How should you talk with young children, toddlers, and preschoolers about adoption. How do you talk about birth mothers and birth fathers? In this episode we talk with Jenna Howard, a LMSW who has worked in the adoption field since 1994 in both domestic and international adoption. In addition, she is an adoptee and an adoptive mom.
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Welcome, everyone to creating a family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I am both the host of this show as well as the director of the nonprofit creating a family. Yes, indeed, We are a nonprofit. And we have a ton of resources for you guys. So please pop over to our website, creating a family.org if you have any questions or are looking for additional information. Today, we're going to be talking about talking with young children about adoption and birth parents, we will be talking with Jenna Howard. She is a licensed master social worker and has worked in the adoption field since 1994. In both domestic and international adoption, in addition, she is an adoptee herself, and the adoptive mom of a daughter adopted from China. Welcome, Jenna to creating a family, we are so happy to have you here.
Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.
You know, this is an important topic, we tell parents how important it is all the time. And I think so often we give general advice when about talking with kids. And for people who are newly adoptive parents, what they're really depending, of course, on the age of the child, what they're really most interested in, is how to talk with young children, both about adoption, and about birth parents. And sometimes, quite honestly, it's the birth parent part that is harder for new adoptive parents. So let's start with the basics. I said before that we always talk to parents about how important it is. Why is it important to start talking with kids when they're very young about adoption and birth parents?
Sure, well, I think one of the most important parts is because it's going to build a foundation of trust and open communication. So you're basically you're starting at the Foundation, and you're starting to communication, and you're making it a comfortable topic and the topic that they are going to feel comfortable coming to you and talking about. It also helps normalize the adoption and normalize that this is not and helps reduce the feelings, they might have a shame or that it's a secret. You know, this is an open topic, and it's something we talked about in this family.
It's a normal part that's adoption is a normal way for families to be formed. It is one of the ways that families are formed. Right. Okay. So when should parents start talking with kids about adoption, if they're assuming that they're adopted? Obviously, if you're adopting a child at an older age, the adoption is well known and out in the open to be talked about. But what if you adopt a
baby at birth or a toddler are a very young child?
Sure, you actually should start talking about it immediately. And a lot of that is for the adoptive parents benefit. It helps you become more comfortable with a story, it helps you know, what to say what not to say, the phrasing. And it just, it's once again, it's that foundation, and you're starting from the beginning. And you're starting with your comfort.
Yeah, I would say that infancy is adoptive parents is a gift to adoptive parents. Because you're talking and you're kind of getting comfortable with the language. Before your kid knows anything. I mean, there, you could be saying anything to them, it could be reciting a nursery rhyme and they would know the difference at infancy, but you will know the difference. And you'll start practicing and the words will start becoming more comfortable on your tongue.
And honestly, a lot of time adoptive parents have to work out some of their own emotions still about the adoption. Absolutely. it sometimes takes them by surprise, that they're having feelings of their own grief and feelings. As you know, they've worked so hard for so long to have this child, they finally have this child. And they're getting upset when the child collocate. And they feel almost guilty about that. So it's a benefit for the adoptive parent too, because that gives them the time to work through those emotions and those feelings, which are natural, that they don't necessarily feel like they should be having.
Exactly. Alright, so we've we've just says start with infants. Okay, so you've got an infant, you've got a three month old. How do you talk to a three month old about adoption?
Well, the great thing about that age is they're such sensory beings, and everything is about a sensation in the sensory. And so it's super easy. You know, when you're playing with them, and you know, giving him a bath, then you're loving on him and you just leave their adoption story into those moments. And it's, it's really setting a tone and an attitude about it being a positive, loving thing.
Yeah, it's just becomes a normal part of it. You know, one of the things that I always recommend is that adoptive parents start building a library of adoption books, it's fine too. I'm a big library user. huge library user. But I do believe that it's good to own some books on adoption and infancy is a great time to begin building your library and using those but start reading books to your three month old. Yes, the three month old is not really going to get my Java book, but you will be reading the book. And also people are wanting to give you gifts at that point. And so that's another good way to build up your library is to ask family and friends if they say what do you need, or we're going to have a baby shower or whatever. You could say, oh, here's a list of books. And I would like to, we'd like to start building up our library of adoption books. And this would be really helpful. And the other added advantage is many of these books have sections for parents. So while you're reading to your infant or feeding your infant, you could also be reading the section in the book that talks about parents, it's just a good refresher for you as a parent, to help get you prepared for when your child is understanding what it is you're reading.
And what's wonderful, there's so many options now. And it does also help normalize that adoption is a normal way to build a family. And if you can also, if you've adopted trains racially, there are books that reflect that. And they can see in the book, there's a family like mine, and I'm not the only one.
