Children of this age are spending more time with peers and are out of your direct supervision. They are seeing different life styles and how other families work. They and their friends are seeing adoption in the media, television and movies. They are developing a gender identity and becoming more independent. They compare themselves to others. Their behavior, language and fashion style are being shaped by what they see and by others around them. If they do not look like their parents, the adoption may be more obvious, and/or used by peers to make them feel different. Their self-confidence may be influenced by inclusion or exclusion in a peer group.
Children may not tell you directly that adoption is being discussed or that they are being left out or bullied. Being available to discuss daily occurrences, asking questions and listening means a lot to your child. They need and want to know that you are always there for them. As they sort through their feelings, there may be days they seem angry with or rejecting of their adoptive parents. They may say things like: “If you were really my mother…” or “You’re not my real father.” It is important to stay calm and be patient and address the issue at hand.
This might be a good time to explain what a mother/father is and why they do what they do. It may also be a time to explore why their birth parent could not care for them and what role their birth parent has in their life. Be open to discussion if they will ever meet them, etc. Mostly, reassure them that the adoption had nothing to do with them, but because their birth parent(s) could not care for them. Children of this age do not yet understand the legal concept of adoption and may worry that their birth parent(s) could come back and take them away. Explain the legal process and that a judge made a decision that they should live with you forever. That you are now their forever parent(s). You will have this discussion again when they are older.
During this time, your child is gaining a better understanding of adoption. They are now aware that to be adopted, someone had to give them “up” or “away.” They may experience a sense of loss or lack of self worth. They may feel they did something wrong as an infant or young child to be “given away.” They may ask you more questions about their birth parent(s) and why they were adopted. This does not mean they love you less, just that they are struggling to understand. As you help them sort through their feelings, you are strengthening your relationship with them. Find opportunities to reassure them of their place in your family.
Children of this age know the difference between fact and fantasy. They will know when you are not being truthful. In the coming years, they will learn more about adoption as a legal process. For now, as they grapple with being “given up,” they are also strengthening their relationship with their adoptive family. Having you there for them, even during the rough moments is critical. They need to know you are there “forever” and that you are willing to talk about things, even if difficult. Knowing you are there, means they have a real family with real parents (and siblings). It gives their being part of your family meaning and reinforces that bond.