Telling an Older Child They Are Adopted: What Is the Best Approach?

Ideally, you should tell your child about their adoption as early as possible. Many adoptive families begin when their children are infants (if they pursued an infant domestic adoption). However, if you find yourself needing to tell your older child about their adoption, there are ways to do so that will make it easier for them to navigate the feelings and questions that will naturally arise. Following are some tips for telling your older child that they are adopted, and for keeping the conversation going over time.

child adoption 

Tell your child soon.

If you have yet to tell your older child about their adoption, the best strategy is to tell them right away. Delaying the conversation further can lead to resentment or confusion on your child’s part when they find out that you have kept such an important piece of information from them.

In fact, you may find that your child has already noticed signs that they were not born into your family. Many children who were not told about their adoption until they were grown noticed details (such as a lack of pregnancy pictures) that made them suspect that they were not biological children. Feeling as if there is a secret in the family can create a sense of distrust or confusion in children. As a result, by telling your child right away about their adoption, you can answer any questions they have, reassure them of your love, and create an environment of openness and trust in your family.


Tell your child regularly.

Once you do tell your older child about their adoption, it will be important for you to discuss their adoption with them regularly. One of the main reasons for doing so is to make adoption a normal and non threatening topic in your home. When children regularly hear the word “adopted,” they learn that it is a safe topic to talk about. Even if you have put off telling your child about their adoption, you can use regular conversations to establish a comfortable environment around the subject now.

In addition, discussing adoption regularly with your child helps them to process the subject better than if it is introduced once and then dropped. Your child may think of different questions to ask as they take the time to process the information you have given them. As they continue to grow, they will also begin to think about different aspects of their adoption that they will want to talk about (i.e. a 3 year old may not be curious about why their birth mother placed them for adoption, but an 8 year old may want to know). By making adoption a natural topic of discussion, you give your child regular opportunities to ask their questions.


Emphasize that your child is wanted and loved.

Learning that they are adopted can stir up many different emotions in your child. They may struggle with feelings of rejection when they learn that their birth mother placed them for adoption. They may grieve the loss of their birth family. They may even feel anger or resentment toward you for not telling them about their adoption sooner.

As a result, it is vital that, when you tell your child about their adoption, you emphasize the fact that they are wanted and loved. Your actions, of course, will speak louder than your words on this topic. However, hearing you validate their place in your home and hearts can help your child to deal with the self-doubt, rejection, and grief that they may experience as they learn about their adoption.


Be honest about the details of your child’s adoption.

When you first tell your child that they are adopted, they may have many questions about their adoption. They may wonder why you waited so long to tell them. They may want to know who their birth parents are, why their birth parents placed them for adoption, why you chose to adopt them, etc. Even if they do not have questions immediately, they almost certainly will later.

The best approach to answering these questions is to provide truthful, age-appropriate answers. If you brought your child home through international adoption, or through a closed adoption, you may not have very much information about the birth parents, the circumstances surrounding their adoption, and so forth. Even so, provide your child with the information you do have. Doing so can help to satisfy your child’s curiosity. In addition, knowing that you are being open and honest with them can help your child to feel more confident, loved, and at peace about the conversation.


Keep the lines of communication open.

Finally, make sure to keep the lines of communication open after your first conversation with your child. Older children may be angry with you for withholding the news about their adoption for so long and may appear to shut down toward you. Other children may seem satisfied with a brief answer or two. However, in each case, your child will almost certainly wish to continue the conversation at a later time, as questions surface and feelings are worked through.

As a result, make sure to let your child know you are available to talk. Discussing their adoption regularly will help. You can also read books about adoption, listen to your child when they do have questions, and never prohibit your child from discussing adoption with you. In this way, you will be able to create an environment that encourages your child to approach you whenever they have adoption-related questions.

Discussing adoption with your older child may seem like a daunting task. However, the sooner they learn about their adoption, the better. If you find yourself struggling to talk about the subject, or find your child struggling to handle the news, post adoption services through your adoption agency may be able to help. In addition, by discussing adoption with your child early and regularly, by emphasizing the fact that your child is wanted and loved, by being honest about the details of your child’s adoption, and by keeping the lines of communication open, you can make it easier for your child to process the news of their adoption.

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