Yeah, and another thing that you want to build your library, your child's library is of books with many diverse characters. And I would say that's the case regardless of whether you are adopting trans racially. But especially if you're adopting trans rights, really, let me mention two resources. One, creating a family has a the best of the best adoption book list for kids broken out by type of adoption and age. And you can find that on our website, creating a family.org under the word just horizontal menu, hover over adoption and click on suggested books. Or we also have a shortened link for that. And that's a bitly link. So it's bi T dot L y slash adoption books with a and to be capitalized. Another great resource to get into creating a family resource for books with diverse characters is four tips for raising an anti racist child, I cannot recommend that resource enough. It is tremendous, a lot of very practical, I won't say necessarily easy, but practical, implementable things that you as a parent can do. And as I say, I think all parents should be doing this regardless of the race for the child they adopted. However, I would say especially if you're adopting across racial lines, another tremendous list, one of the things in there has a number of things in there. But one of the things in there is a list broken out by age of the child as well as the thing, whether it's got the main character of what race things such as that. So it's a very diverse list. So I would recommend both of those. Okay, so that's talking with infants before the age of cognition. So but as what age do children begin to grasp any idea of what you're talking about? Obviously, a three month old, no, but at what point two children start understanding just the basic concept of adoption.
So age is not really the right term for that. It's more developmental, though and kids were kids will hit that at different ages, but it's probably earlier than most people think. And they don't, they're not going to understand the deeper aspects of adoption. That definitely by the toddler phase, they're going to understand the basics, and they're going to start getting the terminology. Probably the athfield. The biggest age for kids truly starting to grasp adoption is rat when they start school rats at school age five, six, because developmentally, they can understand the concept of like subtraction. So they're developmentally able also to understand the concept that they were with one born to one family and then went to another family. So that is probably the age for parents will see a lot more questions about adoption, a lot deeper questions, but they're going to have questions even before them. And their concept of adoption is going to grow and change. And some people think that young kids are not dealing with the emotions of adoption, that they are they just a lot of times don't have words to express it.
I mean, toddlers begin to understand the concept that babies grow and mommies depending on the family tummy or uterus or wound or whatever your the family calls it. They know that babies grow inside of mommy's and that's a good opportunity to charge Well, you grew inside of Susie's belly or her uterus or womb,
and the and the child may express sadness that, Oh, I didn't grow in your tummy, and that they're starting to process the emotional side of adoption. And they're sad that that wasn't their story is not they grew in their mommies, Tammy?
Exactly. So, what name we get this question a lot, what name should be used when referring to birth parents? There, there are many options that that families have chosen. What are some of the options that families choose? And? And is there a preferred option?
So a lot of that's gonna depend on the child and the family. And that's, I think, why there are so many different options. And sometimes it also depends on the birth mother, because birth mother is a term I most commonly use. And that's, that is a very common term. Some people prefer the term first mother, because they feel birth mother frames it more as she was an incubator. So some people prefer first mother, some people prefer the first name, or you know, Hemi, Mommy, or things like that, I would say probably birth mother is the most commonly used. But let's say you're in an open adoption, and your child is going to have some form of a relationship with her birth mother, I think you bring the birth mother into that conversation, what are you going to want her to call you and you know, you kind of work at that together? Maybe they call her by her first name, or maybe she wants to be called mom and nickname, you know, so a lot of that you may change to you may start using a certain term, and then your child feels uncomfortable with it later. And you have to change it as an adoptee. It's, it's a little difficult for me that terminology because I've actually had the opportunity to meet some of my birth family. And as an adoptee, you have this feeling of loyalty to your adoptive family. And so I always when I talk about my birth family, other people always feel the need to say, my biological brother, my biological, you know, and it's people will look at you strange, because why would you term that with your brother? And so, sometimes that puts the adoptee in a strange position. So I think it's, it would be a gift to the adoptee if you're able to, I guess not worry about that label as much and help them with that identity and help them know that it's not a loyalty issue, and what do you want to call her and work on that together?
