Back To School for the Adopted Child


adoption school adjustmentA little boy from an orphanage in Ethiopia is adopted internationally by a US family. He is seven years old and, therefore, very aware of his surroundings and the people around him. He attends a school carefully selected by his new family for its small size which they hope will make it easier for him to make friends and feel comfortable.

One day the students are allowed to bring something from home to play with. He decides to bring in his treasured Barney doll (you remember the purple dinosaur). To his surprise, his friends make fun of him, and embarrass him in front of the group. Does the teacher do anything? No, she doesn’t fully understand the boy’s background.

This scenario plays out far too often for adopted children in school systems across the nation. International adoptions have more than doubled in the past eleven years and yet teachers are not receiving training on the specialized needs of the adopted children in their classrooms. Teachers do not understand that children who are adopted have experienced trauma at some point in their development and that the child’s development has therefore been adversely affected. Studies have shown that a child who has experienced trauma and interrupted development will often act younger than they are and try to fill in the gaps in their development that they missed.

In regards to the scenario described above, why did this child bring Barney to school – a character that had been long ago abandoned by the other children? He loves Barney, because at the age of two he was abandoned at an orphanage. He never enjoyed the sing a longs, the big stuffed animals, the primary colors, everything that is engaging to a toddler. Instead he was in an institution without the love and nourishment of a family. When he was finally in a safe and loving family environment, his natural tendency was to adopt the behaviors and traits that accompany the toddler years that he had missed. This event could have been different for the boy. His peers and teacher could have embraced this child, and helped him feel secure in his identity. This could have been a time of encouragement; instead it was yet another time that the child felt unsure and insecure.

Adoptive parents must advocate for their adopted children. Parents need to communicate with teachers and help them understand their child’s history and identify class activities that may not be appropriate for adopted children. For instance, the boy described above was abandoned at the orphanage with no belongings. Therefore, he has no baby pictures of himself. How will he feel if his class is asked to bring in a baby picture for the bulletin board and he has nothing to contribute?

One way that adoptive parents can advocate for their children is by writing a simple note to the teacher explaining the child’s attitudes and behaviors. Another way is to encourage your child’s teacher to attend training. One such opportunity exists on July 30th, when MLJ will offer a free webinar for teachers to share more about adoption, development and adoption, and adoptive families, as well as answer any questions they may have.

Working together parents and teachers can ensure that adoptive children receive the support and encouragement they need to fully realize their potential.

Photo Credit: unicefiran

For more information about MLJ Adoptions’ international adoption programs, please click here.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.