How to tell your child that they are adopted

Telling your child they’re adopted doesn’t have to involve a grand reveal. iStock
  • Telling your child that they’re adopted doesn’t have to involve a grand gesture or dramatic reveal.
  • It’s better to be open and honest about your child’s adoption story in age-appropriate ways from the beginning.
  • Hanging photos from your child’s adoption journey and reading age-appropriate books about adoption can help.

If you have recently adopted a child – or are considering doing so in the future – you may have a few questions about how to tell your child that they are adopted. It can certainly seem like an overwhelming conversation to have with a child, but it may be easier than you think.

Maryanne Ludwig, a licensed social worker and director of family services at Wide Horizons for Children, an adoption agency in Waltham, Massachusetts said telling your child doesn’t need to be some grand sit-down discussion. In fact, Ludwig recommends doing quite the opposite.

Telling your child should be done simply and age appropriately- not in any sort of grand gesture

Pictures frame photos wall family
Having photos on display from when you adopted your child can help. Travis Isaacs/Getty Images

“The goal is to never have a moment of telling your child,” Ludwig, who has worked at Wide Horizons for 18 years, told INSIDER. She said the goal is to tell your child in simple, age-appropriate ways starting from the moment you adopt them, even if they’re a baby.

This can be done is simple ways like displaying photos from when you went to pick the child up from the adoption agency or when you went to court to finalise their adoption. Ludwig, who was adopted herself, recommends that these items become a part of the things that are around your home.

Michael Thompson, a supervising psychologist at Belmont Hill School in Belmont, Massachusetts and a New York Times bestselling author agrees. When he and his wife adopted two children, the social worker assigned to their case told them to place photos around their home to serve as a reminder of the child’s story.

Additionally, Thompson recommends reading age-appropriate books about adoption with your child to help your children understand their adoption story.

“It’s much easier to talk to children at their level when you have a guide,” he told INSIDER.

You may want to regularly discuss your child’s adoption story

Both Ludwig and Thompson recommend that you oftentimes talk to your child about their story so that there is no specific moment of telling them that they’re adopted.

When Thompson and his wife adopted their children, the social worker advised them to always tell their children, “We are so glad we adopted you.”

He said it’s important to be honest about your child’s story from the beginning and to remind them that you’re grateful you adopted them.

Even if you aren’t adopting a baby or young child, Thompson and Ludwig agree that honesty is the best policy

Mum daughter adoption parenting
Honesty is important. iStock

“The word about their adoption story should always be out there,” Thompson said. “A kid can understand adoption from a very early age.”

Ludwig also urges adoptive parents to be honest about their child’s story.

“When you make the child’s adoption a routine discussion, you normalize it. Talking about it builds their story. It should be part of the daily conversation so they get the opportunity to ask the questions about things they don’t understand,” said Ludwig.

“You as a family will have your own personal story as to why you decided to adopt. The child will have their own personal story of why they were available to adopt,” she added. “You have to weave those two together in a very honest way.”

It’s important to gradually build upon your child’s adoption story in age-appropriate ways

Kid reading book with parent mum
It can be helpful to tell your child in age-appropriate ways as they grow up. iStock

Talking about a child’s adoption story in age-appropriate ways allows you to gradually build upon it. By the time they are able to embrace the whole story, they have all the bits and pieces they need. Ludwig calls this scaffolding.

“They will never feel like there was something that was withheld from them or that you’ve lied to them. They feel like they have always had an honest understanding,” she said.

For more complicated or uncomfortable situations, Ludwig suggests seeking assistance. Organisations that provide post-adoption services will likely have a therapist or social worker that can help.

“It’s not about, ‘How do I tell my child?’ It’s about how to make my child feel like they always knew,” said Ludwig.

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