Adopted children may face back-to-school anxieties about adjusting to a new environment, facing questions about their adoption, or separation anxiety. This year might be specifically challenging after the many changes schools had to adjust to for the COVID-19 pandemic. This fall might be the first time your child is going back to school full time, which can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.
Many adopted children, who may be doing well early on, can suddenly demonstrate negative and out-of-control behaviors once they start their academic careers. School environments present a tremendous challenge to many of our adopted children due to increased social interactions and the demands placed on their focus, concentration, and performance. Adopted children tend to have a high sensitivity to stress, with heightened states of anxiety. They become easily over-stimulated and overwhelmed. They communicate these unsettling feeling states through acting-out behaviors or by defiant and resistant behaviors.
The Children’s Bureau’s fact sheet, Adoption and School Issues, acknowledge that adopted children are often affected in two ways in school settings: educationally and socially. One example is that dealing with grief, loss, and trauma can overwhelm an adoptee, affecting their ability to concentrate during class. One social example is mocking from peers about their adoption. Potential taunts may address the fact that an adoptee does not physically resemble their adoptive family.
In Elementary School, children become increasingly aware of their surrounding environment and the world around them. At this stage, more expectations are placed on students. Homework assignments and the curriculum can become more challenging, and class time is dedicated to more core subjects. Adoptees may start to experience issues related to their adoption, such as feelings of loss and abandonment. These issues can add to a child’s difficulty with educational achievement and make learning disabilities more apparent.
In middle school and high school, children become critical thinkers. They have an understanding of reproduction and the impact of unplanned pregnancies. Teenagers can understand the circumstances that often lead birth parents to place their child for adoption. These factors combined can allow teenagers to have more informed conversations about adoption.
One of the most widely reported issues resulting from the lack of adoption-specific support is Family Tree assignments. Family Tree assignments can occur in varying degrees depending on the year of school but typically involves students completing a diagram or researching their family history.
Assignments like this can cause additional stress for adoptees and their parents for several reasons:
• There may be limited information about their birth family
• The format does not include birth adoptive and birth family members
• Reviewing an adoptee’s family history can intensify the pain from the loss of their birth parents
• Assignments with a rigid format may cause adoptees to feel isolated and prompt uncomfortable questions from their peers.
Parents’ role in their child’s education can impact their child’s educational experiences and learning. Advocating for your child can be important for educators to know ways to address adoption in the classroom and assignments. Parents can ask about the possibility of sharing educational materials with the school administration or teachers to better understand an adoptee’s educational experience. Furthermore, parents can have a direct conversation with the teacher about their child’s adoption and its implications on socialization, completing assignments, and understanding material.
Schools can also encourage the use of positive adoption language. One way is developing a team of school personnel trained to handle issues specifically related to adoption. School districts should also provide integrated support for adoptee students. Teachers, parents, and the school psychologist can develop a plan to suit the student’s needs.