You know, and I'm so glad you raised because I was, that's a great segue into. Nowadays, the vast majority of especially children who are being adopted at a very young age, are in open adoptions. Certainly most infant adoptions are that way. And so the an openness can mean many different things. But generally, it means some type of contact between the adoptive family and the birth family. Now, maybe between the parents especially if the child has an infant, it may not be physical contact, it may be contact over social media or text messaging, or it could be that the meeting at a park once a month, it could take on any different. It's a nuanced term, it can mean whatever the families involved want it to mean. But it does generally mean that the child will be not only speaking of this person, but also to this person. And sometimes the names that you use are different. They may say this is a child might think of Susie as their birth mom, but when they are referring and talking to Susie directly, they may want to call her Susie or they may call her mama Sue, or they may call her whatever. If some families go by the aunt, you know, they will call them aunt Sue, because in their family tradition, children don't call other adults by their first name. But it does seem like that that's something that the adoptive parents and the birth parents work out between the two of them. What because honestly, an infant's going to follow the lead of of what the parents are doing. So yeah, yeah. Let me pause for a moment to tell you about a free educational resource. Thanks to the Jackie being Family Foundation. We are thrilled to offer you free online courses through our adopted.org learning platform. When you go to this I'm gonna give you a link. It's a bitly link so it's shortened Bitly slash all cap, J BF support. You can see five courses An example would be transitioning home As a newly adopted family, and these courses are designed to equipped you with more expert base information related to today's show content, and also just related to your journey as an adoptive or foster parent, each of these courses is free when you use the coupon code, JB f strong at checkout. So again, you can find these courses, the shortened link is a Bitly, Link bi T dot L y slash, this will be our cap, J BF support, and use the coupon code or cap, j, b, f strong, I hope you enjoy them. Alright, now we're moving into when our infants are and moving into toddlers and preschool age. It's, it's a great age in many ways, because kids just accept what we say at that age. And as a mother of four much older kids, I will say that that ends. They do not continue to do that, dad gummit. But they certainly do at that age. And so it is a blessing. But you know what I think it's as much the attitude of what is said or the attitude in which it is said as the actual word. So let's talk a little about toddlers and preschoolers and what adoptive parents need to be aware of when they're talking about adoption.
Absolutely. And I think it's important to remember that you are laying the foundation for their identity development. And so being an adoptee is going to be a part of their identity. And some parents really worry about that, and really worried that they're going to have all these adoption issues. And what I like parents to remember is we all have our own issues and our own struggles. And being an adoptee does come with its unique set of circumstances, that everyone has that and it helps make you the person you are and there comes a gift to having that perspective and to having that identity. But you're right, it's more, it's less about what you say and more about the attitude and how you say it. And you know, when you're framing, when you're at that age, you're not really going to deal as much with the sad aspects or the hard aspects. You're just framing. We love you, you are surrounded by love, we are so happy you're in our family. And kids that age, it's so great. You can use books, you can use art, you can show them pictures, if you have of their birth family, and you know talk about it that way. Clay is really big at this age, they're big into imaginating meditative place. And so you can you know, they're the superheroes, you can play superheroes, I know, see adoption themes come out in that way. And that also gives you a window into the areas they are processing and the areas they're struggling with. And throughout their childhood. This is a journey you're walking with them. And you want to encourage conversation and encourage them to share. And not ever make it feel like you're not welcoming that conversation. Because you want them to share the hard things with you and the good things. And all of us in life, we have things that are hard, and the people you share it with, and you can trust with that. And they treat that with love and respect. Those are the people you're close to and that you share things with and that you walk in the relationship with your child. That's what you want. You want them to walk the walk with you, and the journey with you. And so that age, you're just you're just building that foundation and you're teaching them right away adoptions. A word we can say in this house, and we can talk about comfortably. And you can say something, it's not gonna hurt my feelings. We're going to talk about it together. And it's just the such effect.
And I and I liked what you said about using play. I certainly net with one of mine, when she was playing. She was going to be the mommy and she was doing something whatever she was cooking something for the baby or whether she was going to be the mommy. And and so I joined her in play. And I said well, I'm going to I'm going to adopt and she was going to have a baby so she was going to do and so I said Well, I'm going to adopt a baby. And so that so that allowed us I looked for opportunities. And I think that's what we have to do as parents is look for opportunities to bring adoption into the conversation, if if only but also to lay the groundwork for our kids, but also to make sure that we are engaging and we're talking because it's easy at this age to not talk about it. Hence why I suggest building up a library of books because that as long as you're pulling out a book, once a week to read or whatever how often you want to do it. That's keeping it into the cut that's bringing adoption into the conversation. So I think it's easy to to overlook the need to talk about it at this age, we often call this age, you know, really more into the preschool age, and even into the kindergarten age as adoption is cool, because kids are often very proud of the fact that's very parents, I think, sometimes take too much pride in the fact that their kids love the fact that they're adopted. I certainly know I did. You know, my kids reached that stage. But do you see that universally, that kids at around that age, are very accepting that adoption is is makes them stand out? It's a cool thing, are certainly a very normal way of building a family. Do you see that as well?
Yes. And I think it's very natural for kids to do that. And it's a way they are trying to figure out their own story. And they're trying to take control with their narrative. And, you know, kids don't like to be necessarily different they want to fit in, they want to be a part of the same as everyone. And they're here is this one thing that really stands out? And what are they going to do with that, and some, they can't change that status. So they're trying to find a way to make it cool to be different. And also just kind of, basically take control. It helps really, if you see your child doing that, to talk to him about it, and help them that's an opportunity to help them put some names to their emotions and to I mean, you don't want to tell them how they're feeling. But it's, it's a way to start probing, you know, how do you feel about being adopted? And you know, how does it make you feel that Guinea is not and you are, you know, some of those kind of questions to help kind of probe more than motional sad that is going to start coming out.
