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Should you tell your kid they’re adopted?

Telling a child they are adopted is a very personal decision that adoptive parents need to make. There are many things to consider when deciding if, when and how to have this conversation. Adoption experts generally recommend being open with children about their adoption from an early age. However, every child and family is unique, so there is no one right way to handle it. This article explores the key considerations around telling a child they are adopted and provides advice on how to approach this sensitive topic.

Should you tell a child they are adopted?

The short answer is yes, in most cases adoptive parents should tell their child they are adopted. Here are some of the main reasons why experts recommend telling a child about their adoption:

  • Being open helps the child understand their story. Adopted children have a different life story to their peers. Knowing they are adopted allows them to make sense of their background.
  • It avoids difficult revelations later on. If not told young, the child may feel shocked and betrayed when they eventually find out the truth about their adoption.
  • Secrecy can make a child feel ashamed. If adoption is treated as a taboo subject, the child may feel there is something bad or embarrassing about it.
  • Honesty builds a strong parent-child bond. Open communication helps create trust and sets the tone for a secure relationship.
  • It gives them access to support. The child can access adoption-specific services and connect with others in the adoption community.

The only situations where experts recommend not telling a child about an adoption is when the birth parents have requested confidentiality or there are serious concerns about the child’s ability to understand or accept the information. Even in these cases, most experts argue the benefits of openness outweigh any potential risks.

When should you tell a child they are adopted?

Ideally, children should be told about their adoption from as early an age as possible. Many experts recommend starting the conversation before the child turns four years old. Here are some guidelines on when to broach the subject:

  • Infancy – Mention adoption casually in everyday conversation. This plants the seed for more in-depth conversations later.
  • Ages 2-4 – Have simple, age-appropriate conversations about their adoption story. Use picture books and role play with dolls/toys.
  • Ages 5-7 – Provide more details about their adoption process. Answer direct questions honestly but keep it simple.
  • Age 8+ – Give a fuller picture of their background and birth family if known. Invite questions and feelings.

The goal is to make adoption part of everyday life so it feels like a natural, positive thing to the child. With an open approach from the start, there is no need for a big “reveal” conversation. The news should never come as a shock.

How do I tell my child they are adopted?

When you have decided it is time to start discussing adoption with your child, here are some tips on how to approach the initial conversations:

  • Pick a relaxed, cozy time when you can give them your full attention.
  • Use simple, concrete language appropriate for their age.
  • Emphasize that they grew in another womb/tummy but you are still their real forever family.
  • Avoid any negative framing (e.g. you couldn’t grow in mommy’s tummy).
  • Let them take the lead with questions – don’t overload them with details.
  • Acknowledge and validate any feelings of confusion, worry or sadness.
  • Use books and resources designed for adopted children.
  • Make adoption conversations a routine part of everyday life.

The initial discussions should be focused on ensuring the child understands they are loved, wanted and will always be your child. Further details can be explored gradually over time.

How do I explain biological parents?

One of the most challenging parts of adoption conversations is explaining the role of the child’s biological parents. Here are some tips on handling this:

  • Use neutral language like “birth parent/s” rather than negative terms like “real” or “natural”.
  • If they ask, explain in simple terms why they could not take care of a baby.
  • Avoid criticizing or blaming the birth parents.
  • It’s okay to say you don’t have all the answers about their birth family.
  • Reassure them that their birth parents love them and wanted the best for them.
  • Emphasize they can ask any questions and you will always tell the truth.
  • Let them know you are open to contact with birth family when they are older.

The conversations should validate their natural curiosity about their origins while making clear that you are their true family. Some adopted children have no interest in their birth parents while others want to know more – follow their lead.

How do I talk to my child about a closed adoption?

In a closed adoption, there is limited or no information available about the child’s birth family and no option for contact. This can make adoption conversations more challenging but honesty is still the best approach:

  • Validate any disappointment but emphasize that closed adoptions used to be more common.
  • Reassure them that lack of information is not due to something they did.
  • Explain you wish you could provide more background but can only share the limited details you have.
  • Let them know they can always ask questions and express their feelings.
  • Comfort them that you are their family and where they belong.
  • Talk to their adoption agency about any possibility of accessing background info.
  • Seek out adoption groups where they can connect with others in similar situations.

While a closed adoption presents unique challenges, shielding a child from the truth can risk greater harm down the line. Handled with sensitivity, children have the capacity to cope with not knowing their origins.

What if my child gets upset?

It is common – and normal – for children to have big feelings like sadness, anger or insecurity after adoption talks. Here are some tips for responding:

  • Let them cry and express difficult emotions without trying to “fix” it immediately.
  • Offer empathy, understanding and reassurance that you accept how they feel.
  • Resist defending their birth family or your decision to adopt them.
  • Help put words to their complex emotions and fears.
  • Reassure them that you are their permanent, loving family no matter what.
  • Avoid describing their reactions as oversensitive or inappropriate.
  • Consider counseling to help them process their feelings in a healthy way.

