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AF answers your parenting questions.September/October 2006

Have a question? Ask our panel of experts.

Preschoolers ask about race

Q: Our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter will be going to preschool this year. She is biracial (Caucasian/East Indian). How can we prepare her for questions from her classmates about why her skin is brown?

A: Preschoolers are curious and uninhibited, and may well ask your daughter questions about her skin color. You'll want to enlist the teacher's help early in the school year, so that your daughter doesn't have to face these questions entirely on her own. You might put together a selection of age-appropriate books, such as We're Different, We're the Same, by Bobbi Kates, or The Colors of Us, by Karen Katz, to donate to the classroom—and volunteer to read one of them and discuss it with the class. Children this age benefit from books that explain that people look different in different parts of the world, with variations in hair and skin color, nose shape, and so on. This is the age when children should be encouraged to notice and accept differences in a non-judgmental way.

You'll also want to arm your daughter with simple answers to questions about her skin color. She might respond, for example, "I am this color because I'm part Indian." There's no need to explain in any detail beyond that.
—Deborah Johnson, M.S.W.
Program director and social worker, The Ties Program, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Birth family request for a closed adoption

Q: Although our child's birthparents are raising his birth siblings, they have been adamant about wanting no contact with our family. How can we explain this to our son?

A: Share the information you have with your child in an age-appropriate manner, and empathize with his desire to know more about his birthparents. It's OK to say that you wish he had contact with them, too.

Children may have difficulty understanding why their birthparents are parenting other children but not them, but it's important information to know. When discussing this with your son, it may help to focus on his birthparents' circumstances at the time of his placement—explain that they were already raising children, and realized that all of their children would have suffered if they had tried to parent another child.

Keep in mind that the birthparents' feelings may change over the years, and they may become receptive to some communication in the future. Let your adoption attorney know that you will welcome contact at any point in the future. You may want to initiate contact on your own in several years, or ask your attorney to do so on your behalf.

If your child becomes interested in contacting his birth family when he's older, don't discourage him. Even though the birthparents choose to have a closed adoption at the moment, their decision isn't set in stone!
—Kathleen Silber
Co-author of
Dear Birthmother and Children of Open Adoption

Sudden fears

Q: Our two-year-old daughter was adopted at 17 months and has adjusted well. In the last few weeks, however, she has developed fears of dogs, motorcycles, and bugs—none of which bothered her before. Is this developmental or is it adjustment?

A: It could be a little bit of both. Typically, kids develop worries and fears at around two-and-a-half to three years of age. Fears of loud sounds, dogs, and bugs are common. Your daughter may need your help managing her fears, as she may not have had much emotional regulation during the first year or so of her life.

Give her opportunities to "play" with bugs—you can use toys if real ones are too scary—and teach her about dogs and motorcycles. Read books about being brave (Kevin Henkes has written several good ones). If your daughter plays with dolls or stuffed animals, incorporate themes about fear into the play. For example, ask her what the mommy should do when the baby is scared of a loud noise, or what the daddy can do to help the little bunny when the fire truck scares him.

Respect your daughter's fears and help her develop skills to manage them. Communicate your confidence in her ability to master them.
—Diana Schwab, M.Ed.
International Health Services of Western Pennsylvania

Prospective parents' health

Q: Could chronic depression (for which I take medication) affect my chances of adopting? I'm worried about the homestudy.

A: As long as your depression is well-controlled by the medication, it should not prevent you from adopting. You will need to ask your doctor for a written statement certifying that you are fit to care for a child.
—The editors of AF

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