Preteens just want to fit in and be accepted by peers. They are very aware of their adoption status and that not all kids are adopted. All kids of this age, adopted or not, grapple with identity and where they belong. For the adopted child, this is a time to merge their birth and adoptive identities.
Preteens are more influenced by peers and are exposed to new ideas and lifestyles. In their desire to belong, they make decisions regarding how they dress, their hair style, how they express themselves, what language they speak, as well as who are their friends and who they date.
Physical characteristics and talents continue to surface. Girls tend to be more concerned with how they look and how their bodies are developing. Boys tend to focus more on athletic abilities and can get competitive. Bullying behaviors often surface during this time.
School assignments may pose adoption related questions. Biology class includes lessons on genetics and heredity. For an adopted child, this may mean classmates and teachers discovering that they are adopted, or leading to more questions about their biological make up or family of origin.
If your child has not discussed adoption in a while, it is a good time to bring it up again. Ask if they have questions and fill in details you now feel they are old enough to hear and understand. Be prepared for additional questions and to talk about searching for more information or a reunion. Children of this age already know how to use the Internet. If they are going to search out information, you want to know and be part of that experience.
One day, a child of this age is all loving and wants closeness. They next day they may be moody and want to spend time alone. Comments such as “If you were my real mom, you would let me ____.” or “You’re not my real father, you can’t tell me what to do.” are an effort to assert their independence and individuality, and how far they can push the parent/child relationship. Challenging you does not mean they don’t love you or need you.
Even if difficult, it is important to keep the dialogue open and ongoing. Balance your encouragement of their growing up and trying out their independent wings with your role as a parent to keep them safe. You should discuss safe behavior and relationships, as well as how to get out of a situation in which they do not want to find themselves. Reassure them that they can always call you, no matter when or what. Then honor any request to be picked up or provide an excuse so they can remove themselves from an event or situation. This is not the time for lectures. You can talk about what happened the next day.
Also get to know your child’s friends, parents, teachers, coaches, etc. These are the people who will have a great influence on your child. The more you know about their lifestyle, the more vigilant you can be of your child’s actions, thoughts and behaviors and have appropriate discussions, as needed.
Parenting a pre-teen is not easy. One day you are dealing with a young needy child, the next a maturing teen. Your child may not express it, but they are thankful you are there for them. Hang in there, be strong, and with your help, they will continue to develop into an independent and self-assured individual.