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Should you tell your adopted child?

Deciding whether or not to tell your adopted child about their adoption is a very personal choice that only you can make as a parent. Here are some common questions and considerations as you navigate this decision:

Is it better to tell them when they are young or wait until they are older?

There are benefits to telling a child earlier (by age 5-7) before they can form memories and understand the full meaning. It allows them to always know and removes the feeling of secrecy. However, if your child is older, you’ll want to tell them before they find out from someone else to build trust. Overall, there is no “perfect” age – choose based on your child’s maturity and your comfort level.

How much information should you share?

Focus on simple, child-friendly explanations at younger ages. As they grow older, you can share more details about their birth story if known. Be prepared to answer follow-up questions, but don’t overwhelm them with too much at once. The most important thing is ensuring they feel safe, loved and know you are their parents no matter what.

Will telling them disrupt your bond or attachment?

Children may react in different ways initially depending on their age, but being adopted does not change your role as their parent. With time, support and open communication, your bond will remain strong and telling them reinforces that you are building your relationship on trust and honesty.

How do I bring up the conversation?

Here are some tips when having the initial conversation:

  • Choose a comfortable, private setting without distractions
  • Have resources ready (adoption books, photos, etc)
  • Reassure them that you are and always will be their parents
  • Let them lead with questions, answer honestly but simply
  • Afterwards, give extra love and reassurance and let them process

Stay patient, this may be the first of many ongoing conversations about their adoption.

How might they react emotionally?

Reactions vary greatly, but may include:

  • Curiosity and asking lots of questions
  • Confusion, sadness, or anger initially
  • Withdrawal as they process the news
  • Little noticeable reaction

Whatever the reaction, give them space and time to adjust. Convey that all feelings are okay. Offer counselling if they are struggling.

Here is an example conversation outline you can adapt:

“Do you remember how we read that book about adoption? Well, I have something I want to share with you about our family… When you were born, we were so happy to become your parents. We love you so much. But another woman gave birth to you – so you grew in her tummy instead of mommy’s tummy. Then we adopted you, which means we chose you to be our daughter/son and officially became your parents. Adoption is actually pretty common, and many families are created that way. What questions do you have for me? I want you to know that you being adopted does not change how much we love you. And it doesn’t change that you are our child, now and always.”

How do I support my child after telling them?

Here are some tips for providing ongoing support:

  • Keep communicating openly and allow them to ask questions
  • Give plenty of reassurance that your family bond is secure
  • Connect them with other adoptees for support if interested
  • Provide adoption-specific counselling if struggling with emotions
  • Celebrate adoption milestones together like “Family Day”
  • Read books and watch movies featuring positive adoption narratives
  • Consider having them meet their birth parent(s) if an open adoption and it feels right

The key is making them feel loved, accepted, and proud of their adoption story.

What if they don’t want anyone else to know?

Respect their privacy. Don’t share about the adoption with others without your child’s consent. Remind extended family members not to mention it if your child isn’t ready. When your child is older, check in if they want to keep it private or be more open.

Am I required to tell them legally?

There is no legal requirement for adoptive parents to disclose to the child that they are adopted. The choice is left up to individual families. However, adoption experts overwhelmingly recommend telling children, ideally from an early age.

What resources are available?

Here are some great resources for navigating this discussion:

  • Adoption counsellors – help guide your approach
  • Books – stories for different age groups to facilitate conversation
  • Support groups – connect with other adoptive families
  • Therapists – help address emotional needs and identity questions

Seek support from your adoption agency, pediatrician, or local community resources.

How do I reflect on my own feelings first?

This can bring up many emotions for parents too. Before talking with your child:

  • Process your own thoughts and concerns about disclosing
  • Discuss with your partner about how you will broach the subject
  • Resolve any insecurities or sadness around infertility/adoption journey
  • Be prepared to answer questions about birth parents
  • Consider your child’s age and maturity level

Having inner clarity will help you have the discussion with confidence and compassion.

Here is a table summarizing the key considerations:

Age Pros Cons
Young childhood (age 5-7) – Only know this narrative
– Easier to understand
– Less feeling of secrecy
– Limited maturity/questions
– Need to revisit again later
Older childhood (age 8-12) – Mature enough to process
– More capable of “big feelings”
– Risk of feeling lied to
Teenage – Can fully understand
– Finding identity
– Heightened emotions
– Risk of acting out

There are good reasons for each age range. Do what feels right for your family!

How do I know if they understand and are coping okay?

Signs your child is adjusting well:

  • Asking thoughtful questions
  • Seeming comfortable bringing it up
  • Talking openly with trusted friends/family
  • Appearing secure in your parental relationship
  • Showing interest in adoption origins if known

Watch for changes in behavior, anxiety, acting out, or withdrawal which may indicate they need extra support.

What challenges might come up down the road?

Potential challenges to be prepared for:

  • Identity questions during adolescence
  • Curiosity about birth parents later in life
  • Feeling different from peers as an adoptee
  • Desire to find and connect with biological relatives
  • Struggling with attachment or fear of abandonment

Keep communicating openly and be ready to get outside support if needed. Each adoptee’s journey is unique.

How do I build their confidence as an adoptee?

You can nurture adoptee pride in many ways:

  • Celebrate adoption milestones together
  • Surround them with other adoptive families
  • Affirm that families are created in many ways
  • Share positive adoption role models and stories
  • Support their interest in birth culture if applicable
  • Talk about strengths that come with being adopted

Most importantly, remind them daily how much you love them and that adoptive bonds are as strong as any others.


Disclosing adoption to your child can feel daunting, but being open builds trust and understanding. Have conversations early, tailored to their age, and provide ongoing support. Respect your child’s emotions, privacy and curiosity. With love and honesty, your adoptive relationship will only grow stronger. You’ve got this!