One of the things I wanted to bring up is, it seems like there are a couple of different, we could talk about a couple of different groundworks, we need to to be laying at this very early stage one is the concept that adoption is what adoption is that you grew in another mommy's body, you had another mommy and a daddy, for whatever reason this, they were not able to parent, you're sharing that detail. And mommy and daddy were so happy. We couldn't wait to have you. And we were so happy. And so there's that there's the actual adoption. But I also think we're laying the groundwork that there are different ways that families can, can be formed that that. And there's not one better way or worse way. But there are different ways. And there are books that cover both of those that should be incorporated. The different all kinds of families type of books, as well as the basics of adoption type of books, and I think both are important.
Yes, I totally agree.
A question we often get is, at this age, the preschool age, we encourage families to start laying as you point as your work was laying the groundwork for their adoption story. And sometimes that's information that we would think we should be kept within the family, that their birth Mama was too young to that Suzy was too young to be a mom to any baby. And so she knew that, that she wouldn't be able to give you what you needed. So she chose us, or Susie was struggling with some health issues. She wasn't well, and because she wasn't well, she wasn't able to raise you is often the beginning stages that we lay for drug addiction. But some of this information, we don't necessarily want our child to share with the world, at least until they're old enough to understand what it is they are sharing. So how do we deal with that as parents the whole idea of it's our kids story, but they're not really old enough yet to understand the distinction of who they should share with and what they should share. And yet, we're beginning to lay the groundwork sometimes of some of some private information. So how do we make that distinction between secrecy and privacy with a young child?
Yeah, well, isn't that a fun experience every parent gets to go through? Is their child hearing something that you really wish they wouldn't. So sometimes it's going to happen, and you have to deal with it after the fact. And really, a lot of it is going to depend on the personality of the child who there are some kids that are just extremely extroverted. And, you know, you can talk about things that we talk about as a family, and then we don't necessarily share with everyone. And also though, I think part of the issue is they're watching you, and sometimes As parents, we are so excited about the adoption. We're so excited parents that sometimes we have over shared information. And the child sees that and Tom watches that. And so then when they start over sharing sometimes it makes us recognize, oh, we maybe should have been a little more restrictive on on sharing the story with everyone. Really, though, is just about having conversations with the child and about also probing you know why Why the Why did you want to talk about that I'm so glad that you're happy about this and not not shaming them for sharing. That also kind of redirecting them basically. And like, you know, that stuff we really talked about at home. And we don't necessarily tell everyone at the grocery store about it. And then also, when you're talking about transracial adoption, and kids going to school, there's going to be they're going to see the kids are going to see there's adoption. And some kids, it's a little harder for them to know how to navigate that. Sometimes they prefer to tell everybody and overshare a little bit, so that they don't get that awkward. When my mom first cams, and everyone was like, wait, that's your mom?
Well, and I'm glad you raised that with transracial. Because one of the things for even preschoolers, and we need to help them explain the cat the adoption, as well as transracial adoption, two separate things, really, although the trans racial placements, certainly bring your conspicuous family. And so it's going to be that the world will know. But helping our children explain helping them learn how to explain that what adoption is in a, obviously, in a very simple way. And also, especially for our transracial kids, because they're going to the kids who have been adopted transracial, they're going to be getting those questions, even sooner than other children, because it's going to be obvious.
And it's very important that you practice those questions at home and you practice. So the kid your child isn't caught off guard when those questions can. So you can practice at home and empower her how she wants to respond to this, what does she want people to know, you know, and help her start taking control and agency of her own adoption story. And, but also the practices of free important how, because then they are ready with a response and they're not caught off guard, and that doesn't make them feel as awkward as it could.
And with young children, the answers are simple. How come you don't look like your mom? Because I'm adopted? Simple and you know, it's it's, it's it's not complicated at this age, at this age, it's because I'm adopted. And so we can keep it short and simple for our kids. And, and quite frankly, that's how they're going to understand it at this age. That's why I don't look like you
and give them permission to not answer a question. You know, if someone is says, because I'm adopted, and someone keeps probing, they, you know, teach them, Why do you want to know that? Or I really don't feel comfortable talking about that, you know, give them the ability to not share their stories, they don't want to
go ask my mom has to go ask my mom. She likes talking about this. Yeah. So again, keeping it short and simple. Something that we read a lot about in the adoption field is positive adoption language. And I think that is the attempt to make certain that the way we are phrasing the experience of being adopted is in a more positive light. What do we mean by positive adoption language? And can you give us some examples that would be important and could be used for young children.
So their language when you are crafting the narrative, there's language you want to try to avoid words like real mom. real bad. Those can be harmful words on both sides. Because on one side, it kind of erases the birth parents role if you say your adoptive parents or your real parents, and the other side, it erases the adoptive parent role. And it's a very uncomfortable term for adoptees. Another example would be giving away my Id rather than say the birth mother gave you away
to say your Susie made an adoption plan because she wasn't able to parent you.
