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Back to School and Adoption

August 3, 2015

Going back to school or starting school for the first time can be intimidating or scary for any child. Add in the fact that many internationally adopted children have language barriers and don’t know many of the other children, and the intimidation and scariness increases substantially.

As parents, we want to help our children as much as possible, so how do we prepare our children for some of the trials they will face at school?

First, being aware of the things your kids will encounter is important. We have some tips for preparing for these situations before the school bells start ringing.

Many adopted children look different from their parents, and if they were adopted internationally, they will likely speak differently as well. Your children are going to be asked questions by their peers and possibly even adults. Curiosity is normal at any age, so do your best to prepare your children for these often intrusive and upsetting questions.

  • Discuss polite ways to answer the questions. For example, you child can respond to a question about where he or she came from with, “I was born in Poland. It is a large country in Europe near Germany and France. Would you like for me to show you on a map?”
  • If your children do not want to answer, discuss ways to direct the conversation in a different direction. “My parents and I live in Tupelo. We just visited Ballard Park. Have you ever been there?”
  • Educate their classmates by offering to visit the classroom to discuss adoption and your child. Take into consideration your child’s preferences and personality. If it will make your child embarrassed or uncomfortable, take a different direction, like sending worksheets.

Class assignments are also a source of distress for children. Whether it is bringing a baby photo to school or making a family tree, some assignments can bring up sad or uncomfortable memories and emotions.

  • Discuss your child’s situation with his or her teacher before the semester begins. Ask him or her to keep adoption in mind when assigning projects.
  • Give the teacher different options for popular projects. Instead of a family tree, do Roots and Branches.
  • If your child has a language barrier, provide some words or phrases to help the teacher better communicate with your child.
  • You can also provide a list of positive adoption language so your child doesn’t unintentionally feel alienated during class.

School isn’t just a time for mental stimulation; it is also a time for emotional development. Keep this in mind when sending your kid to school.

  • Some adopted children deal with abandonment issues. For these kids, reassure them that school is a place they will visit and home is where they live with you.
  • Some adopted children have issues with food. Whether they don’t like the food being served at school or they have food insecurity, offer them freedom and choice when it comes to meal time. Let them participate during the making of their lunch or provide input when deciding on what to eat that day.

All children are unique and special, and school is an adjustment for everyone. For more information on back to school and adoption, check out our other blog posts. (Here and here.)