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Out On Their Own

At school, children have to fend for themselves. Here are words they can live by. By Fran Eisenman

As our children enter the school-age years, they spend more time away from our sheltering presence. They’re pretty much on their own when it comes to social and verbal interactions at school. Among grade-schoolers, interactions about any personal subject can be emotion-laden. So we need to prepare our kids for exchanges about being adopted or looking different.

In all likelihood, you’ve already set the stage with honest, loving talks about your child’s adoption and how you formed your family. And she’s probably heard you speak proudly and comfortably to others about adoption. Chances are, she’s dealt with simple questions from young peers.

But now things may intensify. Children and adults may ask personal questions that are difficult to answer. Through discussion and practice, you can give your child the language—and the ease—to talk about her family without divulging private information.

What your child may hear: “How come your parents didn’t keep you?” or, “Where’s your real mother?”

How to prepare: Have casual conversations with your child about why birthparents make adoption plans. For example: “Sometimes the people who give birth to a baby (or have a child) are not able to take care of that baby. They may be too young, too poor, too alone, or too sick. Your birthparent could not take care of you, but cared enough about you to make an adoption plan, so somebody else could love and take care of you. That is how you came to be our child.” You can also reinforce that you are his parent, and the people who conceived and gave birth to him are his birthparents. By using appropriate words, your child can educate his friends and schoolmates in a way that preserves his self-esteem.

What your child may hear: “Too bad your real mother dumped you,” or, “Why do you have Chinese eyes? Your mom doesn’t.”

How to prepare: Some kids can be downright mean when it comes to differences. To prepare for this, suggest that your child respond with something like: “I guess you don’t know very much about me or about adoption. We can talk about something else.” If meanness persists, let your child know it’s her right to say, “My private stuff is none of your business. Please don’t talk to me about that again.”

You can also show your child that not all questions require an answer. You might respond to a query: “What you are asking is private family information, but if you’d like more information on adoption, I can give you a phone number that may help.”

Preparing our children for the outside world is a challenge. With adoption talk, as with other life issues, the keys to success are: information, understanding, and practice.

Fran Eisenman is a New England-based social worker and family counselor.

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