Tips for Adoptive Parents: Telling Children about Adoption

By | November 2, 2013

For adoptive parents, the inevitable discussion about adoption is a source of fear and worry. Telling adopted children in a family that they are not biologically related is a big step and is not always easy. Some parents find it difficult because they believe they may lose the child, or that the adoptive children will feel rejected and hurt. However, by not telling your child that he or she is adopted, you could be causing damage that will last well into adult life, and affect them in more serious ways later.

Adoptive Children: Knowing is Important

The reasons for telling adopted children in a family about their biological birth are numerous. All individuals, whether adopted or living with their biological families, begin to create an identity of their own around puberty and through their teenage years. A sense of self begins to set in as a child grows and understands one’s own background, culture, and strengths. Adopted children may feel a sense of detachment or a gap in their personalities that they can’t explain unless they know they come from a different background and parent.

Equally important is the awareness of a possibility of medical conditions, learning problems, or susceptibilities to illnesses or disorders. Adopted children in a family may not be prepared for genetic conditions passed on from biological parents, some of which may only crop up in their old age. When adoptive children marry and procreate, there is a chance of passing on illnesses or conditions that they are not aware of.

Adopted Children in Families

A natural need to preserve stability often prevents parents from telling their adoptive children about their origins, or even lying about it. However, this only works in the short-term. Children who are told that they have been adopted are likely to want to find their birth parents, but not to leave their adoptive parents for this. Adoptive parents should understand that the need to find birth parents is a natural need to understand where one has come from, and does not have to lead to abandonment by the child.

Talking about Adoption: The Right Time

There is no specific time that is best for telling the adopted children in your family that they are not biologically yours. However, it is usually best to tell them early instead of leaving it till they are teens, as that can be a difficult time for them. Also, it prevents them from hearing from outside sources and feeling as if they’ve been cheated or lied to. For any adoptive child or parent, this is a sensitive topic and requires patience and understanding. Here are a few tips on breaking the news gently and dealing with the doubts that are bound to arise.

  • Choose a time when both you and the child are relaxed and will not be disturbed. It is best when both parents talk to the child together.
  • Even if you find it difficult, make an effort to sound positive when you talk about your adopted child’s past.
  • Once you have told your adopted child the facts, he or she might have questions about birth parents and other details. Think of all possible questions and answers beforehand, and avoid telling very young children negative details as it could hurt and confuse them.
  • Constantly reassure your child that you adopted him or her because you wanted them so much and love them so deeply. Reinforcing the fact that you are all family now can prevent them feeling isolated and alone.
  • Telling your child small details about when you first saw them, or about the first time you brought them home can make it seem like a happy story and might make it easier.
  • Be prepared for reactions like anger, shock, confusion and tears. An adopted child may also show reactions much later.
  • Children are naturally curious and will want to talk about their past many times. Be sure to answer them patiently each time and reassure them too.

In cases where children have suffered trauma or abuse as a child, or are suffering from attachment disorders, they’ll find it difficult to trust adults. It might be advisable to talk to a professional before discussing adoption with children in these situations. Above all, trust your instincts when talking to your adopted children. You know best what approach will work best, and how to handle their reactions.


  1. Talking to Children about Adoption – Parentline Plus
  2. Common Post Adoption Issues: Telling Children About Their Adoption – Mental Help
  3. Talking to your Child about Adoption – Adoption

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *