Q: When and how should we tell our child that she was adopted?
Jim: According to our counselors and the team who oversees our Focus on the Family adoption outreach and initiative, a child adopted at birth should be told about it from a very early age. This should happen almost as soon as they are capable of understanding language. And it should be a recurring theme in conversations with your child throughout the growing-up years.
Unfortunately, some parents avoid disclosing this to their child because it makes them uncomfortable. Then, later on, they’re faced with having to tell an older child something they’ve been keeping secret. This can undermine the child’s sense of security and may result in feelings of rejection or betrayal.
You’ll want to share the facts using age-appropriate words and imagery. Her adoption should always be presented in a positive light. For example, a parent might tell a 2- or 3-year-old that mommy and daddy chose her over all the other children in the world. This will let her know how special she is.
When she is slightly older -- 4 or 5, maybe -- you can explain the difference between a biological parent and an adoptive parent. Explain that she has actually had two different mothers. Her first mommy took care of her when she was very, very tiny, inside of her tummy. Then, after she was born, you brought her home from the hospital to live with you because she was so extra-special. Please call our Focus counselors if we can be of help.
Q: How can I help my daughter, who is struggling with her racial identity? I’m white and my ex-husband is black. She struggles with issues of her “color” and I’m not sure how to help.
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I’d encourage you to talk about race with your daughter. She needs to know it’s OK to be herself, just exactly as she is, and you can help cultivate this attitude by being free and frank in your discussion of the subject.
It’s particularly important to spend time listening and understanding her situation from her viewpoint. Ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me what you like or don’t like about the way you look,” or “Describe a time when you felt different from the other kids at school.”
Also provide her with opportunities to interact with children and families of various ethnic backgrounds. This is vital in helping develop healthy attitudes toward race and ethnicity. You can also expose your daughter to media (books, videos, etc.) featuring multicultural characters and themes. This will supply her with positive role models of people who, like her, come from racially diverse backgrounds.
Just as important is teaching her about the many differences and likenesses that exist among human beings, and that race isn’t the only distinguishing element. Point out that people all have similar needs and feelings, such as being loved and accepted. When she is able to grasp this, explain that, while she may look different from her peers, she is also very much like them.
Finally, don’t shy away from discussing racism, but remember to talk about it in an age-appropriate way. She may not be able to grasp the complexities of slavery, but she does need to understand that some people strongly dislike others who are different from them, and may even treat them unkindly. She’ll also need to learn how to respond to the comments or questions of others. Both children and adults can sometimes be rude with their remarks about race, but there are also many occasions when their words and behavior are simply the result of ignorance or curiosity.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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