and she should definitely know it before someone haphazardly makes a comment to her about her looking different from mommy and daddy. 

It should be done age appropriately- all she should know at this point of her young life is that her first parents could not care for her and you were chosen to be her parents in their stead. 

My dd was adopted Internationally at 17 months old ( much older than your dd came to you) and has known from day 1 that she is adopted. She is going to be 7 in November and knows her story very well. Her younger sister that is biological also knows and understands that her sister is adopted and that is why she looks different than we do. 

I'm sure some Foster Moms can weigh in on this one as to how they've handled it. 

Good luck!


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by on Jul. 13, 2012 at 10:13 PM
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In your situation, I would start tomorrow. It is far less traumatic for children to know they are adopted from a young age than for them to learn later in life. As Claire said, the younger the better, so start where you are right now.

Keeping the fact of her adoption hidden will only make it seem like something shameful when the truth does come out... And you know that your daughter has nothing of which to be ashamed. Still, if this wasn't a bad thing, why was it a big secret? And of course you've already realized that many other people in her life know that she was adopted. It will come out at some point, and far better to come from you than from anyone else. If your daughter does not hear her story from you, it could do irreparable harm to your relationship and your trust with her.

As far as how to talk about hard truths, there are a lot of different things to consider. One thing I would be aware of is letting her guide the conversation and ask for information as she is ready to process it. Certainly be prepared for questions about why she was unable to remain with her birth parents, but starting with the basics of "they were unable to keep you safe and so you came to be a part of our family" will give her room to process and come back to you with questions as they develop. You may need to be very clear that birth mom could not take care of ANY baby, that it really was not your daughter's fault in any way.

If she wants to know the whys, I think you can tell her that birth mom was sick and that illness kept her from being able to make sure that a baby could have enough to eat, clean diapers, etc. Addiction is a disease, and that is an age-appropriate way to help her begin to understand. I have also heard another mom in this group, Carla, talk about her kids knowing that the birth mom took "bad medicine" that made her unable to care for children. And I understand that recently her kids have begun to understand that "bad medicine" = drugs.

You can read some story books about adoption together, and then perhaps create your own story book for your daughter. Do you have any photos of her bio family? Any photos of when she was placed with you, adoption day, etc? You could just use whatever you have to create a photo book on a website like Snapfish, so she can read it regularly.

My son is 4, and he has lived with us for 2 years. He does not have any memory of living with his birth family, but he does remember doing visitation. We have used bits and pieces of these ideas to help him understand his own situation. He knows that he is being "dopted" and that the judge will say that we will always be a family together. He knows that his birth mom and dad love him, but they could not keep him safe. He knows that it is ok for him to talk about them or express any kind of feelings. We sometimes look at photos of them, and the handful of photos we have from visitation. He also knows that the judge has said that birth mom and dad could not be the parents he needed, and that is why he is being adopted. He hasn't asked us why they couldn't keep him safe yet, but I think it will come one day soon. And as he gets older, we can tell more of the story. But we really have tried to let him lead the conversation so that he can process things at his own speed, rather than us just dumping a lot of information on him every time the subject comes up.

by on Jul. 13, 2012 at 10:22 PM
I agree with the above. A child should always know. It should always be presented in a positive special way. Keeping it secret might confuse the child and make them think its bad or something.

My favorite adoption book is called "I wished for you". I gave it to my daughter on her adoption day. We still read it several times a week.
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by on Jul. 13, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Also want to add though -- it prob depends on the kid, but id be careful with using biomom was "sick". With my daughter, and with other foster children I've had that triggered a lot of sadness and worry for the kid. I tell my daughter that her biomom just wasn't meant to be a mother, that it takes a special person, and that she deserved a happy safe home.
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by on Jul. 13, 2012 at 10:37 PM

Have you had kids accept this as an answer and be fine with it? My 4yo wants to know WHY he couldn't stay with his birth family, though right now the basic safety answer satisfies that need.

