Explaining Adoption to Your Biological Child: Crucial Tips

Adopting a child involves so many emotions all at once. It is scary, overwhelming, thrilling, and so many other things all wrapped up in one. There are times when a family with biological children wishes to adopt a child, and one may ask themselves, how do I explain adoption to my biological child?

Explaining adoption to your biological child is done through open discussion, honesty, and allowing them to ask as many questions about the process as they wish. It is important that your biological children feel included in the adoption process.

When you choose to adopt a child, you are not only affecting your life, but the lives of everyone involved. The adopted child’s life will change, your life will change, and your biological children and extended family members’ lives will change.

It is important to be mindful of how the adoption process will affect your biological children, especially.

Before we dive into how to talk with our biological children about adoption, let’s first remind ourselves of some of the challenges we face.

A mother explaining adoption to her young daughter.

Those individuals outside the adoption community are apt to ask intrusive and insensitive questions that stem from the unfortunate stereotypes associated with adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, and the entire adoption process itself.

Sadly, there is generally so much focus on the adoption process and the adopted child, that the biological child’s needs accidentally become overlooked.

Biological children can be affected negatively as well as positively affected by including an adopted child in the family.

The relationship between siblings and the bonds they share is one of the most important parts of a family that a child will ever experience. Naturally, we will likely spend more time throughout our lives with our siblings than anyone else, as they will typically be around long after our parents have passed on.

Sibling relationships, however, are not without their challenges and are not always harmonious. Common are sibling rivalry, hidden resentments, hostility and aggression, and that all too famous green monster, jealousy.

For these reasons, it is important to think ahead as to how we can encourage the adoption transition to be as conformable as possible for your biological child.

A healthy transition into introducing adoption starts with an open dialog. Children can sense change, and when they feel left out of what is going on around them, it will create for them a very unsettling feeling full of constant wonder and worry.

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Be Open and Honest When Explaining Adoption

You may be asking yourself when is the best time to tell my biological child of our plans to add a new sibling to the family through adoption.

Should you wait until later when the process is becoming more official, or tell them from the very beginning during your early decision-making days?

Begin early on by starting a dialog with your biological child about adoption in in-general terms. Ask them what they have heard about adoption, and discuss the possible reasons a child may need to be rehomed.

Once the lines of communication are open, ask your child how they would feel if you opened your home to a child in need.

Share with your child that you have been considering adoption, and assure them that the decision to adopt a child is a family decision that you would like everyone to feel comfortable with.

When children feel included in family decision-making, it gives them a sense of importance. By including your child in your adoption decision, you are showing them you value their feelings and their feedback.

Remember that you do not necessarily have to discuss all aspects of adoption in one sitting.

Time permitting, perhaps break up your talks into separate talks to allow the adoption idea to sink in before covering the other topics below that will eventually need to be addressed.

Now that you have opened the lines of communication with your biological child, let them know that if they have any questions or concerns, you would be more than happy to listen.

Children are a part of the family, and they want to feel included in what is going on around them.

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Encourage Your Child to Talk About Adoption

The age of your child will determine how in-depth your discussions about adoption get, as well as the questions they would be inclined to ask you.

Do not be alarmed if you have an older child who does not seem too interested in discussing adoption. Teenagers especially can be very withdrawn about some things.

Perhaps asking your child open-ended questions would encourage them to open up with how they are feeling. Below are some ideas on what to ask your child to help get a dialog about adoption going.

  • How would you feel if we invited a child who needed a home into our family?
  • Do you have any concerns about having an adopted sibling?
  • How would you feel if your adopted sibling was of a different race or ethnicity?
  • Is there anything about the adoption idea that makes you uncomfortable?
  • Are there any positives you can think of if we ended up adopting a child?

The questions to ask can vary by the age of the child, your unique family dynamics, and your child’s comfort level.

Be careful not to push the envelope if you sense your child is hesitant to discuss adoption. They may be internalizing some worries and concerns they have not shared with you yet.

Providing you do not push them to talk, they should eventually open up to you.

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Be Emotionally Available For Your Child

According to an article on PBS.org written by Katie Hurley, LCSW, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, she discusses how children shut down and withdraw…until they end up on her couch.

Katie explains that children need to live in an emotionally safe environment where all feelings are accepted and validated.

