The best age to tell your child that he or she was adopted

Written by Lisa H. Warren – original post from Helium.com

Children may be adopted at any age. Those adopted old enough to recall the event grow up knowing they were adopted. When a child is adopted as an infant or toddler there is the question of which age is the right age to tell a child he was adopted.

While opinions may differ regarding the exact, best, age to tell a child he’s adopted; most parents today understand that it’s best when a child grows up feeling he’s “always known”. Most know, too, that it makes no sense to tell a six-month-old infant, or even an eighteen-month-old toddler, he was adopted. Babies and toddlers don’t have the language skills to understand, and even a three-year-old will not recall what he was told at six months old.

The best time to tell a child may be at the earliest age when he has the language and general cognitive development to understand what he is being told, and what it means.

So, how can a parent know when a young child has reached the right stage of development? As with most other areas of development, children generally send signals that they’ve reached a new stage of development. One such signal for all children (not just adopted children) is that inevitable discussion about “where babies come from”. For adopted children the “where-babies-come-from” discussion can be the perfect time to explain that even though babies “grow inside ladies”, sometimes the lady who has the baby is not the one who will be his mother.

Some children as young as two may have good enough language development to have had Mommy explain where a soon-to-arrive baby sibling is growing. It could be an aunt or other close adult who has an obvious baby bulge (and maybe a brand new nursery in her home). Children who haven’t yet experienced having an expectant Mommy may ask where babies come from at around three. Some parents just make it a point to have the discussion with their young child, or to read him a book about where babies come from. Generally (and, again, depending on the child’s language skills), the “where-babies-come-from” discussion usually arises (at least in some very simple way) during the fourth year; with some children being more in the area of two-and-a-half, and others being nearer to their fourth birthday.

With children who have not been adopted, parents can have the luxury of waiting for the child to ask. In view of the fact that allowing a child to “just always know” means telling him early, adoptive parents may be wise not to allow a child to get too close to four before having the discussion.

Even when a child hasn’t asked, however, it’s still possible to get a reading on how ready he is, just by finding a way to bring up the the subject of a woman expecting a baby. Most children in this age range will have some questions (as compared to, say, a 20-month-old child who is likely to act “oblivious” to the news).

Once it is clear that a child is capable of understanding that a baby grows inside a woman, the “extra information” that not all women who have babies raise them can seem like “just more information” to the very young child. When a child has been given this information as soon as he is capable of understanding it, he will grow up feeling as if he’s “just always known”. Keep in mind that being told young enough to grow up feeling as if he’s “just always known” is a very different thing from growing up feeling as if he’s “always being told”. One well timed, initial, discussion (when a child is old enough to remember it), followed by answering questions as they arise; can be one good way to prevent a child from growing up feeling he’s “always being told”.

Keeping things simple and age-appropriate can keep the information from being of the variety that requires a lot of processing. Follow-up questions can be addressed when they arise.

A simple, early, approach to telling a child he’s an adopted child can lay a basic foundation on which more information can be shared, as the child reaches different developmental stages that call for different types of information.

When you look at the face of the tiny child you love every bit as much as you would love a child to whom you gave birth, it can seem as there is will never be a “right” time to share information you fear could hurt him in some way. Sometimes it helps to keep looking at that sweet, trusting, face and ask yourself if you ever want to lose that trust your child has in you. When told early enough, and in a way appropriate for a young child’s age, the truth doesn’t have to hurt.

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One response to “The best age to tell your child that he or she was adopted

  1. Unfortunately for adoptees the truth does hurt at some point in their lives.

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