Right? Or Susie made the choice to place you in a home that she felt was going to be a good home for you. And phrasing like that. But children are going to hear negative adoption language their entire life. And you also want to teach them and empower them to to be able to respond to the language if they want to. So to be able to can like correct the language if they want to, or to just not do anything about it if that's what they feel comfortable in the situation.
That comes up less often with the preschool age. By experience, things are just more black and white cut and dry. And the kids the end whoever they're speaking with, are also usually children of similar age are also accepting of short and simple answers.
Right. And I think parents often worry too much about some of that you are going to make mistakes and you are going to use terminology you shouldn't at some time, and you just learn better and you do better. And just recognize that you're not going to get this all wrapped up. There are some adoption terms that older adoptees have told us, they do not like terms like lucky, you're lucky to be adopted, you're so special to be adopted. A lot of older adoptees have said that they don't like those terms, because they weren't necessarily lucky to go through the loss of adoption, and especially children that are adopted at an older age, or have stronger feelings about this kind of terminologies.
Also, if it's telling your child that they are lucky also implies that they should be grateful. And I don't think any child has the obligation to be grateful to be your child, that is a right of a child, you were the one who chose to, to become a parent and chose this way. And so it's not our children's obligation to feel grateful and gratitude for that. Right. Hey, guys, I'm pausing the interview for a moment to remind you to please follow the creating a family podcast wherever you prefer to listen to your podcasts. By doing so you will never miss a week of great content, you can listen to this show, obviously, on your phone, or in your car, through your car play or you can do it through your computer. One thing to keep in mind, we have a huge archive. So when you're following becoming a follower of creating a family through one of these, your whatever your podcast app is, you can then scroll through our archives. And we've covered so many topics because it has been doing this show for 13 years. So we've got tons of information that would be directly relevant to you, and much of it is totally evergreen. And some of them the greats in the past who are no longer with us who have been interviewed by us. And you wouldn't want to miss their wisdom. So check that out as well. And please follow creating a family podcast. So what are some common questions that preschoolers might ask? And this gives some sample answers. And I mean, questions about adoption? I'll give you one. And let's answer them with an eye towards whether we have contact with birth parents, or whether we don't. So in other words, in an open adoption are a we don't have that many closed adoptions anymore. But at least from the child's standpoint, not much contact because I think sometimes the answers can be different. I'll start by saying one, why didn't I grow in your tummy?
That is next tremely, common one and probably one of the first ones you get in a lot earlier than most adoptive parents expect.
So and, you know, like you said, I appreciate your emphasis on truthful answers. So you don't want to make up things you want to give the truth at the age appropriate level. So let's say you know, Susie and Susie, you have an open adoption. And you know, Susie is a birth mom. And so you can simply answer. Well, you just concreted or you, you were into these temi. And then once you were born, you came to live with our family.
And that could be as because because you grew in Susie's. But how come I and then and then if the child is is a persistent child, but how come I couldn't grow in your tummy?
Well, and I think that will often depend Can people adopt because of infertility? And some people don't. And so like if you're in a family where maybe you're pregnant as the top asking us because that could have been the prompt for the question. It's hard to give a definite because you have to, I wouldn't. People who have infertility issues, I would try to avoid language like my tummy was broken. Just say more. I wasn't able to have a baby in my party. And so we were able to have a family that and Susie growing you in her tummy and then she chose us as your family and just kind of repeat the message that you're loved and you're a part of this family.
Okay, another common question, especially with Well, not just exclusively with transracial adoptions, but certainly we see it with transracial adoptions is why don't I look like you are Why is my skin brown and yours is pink are yours is whatever color the child is saying. Often they don't say why but so how do we answer that question?
And that is really common because they're wanting to be just like their family, and your That is also another very common question. And, you know, once again, truth and honesty and just, you know, well, you probably look more like your first parents and then maybe, maybe, you know, it's Susie, Susie had dark skin and so you look more like Suzy. And if you're religious, a lot of times people bring in this is how God made us, we made this all special and unique and everyone makes their things that make everyone special.
Yeah, if you have brown skin like Suzy and, and Bobby and I have white skin like Nana because she was my birth mom. Alright, another fairly common question is, why did you adopt me? And that can be with the emphasis on the me, why did you adopt me? Or it could be on why they Why did you adopt me? So the question could be, depending on the age of the child, that often these are children at this age are very self centered. So it may be the emphasis on me. So how would you suggest answering that question?
The same way you would answer the question, if you had a biological child, you know, we just really wanted a family, we really wanted a child we really wanted to, we're so happy that you're in our family and repeat that message again of love, and you're a part of our family.
