Talking to Children About Adoption: 3-4 Years Old

Older toddlers are developing new cognitive and language skills. They can concentrate on events and objects for longer periods of time. They have the ability to memorize, repeating what they have heard or mimicking behaviors they have seen.

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They like repetition, which enables them to dissect, understand and give back information, such as directions or likes and dislikes. They are able to anticipate what will happen in favorite books, and even retell the story in their own words.

You can also see their ability to reason and problem solve as they play with friends or work on puzzles or build with blocks. Some children become “bossy” as they believe their way is the only way, and direct others to act accordingly.

Because children of this age are like little sponges, absorbing everything they hear, see or feel, it is important to be aware of their surroundings.

Most childhood memories are of significant events, special people, places or occurrences. It could be a birthday party or holiday celebration, a vacation destination, getting a new pet or a significant person in their life.

Children of this age are also very observant. They notice sameness and differences. They are aware that not all people look alike and they notice pregnant women’s bellies. This is a marvelous opportunity to have the talk about adoption. Remember to make the story simple and choose your words carefully. Your child will repeat this story to someone. They all do.

Start with the fact that all babies come from ladies bellies. That some of those children are adopted and raised by other women and men. These women and men are called the child’s mother and father.

If your child wants to know if they were in your belly—be honest. Tell them “no.” That you could not grow them in your tummy, but another woman was able to. That she gave you the wonderful gift of becoming a mother/father by letting you adopt him. Depending on your child, you can add that you wish you could have grown him in your belly.

The following poems may remind you of your commitment to your child and how they joined your family.

Author Unknown

Not flesh of my flesh

Nor bone of my bone,

But still miraculously

My own.

Never forget

For a single minute:

You didn’t grow under my heart

But in it.

Legacy of an Adopted Child (Author Unknown)

Once there were two women, who never knew each other.

One you do not remember, the other you call mother.

Two different lives, shaped to make yours one.

One became your guiding star, the other became your sun.

The first gave you life and the second taught you to live it.

The first gave you a need for love and the second was there to give it.

One gave you a nationality, the other gave you a name.

One gave you a seed of talent, the other gave you an aim.

One gave you emotions, the other calmed your fears.

One saw your first sweet smile, the other dried your tears.

One gave you up—It was all that she could do.

The other prayed for a child and God led her straight to you.

And now you ask me through your tears,

The age-old question through the years:

Heredity or environment, which are you the product of?

Neither, my darling—neither, just two different kinds of love.

Some people even frame these poems and hang them in their child’s room. It encourages conversation at many stages and ages.

Your child will repeat parts of their adoption story. He may not fully grasp what adoption means and may assume other children are adopted too or that a friend’s pregnant parent will make an adoption plan. These misunderstandings can lead to additional conversations and explorations.

If your child is in pre-school, they often do a ‘Who Am I?” project. Children make a time line from birth to the present day. They include photos and often information such as where they were born. Some children do not have baby pictures, having been adopted when older. This assignment may cause you and your child (and perhaps the teachers) to rethink the assignment for everyone or for your child. It is a good time to talk to your child again about where they came from, how you met and how you became a family.

You are beginning to teach your child an adoption vocabulary and how to answer questions from others. You are also creating an open dialogue with your child, which will be enhanced as the years grow. Your comfort level is critical. If your child hears uncertainty or hesitations in your responses, he will feel something is wrong. If you cannot answer a question, tell your child, “That’s a good question, let me think about it or let me see what I can find out.” Many children ask adoption questions at bedtime. Whether this is a time that they are truly thinking about adoption or they are procrastinating about going to bed, tell them: “That’s a good question but it is bedtime. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.” If you are unsure of the answer, call your adoption social worker or talk to another adoptive parent to figure out how to respond. Then bring it up with your child: “Remember when you asked me about “ .” Do you still want to talk about it?”

Remember, the specifics of your child’s adoption and birth history are private. They are not secret, but belong to your child and you. You can share adoption process information and where you adopted from, but withhold facts of your child’s birth family and circumstances of the adoption plan itself. This includes disclosure with your parents and siblings, extended family and friends. As your child learns more about their early life and experiences, they can decide with whom to share the information.

Take advantage of local adoptive parent support groups or family gatherings. There are many books on adoptive parenting, open adoption and how to talk about adoption to your child and others. There are many books for children of all ages that you can bring home to read with your child and to use as a catalyst for discussion. Also consider suggesting a book your child is comfortable with for your child’s classroom.

Be assured, your ability (and your child’s) to talk comfortably about adoption and to answer questions from your child and others will improve over time.

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