By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, more than 120,000 kids are adopted in the United States every year. Adopted children are loved and cared for just like other kids. But it's natural for people who've been adopted to wonder about their biological families and where they came from. Birth parents have a variety of reasons for putting their children up for adoption; most decide that they want better lives for their children than they feel they can provide.

Parents with an adopted child wonder whether, when, and how to tell their child that he or she is adopted. They also long to know if adopted children face special problems or challenges. With a better understanding of the role adoption plays in your child's growth and development, you can help your child accept his own uniqueness and learn to be proud of who he is and how he helped form your family.

Children tend to become more curious about adoption during ages seven to eleven. They begin to realize that most other children live with at least one biological relative and understand that the way they joined their families is somewhat unusual. It is not uncommon for them to experience hurt, anger or sadness at what may feel like abandonment or rejection. They do not fully understand why they could not remain with their birth parents and may feel that their security in their adoptive family is uncertain. During adolescence, children begin to establish their sense of identity and to assert their independence. Adolescents who are adopted are interested in information about who they are and how they are unique individuals.

Hence, it is important to have an open and honest attitude about your child's adoption. Child and adolescent psychiatrists recommend that the child be told about their adoption in a way that they can understand. This helps give the message that adoption is not a bad thing or something to hide and that the child can trust the parents.

Here are a few tips to help you ease through the process of telling your child about adoption:

  • Talk to your child about adoption as soon as he/she begins to understand. These early discussions give you practice in talking about adoption and show your child that it is OK to bring up the topic. If you are uneasy that your child is not biologically yours, he/she will feel it.
  • While going through the adoption process, keep a scrapbook or journal and keep track of important dates and steps in the process. Take pictures of the people and places involved in your child's earlier life. Details about your child's earlier life and the adoption process will help make both easier to understand.
  • Several excellent children's story books are available in bookstores and libraries which can help parents tell the child about being adopted.
  • Most children enjoy the story about the day they were born. Talk to the adoptive child the joy your family felt when you brought him/her home for the first time and when you laid your eyes on the child for the first time.

If talking with your child about adoption is difficult, talk to a child and adolescent psychiatrist who can be a valuable source of support and understanding.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,