The Cradle Blog

Heading to School

Heading to School

Adoption and school

The transition into school can be an anxious time for children and their parents alike. And if your child joined your family through adoption, it is not uncommon to wonder about what to share, how much to share and with whom.

We held a Google Hangout to talk about heading off to school and how adoptive parents of young children may help in that transition. In case you missed it, here is what we covered:

Basic Ideas for Adoption in the Classroom

1) Connect with the teacher in advance to pave the way.

While it depends on the school, you may have a chance to meet with your child’s teacher before the first day or early on in the year. This can be a nice opportunity to explain your family's background in advance of questions. This normalizes the situation and reinforces to your child that adoption is not a secret, but instead simply a fact of how he joined his family.

2) Provide the teacher with adoption storybooks to read to the class.

Take the chance to give your child’s teacher some adoption books for the class library. This will ensure the topic is treated in a natural and appropriate manner. Here are a few of our favorite children's books on adoption.

3) Be aware of tricky assignments.

Many teachers assign projects like a family tree in order to help children explore their ancestry. These assignments can sometimes be difficult for adopted children, as their family structure looks a little different. If your child's teacher plans on covering this topic, encourage her to include options for these assignments that are more inclusive. Options where the birth family represents roots to the tree work well.

4) Educate the educators.

If your child's school would like to learn more about how to address adoption-related topics in their curriculum, encourage them to contact The Cradle (helpline@cradle.org or (847) 733-3225). We would be happy to help.

Many parents asked questions in advance of the Hangout. There were several themes for these questions, so we grouped them together. 

Question: I’d like to learn the words to say for our kids who are told by classmates that they should look like their parents. Our kids would like kid-friendly replies to these types of comments.

Young children are concrete thinkers. There is likely no malicious intent to their questions or comments about differences. It will help if you create simple answers for your child. Things like, “Yes, we do look different,” or “My mom says all families look different, so my family looks different from yours.”  Sometimes adding “my mom/dad says” takes some of the burden off of the child.

Question: How much and what do I share about adoption? I’m not sure why they need to know.

Deciding how much to share about adoption with your child’s school is a personal decision. It is helpful, however, for your child’s teacher to know your child was adopted. It may be a simple statement that helps to normalize the situation for your child, reinforcing for him that adoption is not a secret or something to be ashamed of.

Sharing adoption information can be particularly helpful if your child was adopted at an older age (either from foster care or internationally). For some, having had a tough start in life can result in behavioral issues down the line. It’s helpful if the school is aware of this and can help resolve any problems that may arise in an adoption-sensitive manner.

Question: Our adopted daughter is heading to kindergarten and she does not fully understand what adoption means. How can we help clarify this? 

Your child’s adoption story starts as early as you begin providing details. While she may not be able to comprehend everything you’re saying, she will begin to incorporate your words into her own narrative. Additionally, she’ll know that when she has questions about her adoption, she can talk to you about them. This sends the signal that her adoption story is not taboo. 

Keep in mind that kids aged three to five are very concrete thinkers. Their brains haven’t developed the ability to think abstractly yet, and adoption is a fairly abstract concept. Keep the story in terms that she can understand.  (e.g. "Babies grow in bellies. Mommy couldn’t have a baby grow in her belly, so you grew in your birth mom’s belly.") 

​Also, reading adoption-themed stories at bedtime might help with telling the adoption story in a way that makes sense to your child’s developmental age. 

If you have more questions, or would like to set up a time to talk with a post-adoption therapist individually, fill out our online form or call 847-733-3225. We are happy to help.