When a child expresses fear or concern with us, responding with ‘It’s not a big deal’ or ‘Don’t worry’ only dismisses the child’s feelings leaving them to feel that how they feel is not important. To us, their concern might seem trivial, but to the child, their concern is real and deserves to be validated and listened to.

Head Start Study explains that when children are taught social and emotional skills, it has a positive impact on learning. Regrettably, many children feel dismissed by the adults in their lives when they attempt to express emotion.

Most parents mean well. They simply think they are toughening their child up in preparation for the hard knocks in life.

They feel that they are building emotional strength and confidence in their child by decreasing the whining and complaining.

Parents simply do not want to hear it, so they shut the child down without listening to them. Eventually, children who are shut down withdraw and think that their feelings are to be kept to themselves.

Promote an emotionally supportive home by allowing your child to communicate their frustrations, fears, and concerns.

Allow your child to feel and process their emotions, not only the positive ones. Listen to your child more than you speak. Resist the urge to fix and practice simply listening and validating how your child is feeling.

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Teach About Race & Ethnicity of Adopted Child

If you will be adopting a transracial child, start getting your biological child familiar with the differences in skin color, as well as cultural differences.

You may want to introduce an adopted child’s culture to your biological child through movies, books, and the toys you buy.

There will come a time when a transracial child will be faced with prejudice. Teach your biological child how to respond if and when they are confronted with a situation like that.

If other children are making unfavorable and ignorant comments about their newly adopted sibling of a different race or ethnicity, this can be confusing and unsettling to the biological sibling who is not prepared and does not know how to respond.

Responding to ignorance with love rather than anger is the best way to address the judgment of others.

If you plan on adopting internationally, chances are you will be faced with this situation more times than you can remember.

Embracing Your Adopted Child’s Heritage is a wonderful article, courtesy of FocusOnTheFamily.Com, that covers more on embracing your adopted child’s culture. Perhaps you could share this with your biological child.

Help your child learn more about their soon-to-be adopted sibling’s culture. Is there a restaurant in your area that offers a menu of foods similar to where the prospective adopted child is from?

Keep your eyes and ears open for cultural events that can be enjoyed.

Learning a new language can be fun. How about learning a few words and phrases in the native language of the adopted child with your biological child?

Watch documentaries on the culture and traditions of the adopted child’s birthplace. 

When it comes time to welcome your adopted child into your home, they will appreciate you taking the time to become familiar with his or her culture.

This in turn will help your adopted child feel more comfortable making the transition into a new home.

Explain that the Needs of the Adopted Child Will Differ

Depending on the age of the child you will be adopting will depend on the emotional baggage and trauma that your adopted child will be bringing with them.

Talk with your biological child to help educate them on the varying reasons why an adopted child may have different emotional needs and may then be treated differently.

Some adopted children come from neglect and abuse. Many adopted children were born to mothers who were addicted to drugs, which in turn created physical challenges that are passed on to the adopted child.

It will take time to see how the abuse, neglect, and other traumas have affected your adopted child. Educate your family to be prepared for behavior issues that will most certainly need to be attended to if they arise.

Your biological child may sense that you are giving your newly adopted child more attention.

This could be because the child was neglected and is desperate for love and attention from a parent.

Your biological child is more apt to understand and be fine with this as long as you are openly communicating your reasons for your interactions with your adopted child.

Jealousy is real and can come into play, even when the biological child logically knows why the adopted child is receiving special attention. Just be careful and do not play favorites.

Treat all siblings as equals. And as a side note, it’s always a good idea to spend one-on-one time with each of your children, too.

This also gives each of you private time to communicate with one another about growing concerns you may have.

Counseling May Be the Right Option For You

It is my option that all families who adopt a child should seek counseling.

Adoption affects everyone in different ways. You may have a spouse who has some concerns that you do not agree with and vice versa. Your biological child may be acting up and having a problem adjusting to having an adopted sibling.

Unless you adopted a newborn, your adopted child will more than likely need counseling to work through any possible traumas, neglect, or drug abuse he or she was subjected to.

For help finding a therapist in your area, visit Psychology Today.

Trina Greenfield - Adoption Author

About the Author:
Trina Greenfield is passionate about providing information to those considering growing their family. Trina does not run an adoption agency. Her website is strictly information-based, so she is able to provide unbiased, credible information that she hopes will help guide those along their journey.