Tools for Telling Your Child About Their Adoption Story

The following article was written by Madeleine Melcher

Madeleine Melcher is an adoptee, an author, mother of three blessings of adoption, and the owner of Our Journey to You, where she has helped countless prospective adoptive parents create adoption portfolios, with great success.Parents reading with child

I was thinking the other day about how I have preached to others about ensuring their child knows from the start that he or she came to be a part of their family through adoption. About how important it is, not to set them apart as “the adopted child”, but because it is their story, a part of them and they should always know it is a part of their story. But I have found that I am seeing a lot of questions about HOW to do it with little folks before they can truly understand the concept of adoption—how to not make it an event of telling them, rather for him or her to just always know.

I was about 14 months old when I was adopted. I do not have any memory of the first time my parents talked to me about adoption and that is because they just always let it be a part of my story. Children LOVE to hear their story. Whether they are biological children that want to hear about the 10 hours their mother spent in labor, or children of adoption who want to hear about how you got the news that you would be a family, all children want to hear their story. From the very beginning, I talked to my children all the time—from the second I held them as infants I told them how loved they were, how wanted they were. These are the beginnings of their story. Do not make this harder than it is. You are telling their story, the story of how you became a family.

Here are a few things you can use to help you along as you introduce your child’s story to them:

Mementos – One of my children has a blanket that was given to them at the hospital where they were born. If your child has a special blanket or gift they were given when they were born it is a good place to begin. Don’t feel like you have to make giant formal moments out of these things, you may just be in their room and spy their lil blanket, bear or piggy bank and say something like, “oh, you know when you were born the nice nurses gave this to you in the hospital and snuggled you up in it until we could get there…we drove as fast as we could for 12 hours before we finally got there. We could not wait to hold you for the first time…” or “Aw, Benny Bear has been with us a long time. Your birthmother chose him especially for you before you were even born…” Even if it is something you bought before they arrived, you can start the conversation with how you just could not wait for them to arrive, or you were thinking about them before you had ever held them in your arms—and then go into the story. They are natural transitions.

Pictures/Albums/Baby Books – Take walks down memory lane. Children LOVE to look at pictures of themselves. Even toddlers feel grown up looking at newborn pictures, pointing and saying, “Baby! Baby!” and love hearing that the picture is of them. Let the pictures help you tell the story. This is not hard. Really it is not a whole lot harder than parents who have their children biologically, trying to explain how the baby got in there. Just like that is not a topic that biological parents are including in their story right away, you will not be including some of the more adult aspects of adoption in your story. Save those for later when it is more age appropriate. If you have a picture of your child’s birthmother, you can use the picture to help you to talk about her. If you share an open adoption with visits, your child may already recognize the birth family, but telling the story more will help your child piece together their context as much as they can at their age.

My children also enjoy looking at their baby books. We look at pictures and little footprints and talk about what it says we were doing before and after they were born. They love it because it is all about them! You can also use the pictures you hang in their room to start the story. They do not have to be finalization pictures, pictures of when you first held them, or pictures of an adoption day party—but they can be if that helps you more to have pictures from an adoption related activity.

Children’s Picture Books about Adoption – There are many children’s books about adoption these days (at my last check, a search of “adoption picture books” on Amazon had 311 results). You will find that the more books you read, the more you will realize that there is not really one book that perfectly fits your child’s adoption story. That is because it is THEIR story. Don’t worry though, these books are an ice breaker. My kiddos loved for me to read,Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born. We all loved the funny illustrations and were tickled by some of the lines in the story, but the best thing about it for me, was it gave me the opportunity to open it up and talk to my children about THEIR story. For example, though our adoptions were domestic infant adoptions like the one in the book, we did not fly on a plane. No worries, it gave me a chance to tell what we DID do! There are many titles for all kinds of adoption now. There are even international adoption titles that are country specific. Just tell the child’s story in the book and then tell your child’s story. If you like, glue a piece of paper to the end of the book and write your child’s story on it and maybe glue a picture there, or create your own book with a service like Shutterfly. Use pictures that tell your child’s story and write easy-to-read text that your child may enjoy reading TO YOU one day!

Your family story is one of love. Do not make this part of things harder than it has to be. Just tell them their story in a loving, easy to understand way from as early an age as possible—then there will never be a time they remember “finding out”—it will always just be their story. Oh, I almost forgot the best thing you can use—YOUR LAP. Just sit your little one on it and talk to them. Honesty and good communication starts now! (and enjoy your snuggles, they’re the best part!)