When a child is old enough to listen to brief, simple stories, you might consider sharing the story of her adoption.
It will probably sound something like this:
Mommy and daddy wanted a baby very much but could not make one that would grow inside mommy. You grew inside another woman. But she and your birth father could not take care of any baby born to them at that time in their lives, so you came to live with us. I am sure they were sad, and you may have been sad, too. I was sad that you were not born to us, but now we are happy that we are a family. And I think your birth parents are happy to know you are being taken care of.
Simple as it is, this narrative provides the framework for future discussions of adoption. As children get older, parents can add more details about their infertility, the birth mother and birth father, the adoption process and why the birth parents were unable to care for any baby at that time.
Parents should not be fooled into thinking their young child understands adoption just because he can repeat the story. He is probably just parroting what he has been told. Before he can truly understand how he joined his family, he must first understand time and space in new ways. That ability begins around the age of four.
Around that age, children begin to understand that some things happened in the past, even though they have no memory of them, and that some things will happen in the future. Similarly, they can now understand that places exist outside of their immediate environment.
Out of this new cognitive ability comes an awareness that they were not always as they are now. They were once babies, and someday they might be mommies or daddies. Eventually this leads children to ask: "Did I grow inside you, mommy?"
It is important for adoptive parents to realize that the child is probably not asking whether she was adopted, but whether she grew inside her mother, as she has been hearing that babies do. She naturally asks the only mother she knows -- her adoptive mother.
Parents need to respond to the question the child asks by reassuring the child that she did indeed grow inside a woman and that she was born the way all children are born.
Then, parents can add that after the child was born, she came to live with her adoptive parents because her birth parents could not take care of any child born to them at that time.
Find out about what to say at these times in your child's life:
This article is based on material in the book Making Sense of Adoption and is reprinted with permission.