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Common Post-Adoption Issues: Coping With Insensitive Comments

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

When adopted children physically resemble the parents who have adopted them, it is not obvious that an adoption has occurred, and it less likely that people will think to ask about adoption. This is not often the case with interracial adoptions, where it is obvious that the parents and child are not related by birth. Some people the family meets are likely to ask questions about the adoption or in an unsolicited manner share their viewpoints on adoption and whether or not it was appropriate to adopt a child from another race or culture. This type of attention can quickly become annoying and even hurtful if parents do not take steps to shut it down immediately. Ignoring such questions, or calmly and assertively stating that the topic is not something that is open for discussion, are often good ways to quiet nosey strangers. A more nuanced approach is appropriate when touchy questions have been asked by people the family knows to be well meaning and sincere. In such a case, adoptive parents need to look at the questioner's motives for asking, which may stem from a genuine lack of knowledge rather than a desire to harm or take delight in others' discomfort. Parents may want to provide education concerning adoption to people they believe have a sincere desire to know more about their choice; however, they are under no obligation to do so. It is perfectly acceptable and okay if they choose to not discuss or engage questions regarding the adoption.

speech bubbleAs adoptive children grow and are able to understand language, adoptive parents may become concerned that others' careless or offensive comments might hurt their child's feelings. Sensitive adoptive children may also fall victim to teasing and bullying at school, where other children taunt them for being adopted. The best way parents can help their children to cope with such threats is to prepare them to shrug off such worries as best as possible by educating them about their adoption early on in their developmental process. In addition to describing the mechanics of adoption, this educational effort should also communicate to children how much they are loved by their birth parents and their adoptive parents. Concerned parents can role-play with children what to do and say when they are confronted with teasing or insensitive comments. They can communicate to their children that oftentimes when mean things are said, it is because the other child or adult is either not educated about adoption or is just trying to make them upset. The more perspective parents can help their children achieve concerning why another person would harm them, the more freedom from having to become upset when taunted the child can achieve.

Rather than making adoption something to live down or something that other kids don't have to live with, the family can go out of its way to make adoption something special and unique. For example, parents can celebrate "Adoption Day" each year with a party, or write letters to the child telling him or her how excited they are to have the child join their family. The important thing is to reinforce the child’s comfort with and pride at being a part of the family and to work to make sure they do not internalize a message that anything is wrong with them because adoption has occurred.