Children tend to become more curious about adoption during the middle childhood years -- approximately ages seven to eleven. During the information-gathering years of elementary school, children are interested in many details about themselves, such as whether their birth parents were married, whether they have any biological brothers or sisters, how old their birth parents are and where they live.
This is also a time of realizing that most other children live with at least one biological relative and of understanding that the way they joined their families is somewhat unusual. It is not uncommon for them to experience hurt, anger or sadness at what may feel like abandonment or rejection. They may grieve for the loss of connections to their birth relatives -- even though they are happy to be in their adoptive families. Because they do not fully understand why they could not remain with their birth parents, they may feel that their security in their adoptive family is shaky.
This may not all be immediately apparent, however. Children in the middle years might not initiate discussions about adoption with their parents, while their new problem-solving capabilities could lead to erroneous conclusions about how and why they were placed for adoption. They might find the topic too painful to bring up. And because around this time they develop the ability to think without using words, they may not even know that their sometimes confusing, sometimes uncomfortable feelings are related to being adopted.
For this reason, parents must continue to bring up the topic whenever it seems appropriate. By being alert to cues that a child is dealing with an adoption issue, parents can bring the subject out into the open. For example, after strolling through the mall with their child, parents who adopted a child locally might say: "Do you ever wonder if you're walking past birth relatives without even knowing it?" When a child shows a particular aptitude or ability, a parent could say: "I wonder if your birth father was tall like you and a good basketball player -- have you ever thought about that?"
This is a good time to take advantage of contact with the birth parents, which may be possible through direct contact or by way of the adoption facilitator. By contacting the birth parents, children can get information and an answer to the important question of why they were placed for adoption from the most credible source.
Parents should not get caught up in always providing their child with the answers to her questions. There is value in discovering truth on one's own. By helping a child work through questions herself or allowing her to write directly to the birth parents, yet remaining available to correct misconceptions or faulty reasoning, parents can serve their child better than they could even by handing her a file folder thick with information about her origins.
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.