Find the right time to discuss this sensitive subject.

October 03, 2005
Credit: Blend Images/Veer

Adoptive parents must determine what and when they will tell their children about their adoption. Many adoption workers advise parents to introduce the word "adoption" as early as possible so that it becomes a comfortable part of a child's vocabulary and to tell a child, between the ages of 2 and 4 that he is adopted. However, some child welfare experts believe that when children are placed for adoption before the age of 2 and are of the same race as the parents, there probably is little to be gained by telling them about their adoption until they are at least 4 or 5 years old. Before that time, they will hear the words but will not understand the concept.

Dr. Steven Nickman suggests that the ideal time for telling children about their adoption appears to be between the ages of 6 and 8. By the time children are 6 years old, they usually feel established enough in their family not to feel threatened by learning about adoption. Dr. Nickman believes that preschool children still have fears about the loss of their parents and their love and that telling them at that time is too risky. In addition, there is some question about whether a child under 6 years of age can understand the meaning of adoption and be able cognitively to work through the losses implied by learning that he was born into a different family.

Although it is obvious to adults, young children often believe that they are either adopted or born. It is important, when telling them about their adoption, to help them understand that they were born first—and that all children, adopted or not, are conceived and born in the same way. The birth came first, then the adoption.

Waiting until adolescence to reveal a child's adoption to him or her is not recommended. "Disclosure at that time can be devastating to children's self-esteem," says Dr. Nickman, "and to their faith in their parents."

Children who were adopted when they were older than 2, or who are of a different race from their adoptive parents, need to be told about their adoption earlier. With older children, who bring with them memories of a past, failure to acknowledge those memories and to have a chance to talk about them can reinforce the attachment problems inherent in shifts in caretakers early in life.

If your adopted child is of a different race or has very different physical features from your family, you must be cognizant of signs that he or she is aware of the difference. Your child may have noticed it, or someone else may have commented on it. You will want to explain to your child that the birth process is the same for everyone but acknowledge that people in different cultures have distinguishing physical features and their own rich heritage. Sometimes children who look different from the rest of their family need to be assured that their parents love them and intend to keep them.

Source: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

American Baby

Comments (3)

January 24, 2020
They should know from the very beginning 6 and 8 is too late. I'm an adult adoptee. Not tellining is the worst betrayal and unthinkable
March 12, 2019
As a psychologist who specializes in adoption-related issues and adopted person I disagree that you should wait for any period of time to tell your child that they are adopted. And especially don't wait until they are an adult. I have seen many adults who lost complete trust, not just in their parents, but in their entire family for keeping their adoption a secret. They often, understandably, feel as if their whole world has been rocked. Wouldn't you rather that your children are living with you so you can support their questions and emotions? That is so much better than them being adults and being out in the world having an identity crisis without their parents supporting them. While it's true that a 2 or 3 year old may not completely understand the idea of adoption, to have the parent being able to help the child understand adoption at their developmental level and EXACTLY at the moment they have big questions (rather than when the parent decides the child is probably ready) is such a beautiful thing to offer a kid. Also, just like with adults,... if anyone else knows that the child is adopted, the parents run the risk of someone else telling their 3 year old or 6 year old or 28 year old before they have a chance to tell them. That kind of experience erodes the trust in the parent-child relationship. Please begin to tell your adopted children the story of their birth and existence immediately - just like you would with any other person who came into your family as a biological child of the parents!
February 21, 2019
If possible, never. Let them grow up and form their identity before you drop that Atom bomb. Seriously, Trauma after the Adoption happens & it is not erasable. Even well meaning parents that conform to the 'standard' advice from people, such as these who run this website, are giving erroneous & uninformed information to people of the Adoption Triad. When should you tell them? Unless necessary due to an interracial adoption, when they are adults! Then, only if you intend to help them connect to their Heritage or roots through DNA or another identifying way. Otherwise don't open that Pandora s Box when your little ones are little! No, no, no. Signed; Adopted in 1971.