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Talking to Your Tween about Adoption

Talking to Your Tween about Adoption

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Updated on May 21, 2014

Worried about having “the talk” with your child? No, not that talk. You've decided it's time to tell your child he was adopted, and it can be a terrifying task for any loving parent. But discussing adoption-related issues with preteens doesn't have to be complicated or stressful.

Many parents already have experience talking about awkward issues, such as drugs, alcohol, sexual awareness and Internet predators, with their preteens. By using the same guiding principles when talking about adoption, parents can engage in open and honest communication. Preteens will benefit most when the information is presented in a developmentally appropriate manner, when the facts are nonjudgmental, and when the preteen has some control over the direction of the conversation.

Parents often wonder when and how often to bring up adoption. As a general rule, let the child take the lead. If she does not bring up adoption, using ordinary events in day-to-day life can be a good conversation starter. Newspaper articles, movies and books provide opportunities to bring up adoption. Birthdays are another timely occasion to bring up adoption-related issues. If the child resists attempts to talk about her adoption, then let it go for the time. There are adoptees that have no interest in talking about their adoption. That’s okay, too.

Some parents decide not to tell their child about being adopted. There are occasions when this is truly in the best interest of the child. This is a risky decision, though. There's a chance that a family member or a close friend will let the secret slip. Even if the secret is kept by others, preteens can be sneaky at times. Some children are curious about what is in their parents’ hiding places. Others might just find tell-tale papers by accident. Parents must ask themselves if the benefits of keeping the secret outweigh the potential risk of them finding out on their own.

The preteen years in particular are marked by rapid development in higher-level thinking processes. Preteens begin to analyze more complex information regarding relationships and life experiences. This brain development is what prompts adoptees to consider questions such as why they were placed for adoption, how the decision was made to place them for adoption, and how their life might be different had they not been adopted. They also start wondering what personality traits they inherited and if they have common interests with their birth parents. This is just a normal stage of adolescence for an adopted teenager.

Unfortunately, the brain does not mature equally in all areas. Preteens still have difficulty making judgments and regulating their emotions. Despite their increased ability to consider others’ perspectives, preteens continue to view situations as either good or bad. They may not be able to understand that in some situations there is a gray area that makes judgment difficult, including the reasons birth parents place children for adoption. At this point, complicated and detailed explanations are probably best left until they're mature enough to handle the emotional aspects of their specific birth circumstances. Although every child is different, simple explanations emphasizing that their birth parents could not take care of a child at that time are generally best.

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