How to Talk About Adoption at School


The back-to-school mania has begun, and for some of us, we have an extra item on our to-do list:

decide what to say (or not to say) to the school about our child’s adoption.

To be clear, just because our child was adopted doesn’t mean we owe that information to the teacher or school. It isn’t a requirement. In many cases, a child may want to keep that information private, and that is understandable. In other situations, a child’s delays, sensitivities, medical needs, or learning styles may necessitate a conversation with the teacher.

Here are 3 things to keep in mind.

1. Some details should be kept private.

No doubt, whatever we choose to tell a teacher or school employee will be because we want empathy and understanding for our child. That said, we do not need to share all the details of our child’s past. If our child was conceived as a result of rape, or if our child was discovered abandoned in a field, or if our child’s birth mother lives across town–those details (and hundreds of others) may not make a direct impact on the school experience. Sharing may only serve to exploit our child’s past.

Keep in mind, school employees talk to each other. What you think you may be sharing with one person could inadvertently be shared with many. Also, significant damage can occur if your child hears certain details from anyone other than you or learns that a teacher knows deeply personal things.

“As parents, we must commit to walking the fine line of wholeheartedly advocating for our child at school while fiercely protecting the parts of her story that belong only to her.”

2. School employees need to learn, too.

Plain and simple, not all teachers and employees understand or value adoption. Like any other issue in education, each teacher will have a unique understanding and approach. And it will be shaped by his or her previous experiences.

If at first, the teacher demonstrates what feels to you like a lack of sensitivity on the matter, keep in mind that you were once (and perhaps not that long ago) unaware of the complex issues surrounding adoption. It may have taken more than one conversation for you to be convinced that children from hard places require different teaching strategies.

Additionally, God may have put you and your family in this school employee’s path to help gently educate and inform in a way that impacts future students. If at all possible, give the teacher time and grace to learn and love your child. Support the teacher wherever you can, and understand that your child needs exposure to different teaching styles and varying levels of expectation in order to grow–as we all do!

“Many teacher/student relationships that have started poorly have ended in powerfully positive ways.”

3. Sensitivity and flexibility go a long way.

Navigating school projects or understanding the nature of student teasing can feel daunting. As parents, sometimes we feel the impact of these sensitive issues even more acutely than our kids because we know what is being asked of them and we know what they cannot provide.

Understanding when to act and when to wait can be tricky, but one thing is certain. Our kids will quite often take their emotional cues from us. So if we learn to celebrate the “All About Me” project and refuse to stress over the autobiographical timelines … if we respond to the bring-a-baby-photo challenge in innovative ways and arm our child with kind and clever responses to childish teasing, we accomplish at least two things:

  1. We don’t burn the bridge we need to educate others on the complexities of adoption.
  2. We arm our children with flexibility and confidence for life.

Life is hard, and demonstrating flexibility in the face of frustration teaches our children to do the same.

So another school year is upon us. Soon it will be time for our kids to don their new clothes and pose for their (humiliating) first-day-of-school photos on the front porch. One of the parenting secrets nobody told us?–we may have graduated many years ago, but we as parents never really leave school or the need to learn.

Seeking to Adopt?