Reader: I’m in the process of adopting my cousin whom I have had since he was 3 and is now 7. Next week if all goes as planned I will be adopting him. I told his teacher that I could come in and bring a treat to celebrate his “name change” do you have any ideas on how I can explain all of the adoption process to 6 and 7-year-olds?
What an exciting time for you and your cousin (soon-to-be son)!
First, I would consider if the name change/adoption party is something that would be healthy and happy for your son. Is this something he wants to do? Is he excited to talk about adoption with his classmates? If you are uncertain, you might seek the assistance of an experienced adoption (family or attachment) counselor. You might also consider if this celebration is most appropriate to have with your son’s class or if a family celebration is more appropriate. Certainly, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
One thing to be aware of is how much you want to make the celebration about your son versus adoption in general. Experienced adoptive parents know that we need to discuss adoption in a way that avoids making the child feel embarrassed, ashamed, violated, ignored, shushed, or spotlighted. This is often a difficult balance to strike because we never know the types of comments, questions, or looks we will get from those outside our family. Unintentionally over-sharing is common, but keep in mind that once information is shared, it is then public forever.
Yet another topic to approach with a counselor is the appropriate level of information to share and how. You child should be included in these decisions. You may ask him, what would you like the class to know about you and your adoption? What do you want to keep private? (Some children pride themselves in being different, while others wish to be as mainstream as possible, avoiding attention.)
It’s encouraging that your child’s teacher is open to discussing the topic of adoption in the classroom. Families are composed in many different ways, so your son’s adoption might lead to a broader discussion about what a family is and who can be a family.
I would suggest previewing some age-appropriate adoption books and selecting one to read to the class. If you have a hard time selecting a book, present a few choices to the teacher and have him or her help in the process. Here are a few books you might consider:
- Happy Adoption Day! (John McCutcheon)
- Max and the Adoption Day Party (Adria F. Klein)
- My New Family: A First Look at Adoption (Pat Thomas)
- The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale (Grace Lin)
- Oliver: A Story About Adoption (Lois Wickstrom)
- All Kinds of Families (Todd Parr)
- The Little Green Goose (Adele Sansone)
- Quakenstein Hatches a Family (Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen)
Depending on the time allotment, you could also have the students draw family portraits and present them to the whole class or in small groups. Round the kids back up afterward and discuss the different ways families are formed. If there isn’t time for the portraits, you could have a few questions prepared to discuss with the kids after you read the book. (Again, it would be wise to run these questions by the teacher prior to the celebration day.)
You can follow the book reading and art activity with a special snack: perhaps a favorite treat from a local bakery. Of course, a popular choice is probably a cake with your son’s name on it. If the school allows, you and your son could make a family recipe to share.
Congratulations on the adoption, and may you and your son enjoy the celebration you plan, no matter how you choose to commemorate!