Strong negative reactions are not a sign you did something wrong. This is a profound issue for a child to absorb. With unconditional support, their emotions usually balance out over time.

What language should I use when talking about adoption?

The language used to discuss adoption can have a big impact. Here are some tips on choosing sensitive, ethical terminology:

  • Say “adoption” rather than “adopted child.” The latter defines them by adoption.
  • Talk about “making an adoption plan” not “giving up” the child.
  • “Birth parent/s” not “real/natural parent/s.” The adoptive parents are the real parents.
  • “Chosen child” not “unwanted child.” The choice was difficult but necessary.
  • Say they “joined” your family not that you “got” or “received” them.
  • Describe them as “growing in another womb/tummy,” not that they came from someone else.

Subtle language cues convey fundamental messages about their worth, belonging and identity. Always emphasize their permanence in your family using sensitive, strengths-based words.

How do I talk about adoption as they get older?

As adopted children move through different developmental stages, your adoption conversations must evolve accordingly:

School Years

  • Reassure them you are happy to attend school events and talk to teachers/peers about their adoption.
  • Prepare them for assignments like family trees which may be uncomfortable.
  • Discuss whether they want to share their adoptive status with classmates.
  • Keep lines of communication open as they expand their worldview.


  • Be ready for behaviors like rejection, anger or excessive independence – understand it may relate to adoption.
  • Empathize with their desire to be the same as peers and find their identity.
  • Respect wishes for more privacy but make clear you remain ready to talk.
  • Ensure they know the full details of their adoption before they reach adulthood.


  • Support their interest in contacting birth family while also respecting any reluctance.
  • Let them guide the level of your involvement in their adoption journey.
  • Be open-minded if they want to search for birth parents independently.
  • If they become parents, talk through how they wish to discuss adoption with their own kids.

Adoption is a lifelong journey. While details may change, the need for openness, honesty and empathy remains as children mature.

How do I support my child through stigma/bullying?

Sadly, adopted children may face insensitive comments or bullying from peers as a result of societal prejudice:

  • Equip them with simple comebacks to hurtful remarks e.g. “My parents chose me and I’m proud of that.”
  • Role play responding to bullies so they build confidence standing up to them.
  • Talk regularly about diversity, empathy and respect for all families.
  • Ensure teachers know to intervene if adoption is referenced by bullies.
  • Limit exposure to media/books conveying stigmatizing adoption narratives.
  • Connect them with other adoptees to reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Provide a consistently loving, secure home environment.

While impossible to completely shield them from ignorance, arming them with self-esteem and coping strategies can minimize hurtful impacts.

How do I talk about differences in our appearance/background?

If parents and child don’t share the same ethnic background, it’s important to address this openly:

  • Note differences matter-of-factly from an early age during daily activities e.g. “Mommy’s skin is light like vanilla and yours is dark like chocolate.”
  • Ensure books and toys reflect diverse races to normalize varying appearances.
  • Teach them about their birth country/culture and provide related experiences.
  • Find role models who look like them and share a similar heritage.
  • Answer questions about their birth family’s appearance honestly.
  • Discuss diversity, racism and prejudice using language they understand.
  • If asked, explain that families can be created through love, not just blood.

Noting differences (like hair texture, skin color etc.) as intriguing and enriching rather than problematic is key. Transracial adoptees face extra challenges which require active awareness and effort on the parents’ part.

Should I worry if my child is uninterested in adoption?

It is common for adopted children to show little interest in their adoption, especially when young. Reasons may include:

  • They are focused on daily life and see you as their “real” parents.
  • It feels normal to them as it’s all they have known.
  • They unconsciously avoid complex feelings adoption evokes.
  • Certain ages and stages are more adoption-centric than others.
  • Personality differences mean some are more inquisitive.

Lack of curiosity does not mean the child is unaffected by their adoption. Continue to make adoption part of everyday conversation so the door remains open over time. Avoid probing if they seem reluctant.

How can I support my child’s adoption journey?

Parenting an adopted child involves unique challenges and responsibilities. Here are some tips to provide ongoing support:

  • Educate yourself thoroughly on adoption issues and trauma impacts.
  • Connect with adoption groups, events and other adoptive families.
  • Celebrate adoption milestones like “Family Day” annually.
  • Use adoption-sensitive language and lead by example.
  • Advocate against negative adoption stereotypes and stigma.
  • Create opportunities for them to explore their heritage and birth culture.
  • Let their emotions and questions guide when and how much to discuss adoption.
  • Validate their concerns and feelings without judgment or denial.
  • Seek counseling from adoption-aware professionals if needed.

Remember,parenting an adoptee is an evolving journey. By making adoption open and positive, you can help them integrate it into their self-identity in a healthy way.


Deciding how and when to tell a child about their adoption is complex. While intricacies vary in each family, the overarching message from experts is that openness is best. Age-appropriate honesty encourages security and trust in the adoptive relationship. Handled sensitively at their pace, adopted children are able to absorb life-changing information. Most importantly, ensuring they know they are safe, wanted and loved forever, regardless of where they began life, enables them to embrace adoptive identity wholeheartedly.