How to Help Your Child Process the Past


Adoptive parents are very good about painting the rosy picture—how they came to be families, how they love theirTree Owl Collage children. Parents do this to claim their children. The also do this because as an adoptive family they are in the position of having to validate their family to extended family, friends and strangers. But often, they can come up short with the discussing details of their child’s birth history with their child.

The child who has been adopted is entitled to the details of his or her birth history (what you know, not what you surmise). Naturally, a child’s parent wants to protect their child from any information, but in doing so they are being dishonest. They are not building a relationship based on trust and respect. By not being forthcoming, the parent(s) can cause their child to become angry because they feel betrayed. Issues with self-esteem can multiply, because the child feels they must have been bad to be given up by their birth mother/parents/family. 

Your child will most likely begin to dig for more detail of his or her past. It’s only natural that he or she does so because this is part of the process of establishing identity. This information may be the missing puzzle pieces for your child—the information they need to figure out who they are, further the grieving process, and/or have the ability to gain control over how they wish to live their life.

If your child doesn’t come right out and ask it doesn’t mean he or she isn’t thinking about it. Your child not asking doesn’t give you permission to not talk about it. So, as far as talking about the details, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

How do your share the less than savory or difficult details of your child’s circumstances with him or her? Topics like physical and/or emotional abuse, neglect, poverty, drug and/or alcohol abuse, rape, incest, physical and/or mental health issues, abandonment?

  • Be clear that you are open and want to talk.
  • Make sure your child understands that you value their opinion.
  • Control your emotions. Think over what you want to say and how you feel about it. Then address how you feel and work through it before talking to your child, because your child’s radar is set on high. They are looking for signs that you disapprove of or are uncomfortable with the circumstance about their birth history.
  • Make sure your child is emotionally and intellectually mature to understand what information you are sharing, typically somewhere in the early teen years. Prior to that use age appropriate language catered to their developmental stage.
  • Be honest. Share all information.
  • If your child is distancing themselves from you, make repeated attempts. Go the indirect route, finding and using resourses that support your child; i.e. movies, books or websites.
  • Assure your child that talking about adoption and their birth history doesn’t make them disloyal to you.
  • Help your child with the words to articulate how they feel.
  • Help your child find connections to their past and their heritage.
  • Work with a therapist trained in adoption issues if you see signs of adoption-related stress.
  • Every talk you have with your child about adoption is a building block for future talks.  Begin early. Make sure you continue to walk with your child as they deal with what having been adopted means.

Parents: What else do you think you should consider before sharing difficult circumstances in adoption with your child?

 ~ Photo by Sascalia

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