Maybe for some kids "sick" is not the right word. I can see how you would want to frame it in such a way that the child doesn't feel constantly worried about the birth parent, but I think it's ok and perfectly understandable that they would be sad. It IS sad when a parent is unable to care for their child, and when families are broken apart due to the actions/decisions of the birth parent. This is a very real loss for a child, whether 4 months old or 14 years old. And the reality is that birth mom is really not in a great place (in our case), so if he was concerned for her then I think we would just want to help him work through that vs. trying to pretend it's something that it's not.

That said, the only sad/emotional reaction we have ever gotten is more about the loss of the parent than concern for their sake. So I haven't been in that place where a child was going through that. I expect that we will be at some point, and it's definitely good to be aware of that... Thanks for bringing this up. Food for thought.

Quoting StA123C:

Also want to add though -- it prob depends on the kid, but id be careful with using biomom was "sick". With my daughter, and with other foster children I've had that triggered a lot of sadness and worry for the kid. I tell my daughter that her biomom just wasn't meant to be a mother, that it takes a special person, and that she deserved a happy safe home.

by on Jul. 13, 2012 at 11:00 PM

 Just to add... One reason we have not got to the point of telling her is she has many issues. We just found out all her diagnoises last summer and have and still deal with anger meltdowns daily. Sounds like an excuse but one of the therapist said we needed to get a grip on this before offering more on her plate. She has adhd, Sensory Processing Disorder, and ODD. We did good to get thru the day until a few months ago. Things are finally balancing off after her medication has been adjusted. I, too think we need to talk about it.... NOT something im looking forward too just because she is VERY smart and ask MANY questions....

by on Jul. 14, 2012 at 12:44 AM
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Our little guy is 16 months and while we don't make a point of telling h im he is adopted just yet, because he is too young to understand. We don't make any effort to hide it from him. We discuss it with people around him, talk about his mother around him (fortunately there is no negative story for me to have to explain) and I plan on it always being a part of his story. I was told in a very negative way at the age of 8 and it has always stuck with me so I won't put my son through that, or allow anyone to have that power over our family.   

I would start discussing it immediately. I agree with the poster that said maybe tell your child that her mother just wasn't ready to be a mom, or something along those lines. Good Luck!

by on Jul. 14, 2012 at 9:20 AM

We adopted our daughter at 17 months.  She's Chinese and we're both white so its obvious we aren't her birth parents.  We started reading books immediately so that it was just a fact of life, not a huge surprise.  She also has a scrapbook of our journey over and pics from the orphanage.  Believe me, someone is going to say something to her so you want to be sure she hears it from you first.

by on Jul. 14, 2012 at 11:34 AM

I'm in the minority, I don't believe in "reminding" a child or telling them from birth that they are adopted.  I believe that there is plenty of time when they start questioning for you as a parent to answer their concerns in the way that is best suited for the child.

Our son has a full sister who is 18 months older than he is.  This is a hurdle that we will have to jump at some point and while it is part of his story I do not want to saddle him with it until he is ready.  Growing up I knew a young man who was adopted who made that his main identity point-his adoptive parents were lovely people yet through out his life-I knew him through college that was his issue-that he had been adopted. 

We do talk about his story with others in his presence, but do not and will not make it a point to tell him he is adopted--but will cross that bridge when we get to it.

Again, unpopular opinion-I'ves tated it before that I'm not a fan of the "PC" tell them early and include the birht parents in every aspect of life...but that's just me.

by on Jul. 14, 2012 at 11:47 AM

From the day we brought our daughter home we have told her that we love her and that she was a gift to us from her birth parents. She is only 6 months old and obviously doesn't understand but as she grows we plan on continuing telling her she is adopted. When she does fully understand then we might give her some more details. I think it is always important to tell a child they are adopted because it gives them a chance to really know about their history and their story and that is why once they understand about adoption they wont have any confusion or so many questions.

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