Okay, let's move into another common question. Why didn't Susie keep me
this will also kind of depend on what the circumstances are of the adoption. But I think it is very important not to lad the child and not to make as a fantasy story, that also there's some really hard truths, you're not going to share those with a young child. So like you talked about earlier, with assessments of you something like Susie had some health problems, and she felt like she couldn't take care of you like she needed to. I think it's also important, if you don't know, to tell the child, I don't know. Exactly. And tinned that the child along with you for the journey and like say things like I don't know, what are some things you wonder about and think might have been, and just help them, make sure they're framing the story correctly. But also, it kind of reveals his they aren't kids do invent their own adoption stories and how it came to be. And if they don't have truth and facts, they're making things up, because they're trying to fill in that hole. So it's important to just kind of have a conversation and see where they're at.
And one thing, one of the advantages of open adoption, is that you can say, Well, why don't we ask Susie? And I would definitely recommend giving Susie a heads up that this has been a question that's asked, so that she can be thinking about, and you might also if Suzy is trying to figure out how best to say it remind her to keep it short and simple that this is we don't have to go into the details at this stage. But lay the groundwork and be honest and so So in a way, set up a time for your child to talk with their birth mom or their birth dad about that question. That would be one thing. And and, and if we if particularly sometimes in international adoption, we won't know why a child was placed in an orphanage or became custody of the state. So like you say, being honest, we don't really know. But we think your birth mommy and daddy were very poor and didn't have enough money, our and food to take good care of you. I mean, you could answer that if that's in fact, if you do have an idea. And if you if that's not the story, if that's not the story in the country from which you adopt, then not making that up would be Yeah, if you don't know that, that's probably the reason I say this all the time. But this show would not exist without our partners and these are agencies who believe in our mission of bringing you unbiased, expert base information to help you along your your journey as a parent as and becoming a parent. One such partner is children's connection. They are an adoption agency providing services for domestic infant adoption, as well as embryo donation and adoption throughout the United States. And if you happen to live in Texas, they also provide home studies and post adoption support to families in Texas. Another such sponsor is hopscotch adoptions. They are a Hague accredited international adoption agency, placing kids from Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, GA, Ghana, Kiana, Morocco, Pakistan, Serbia and Ukraine. They specialize in the placement of children with Down syndrome and other special needs. In addition to providing service For kinship adoptions, they offer home study services and post adoption services to residents in North Carolina and New York. Excellent. You know, we've been talking a lot about birth moms. And I think it's easier for us to talk about birth moms than birth fathers. So how do we talk about birth fathers, and the role of birth fathers, when the child doesn't really understand the concept of conception at all? That's a redundant thing, concept of conception does not understand conception. And oftentimes, birth fathers are not as involved or even involved at all. And sometimes they are unknown. So should we be talking about birth dads, I mean, birth moms, the mother carries the baby children at a very young age, understand pregnancy. And it open adoption. Often it is the birth mom, sometimes birth dads as well, but more often birth moms and birth moms alone. So how do we talk about birth dads and their role?
Well, once again, it's about setting a foundation. So you do want to introduce the concepts, and you may not have the answers, and it's okay to say, I don't know, you know, I do know, you do have a birth dad. But I don't know many things about him. And just be honest. But you do want to introduce the concepts. Sometimes there are, maybe it was a rape situation, you don't want to go into those kind of issues in so I would definitely keep it more vague when they're younger. That's something you will be honest and open about when they're when it's age appropriate and, and they're developmentally ready for that information. So, but it's definitely important to introduce the concepts of their birth dad, and talk about it. And to be honest, if you don't know information,
and an example of perhaps in a rape situation, would be to say, your birth mom didn't know your birth father didn't know him well, or something like that. So you're laying the groundwork for later being able to start sharing the information about why she didn't know him or didn't know him? Well. You know, one thing I think is important. When talking about why first families did place made the decision to place a child, I think it's important for children to understand that it had nothing to do with them. But everything to do with where their birth parents were at that time of their life. Kids are very self centered, and have a tendency to make everything about them. Let's be honest, some adults are that way as well. The, but certainly preschoolers are very much that way. So it's important. When if whether you're the person saying this, or whether the birth mom, and you're coaching the birth mom and letting her know that this question may be coming to indicate that Suzy wasn't in the position to raise any baby at that time. And especially if you know that this to be the case. It was really hard for Susie because she loved you. And I don't think we make that up. But if assuming we know that, but she really wasn't able to be a mommy to any baby then. And she loved you. And so she wanted something better for you. Something along those lines, making it such that it's not because you cried, or it wasn't because you were in the nick, you are, it wasn't because you know, whatever reason that children might think that they were the fault, we need to be very clear and upfront that this had nothing to do with you. Right. All right. Now, very often, there are birth siblings, either that were already in the family and the birth mom made the decision that she was not able to parent another child. And so she placed a substitute subsequent child for adoption. Or it could be that she became pregnant after this placement, adoption placement and parented the second child. So what are some of the questions that children at this age, let's say the preschool and kindergarten age, and maybe even into first grade, might have about birth siblings. And I think the parents, adoptive parents worry that their child is going to struggle with that concept. Because Susie is parenting or the birth mom is parenting a child, but not you. So there was a choice made, you know, so we worry as parents that that's going to affect how our kids view themselves. So how do we talk about birth siblings in a way that doesn't let our children feel like they are? We're second best?
