How Did I Get Here: Explaining Adoption to the Child

by Deborah N. Silverstein and Sharon Kaplan

Excerpted from “Parents advised of ways to explain abandonment to children”, Adopted Child, 15 2, February, 1996

Most developmental psychologists believe that a child cannot think abstractly until approximately age 12. It also takes a while for the adolescent to feel comfortable and adept at thinking abstractly. Abstract thinking translates into being able to view circumstances from the point of view of others; at this time an individual can take the motives, and intentions of others into consideration.

Most if not all adopted children struggle with the question of why they were placed for adoption. Some resolve this question with surprising ease, while others may grapple with feelings of being abandoned for most of their life. During adolescence, a child can more readily understand the circumstances and emotions that may have been involved in a decision to release a child for adoption.

Information about the birth parents is important to be able to explain to children the possible religious, economic, social, or emotional factors in the decision to place a child for adoption. The fact that it often takes a great deal of selflessness to release a child for adoption may not be enough to mitigate the child’s feeling that they were not “wanted”.

Since adoptees need the ability to think abstractly before they can understand that their release was not a “personal” rejection (how can someone reject you when they haven’t even had a chance to know “who” you are), a young child should be told more concrete information. They need solid images to understand complicated events beyond their memory. Consequently, parents need to construct a “story” that is accurate but does not contain all the details.

Not surprisingly, children who have developed a good sense of self-esteem through consistent, credible messages, may have a less difficult time coming to the realization that their release for adoption was not a “personal” rejection.

Resource Library:

Order adoption books from the Online Bookstore where every purchase supports the work of finding families for children.

Looking for STATISTICS on adoption?

Visit the Children’s Bureau website.

View the directory of employers offering adoption benefits at Adoption and the Workplace.