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Nurturing Your Adopted Child’s Mental Well-Being
Adopted children have a task to accomplish that other children do not. They must assimilate the fact of their adoption into their identity.
Being able to accomplish this is necessary for their mental and emotional well-being. The task begins early, around age 3 or 4.
The Process of Assimilation
Most preschoolers have heard their adoption story repeatedly, and by the age of 3 or 4 they become more curious about it. They will ask questions concerning adoption as their growing minds attempt to comprehend it. A child may start wondering where babies come from as well.
During the elementary school years, adopted children wonder why adoption occurs and eventually question why it occurred to them. They are working to incorporate the fact of being adopted into their self-perception, or identity.
Adolescents consider how being adopted has shaped their lives. They may wonder what life would be like had they stayed with their biological parents. If they haven’t already, adolescents typically become interested in knowing details about the biological parents and in meeting them.
Helping Your Child Complete the Task
Honesty Remains the Best Policy
Honest words can be difficult to speak or hear, but they are the best way to answer children’s questions. Although you have to adjust what you share to the child’s level of development, giving it to him or her straight and laced with love is beneficial in the long run.
Young children may become upset when they first comprehend that they were given away by their birth parents. An emotional reaction, such as sadness or anger, is normal and not a reflection of their feelings for you.
Older children may want to know as much as possible about their birth parents. They will appreciate seeing any photos or information you have about them.
Give Emotional Support and Validation
Emotional support and validation are crucial. Whether a child experiences anger, fear, sadness, or grief related to their adoption, the most important thing is providing a safe place for them to talk about it.
A sense of safety is built through:
- - Honoring the child’s emotions by recognizing, valuing, and accepting his or her feelings, and by listening with your ears and heart.
- - Validating his or her feelings by using comments such as, “That must really hurt,” or, “Being angry makes sense.” When you acknowledge their emotions without judgment, children learn to trust you and their own feelings.
- - Setting and keeping boundaries (setting limits) about what kind of language and behavior is acceptable. Children should be able to express whatever they feel, but they need to do so within your guidelines to feel safe (i.e., no throwing, screaming, hitting).
Match Your Child’s Interest in Their Birth Parents
It is normal to feel threatened should your child take their anger about being adopted out on you, or cry after realizing the loss of their birth family. They might want to contact the birth parents or express excitement about meeting them, and that can sting.
Feeling hurt or angry when your parental status is threatened makes sense, but it is unwise to act upset when your child speaks of his or her birth parents. If your child cannot speak of the birth parents because it upsets you, he or she will quickly learn to bottle-up those thoughts and emotions.
When your adopted child is older, there is nothing wrong with being honest about how you feel. Saying, “I’m so happy you're meeting your birth father, but I have to admit it scares me,” is both accepting of the birth parent and reveals your vulnerability.
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