Well, I think that's a very fair worry for adoptive parents to have because a lot of children do frame it that way that why did they keep her and not me? And so I think it's important for parents to be aware of that and to be aware of that the children may framing it that way, so that they can reframe it for him in a positive lead, and talk about how, I mean, maybe it's a situation where there is a different birth father, and he wasn't going to be in the picture. So maybe they can frame it in a way, where, you know, she didn't feel like she could provide you with a dad, and she didn't feel like she could provide you with enough food and, and everything you need, you know. And so I think, though, it's very important to tune in to the fact that they may be thinking, why didn't she want me because they do, like you said, personalize it. And so the same thing is helping them realize that it wasn't their fault. It wasn't about them. It was because she wanted what was best for them.
And again, open adoption with with fair warning. But having the birth mom explained that she was up to she was all she could do was to parent, the two children, your older brother and sister, and I wasn't able to take on and you wouldn't be able to do the right things by you as a baby coming in. So yeah, so but preparing her obviously in advance. So that again, one of the beauties of open adoption, is that we can the child can get the information from the person who really knows the answer.
And it's such an important to help the child start naming their own feelings and emotions, you know, some of them, it's scarier when they, when it's big and unnamed. And when you help them name their emotions, like, he may be afraid that she didn't love you as much as she left other children, you know, when you help them to talk through that and help them name their emotions. It's just as empowering to them in it, it helps with their identity development, it helps them feel safe and lift.
I think parents sometimes hesitate because they don't want to put the idea into a child's head. But you can always frame it as a question. Let's say the birth mom is now pregnant and with another child and has is is going to parent that child. And you can tell that perhaps your child is struggling with something you could ask them. Are you worried that Susie is going to love the new baby more than you? And see what they say and phrase it as a question your child may say, No, I'm not worried about that. But it but the child may then that helps them identify perhaps what their fear is. And I think we as parents don't want to put the idea in their heads, because we're afraid that we'll be introducing something that will be hurtful for them. But if they're feeling it anyway, helping them name, it doesn't change that. Yeah,
One of the questions we sometimes get is, should we as parents as adoptive parents, how should we refer to the siblings, our birth siblings of our children? And a question we'll get is that isn't it confusing? That my adopted child has the brother inside his our family? And but he has a brother and a sister outside? So when our child does does our child? Should we say that our child has three siblings, when that really doesn't define the siblings in our family? How do we handle how do we as a family incorporate birth siblings? Or should we?
Well, I'm the child is going to take your lead. So the way you refer to them is the way the child is going to refer to them. And an adoptee is going to be struggling with loyalty issues. And are they loyal to their adoptive family, they don't want to hurt any feelings. And so whatever, however you frame, this, guessing the birth siblings is most likely how the child will respond. And it is a gift to the child, if you can do it in a way that is inclusive and doesn't make it as awkward. So every family has to decide on their own what they're comfortable with. But I lean more on the side of it, they have three siblings and just leave it at that that is their reality. So every family does have to decide on their own. But I think it's helpful with adoptive parent keeps in mind that they're setting the tone for the last of the child. And how will the child feel about when they're talking about their siblings, especially if they're going to have a relationship with them? And how will the child feel what will make the child most comfortable when they're older?
And I I really believe that we as parents see things as for lack of a better word weirder than our kids. The fact that I think our kids very readily will assume that one child has three siblings to that live with Susie and Bobby are And one that lives with us. And that seems that would not say, if that's their reality, that's not going to seem weird, it seems weird to us, because that wasn't our reality. But for our child, it is simply their reality, as well as the fact that the brother in your family may have no other siblings, or may have five other siblings. It is their reality. And if we treat it as normal, then it feels normal to them. And so it's, as you said, if they will follow our lead, but most importantly, they'll follow the lead we set by our attitude about it.
Yes, very much so. So and I think it's very important that adoptive parents remember that adoptees know they came from another birth parent. And the way they know a part of them is from that birth parent. And so the way adoptive parents talk about the birth parents, the child feels that deeply. So if adoptive parents say negative things about the birth parent, the child is going to feel they are saying negative things about down because that's a part of them. Same way, like if it is a transracial adoption, if they hear adoptive parents say negative things about a certain racial group, they know they are a part of that and that they internalize that deeply. So I just think it's it's super important to remember when you're having these discussions, and when you're laying the foundation, that the child will internalize how you feel about the birth parents and how you discuss them.
And it's in the reality is sometimes there are negative things that we could see and talk about about birth parents, oftentimes, the decision to place a child not always but oftentimes comes at a hard point in a person's life. And they are struggling in in a number of ways. But at the same time, they are more than their struggle. And it and we can look and find the positive things about, you know, I love the way you run. Susie is such a fast runner, Susie told me that when she was in elementary school, she was a fastest runner in third grade. And you're just as fast as I think you're going to be just as fast as Suzy. And so it doesn't have to be monumental things but it can be Susie has such a beautiful smile. I'm glad when you smile. I can see some of that in you. And then also I keep using the birth mom, I should also bringing in, you know, Bobby, Bobby, also, Bobby loves really spicy foods and boy and he can he can pack away the he loves Mexican food and he eats more jalapenos, he told us and so by golly you like spicy foods, too. So things like that. You don't have to harp on the fact that that Bobby is in jail right now are that Susie is still homeless and struggling with addiction. That will that is information that you will begin to share. But you can be focusing, especially at the very young ages, on establishing a wealth throughout actually not just the young ages, incorporate the positives. And if you don't think you see it in their birth parents, that should be a wake up call for you. Because these people do have positives, even though they also have some some negatives Don't we all and some people have bigger negatives and others but we need to look for the positives in order to share with our child because as you point out, yeah, they're gonna identify. Yes. Excellent. All right. So we've already mentioned I want to kind of move into the tip section because we always try to end this with some some practical applicable tips I've already mentioned one and that is the creating a family. Best of the Best adoption books for kids broken out by type of adoption and age of the child. Again, you can get that at our website, creating a family.org hover over the word adoption in the horizontal menu, and click on suggested books. If your child is from foster care, you can also hover over the foster care world we have a word and we also have suggested books specific to that. Again, the shortened link is Bitly bi T dot L y flash adoption books with a and to be capitalized. But another thing that I do you know of some specific movies or tv shows that may not be specifically intended to introduce the concept of adoption, but have adoption as part of the theme of the movie or even if it's not the major thing that we could use as a way of conversation starter with our kids.
I think there are lots of movies with adoption themes. And honestly I feel parents should pre screen a lot of those. And it helps them there. There are going to be trigger points and things and there are definitely a lot of Disney movies have adoption themes. They do Don't say yes. So it's important. Watch it as a parent and kind of pay attention to the adoption themes and think about what things will this maybe trigger, and then watch it with your child and help talk through it and help help them see if there any emotions. I can't think of any specific movies off the top of my head there,
I will suggest a couple of TV shows that I think are particularly good one Sesame Street has, and you can just google Sesame Street adoption, and you will find the link to it. And you can also buy it as a DVD. And they have a storyline with adoption that I thought was particularly good. And an oldie but goodie, it still goodie is Mr. Rogers. Talking about adoption. Again, you probably have to get that on a DVD now. But those are some that have specific in there are a lot of TV shows that are specifically aimed at kids that tackle the concept, or just treat adoption as a normal part. Again, you can get that by googling and adoption themes for whatever the your child's favorite movie or TV show is. Those are the ones I could think of. I can't think of it, but I think there are others probably out there. Another tip is creating a life book for your child. Can you explain what life books are? Sure,
last book is basically it shares pieces of their last before they came to your family. And some people do it for the child. And then they walk through the child like maybe they have pictures from the birth parents gave to them as the relatives on that side of the family. And then they also have pictures from the hospital time. And then they'll have pictures maybe they include pictures if it's an open adoption of hams, they got together with Cz into some parents prefer to wait because the child's older and they build that together in it's a project they do together. So and some you don't have enough history to be able to do alas spec. And so it's it's a closed adoption or a lot of international adoptions, you don't you don't know before, and you may have one baby picture. And so it's a little more difficult to do. In those situations, it always there are some birth moms who are willing to write a letter to the child or to share their favorites and things like that are wonderful to have, if you can.
A tip that was given to me way back when was to keep the life book in your child's room. So that your child has access to it on their own. And this is less so with preschoolers, and you may choose not to if the child is rough with books, keeping it the room but putting it up high, but at some point move it to where the child has access to it without having to involve you. And I thought that was a great suggestion that there are times when your child will want to be processing things on their own. And having having to find the life book or ask you for it may be an impediment to them. But using it at that, that stage not so much with our preschoolers but but as they get a little older. And one last tip I want to throw out is a great resource that it's actually just it's been recently updated. And that is the fact sheet called parenting your adopted preschooler. And it is on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website. So the easiest way either the show notes will have the link in there. But if you want to just look it up, you could Google parenting your adopted preschooler and Child Welfare Information Gateway and you will be taken directly there or you can set the notes to this interview will be included. The link will be included there. Well, thank you so much, Jenna Howard, for being with us today to talk about talking with young children about adoption in birth parents. It's an important topic and we really appreciated your insights. Let me remind everybody that it is general information that we gave today. So if you've got specific questions about how this might apply to you and your family and your child, talked with your adoption or foster care
thanks for joining us, and I will see you next week.
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