“Why don’t you look like your mom and dad?” “Where are your REAL parents?” “Where are you from?” “Why didn’t your parents want you?” “You’re lucky to be adopted!” “I wish I was adopted.” These are all questions or comments that adoptees hear from classmates, friends, and even adults. Even though most people don’t mean any harm by these questions and comments they can be insensitive and hurtful and very difficult for a child to know how to respond to.
It helps when parents can be there and answer these tough questions for their children or at least in the beginning to set a good example of grace and provide education when needed. Parents can respond to others in a connected way by saying something like, “Not all families are the same, some families have one mom and one dad, others only have one parent, or there are blended families with step parents and their children might not look like them either but they’re still family.”
Sometimes even sarcasm can help to ease the tension. For example, a child on the playground asked my daughter how I was her mother since she didn’t look anything like me and I said, “WHAT?! She doesn’t?! Well, I think we look alike! We both have brown hair and brown eyes, and we’re both girls, and we have beautiful smiles, (giggling, I pulled my daughter close into a sideward hug).” I actually think in this instance my daughter took over by rolling her eyes and said, “Yeah, it’s because I’m adopted”. But, I went on to explain to the child that “not all families look alike and families are made up of people who love each other very much, and I love my daughter just like your mommy loves you.”
Unfortunately, parents can’t always be there with their child to provide the right response so we need to arm our child with appropriate responses. Our family has found the WISE Up! Workbook created by the Center for Adoption Support and Education very beneficial to help our children know how to respond in different situations. This workbook walks children through different leveled response for different scenarios. It teaches them that they have choices and that they get to decide who they share their story with and how much they want to share. This workbook uses the acronym W.I.S.E. to help children remember how they can chose to respond.
W= Walk Away.
I= It’s Private.
E= Educate about adoption.
This workbook empowers children to only respond to questions about their adoption that they feel comfortable responding to. “You should never feel that you are giving information about your personal adoption story that you don’t want to share. And you can feel proud to tell information about adoption that you think is important for others to know. Remember, YOU are WISE about adoption. You can choose what you want to do! You have the power!”– WISE Up! Workbook
One of the best ways to teach these principles is to practice by doing role plays with toys or stuffed animals. Practicing these responses will help your child to be prepared when he needs to use them out in the community, at school or on the playground. Parents should practice role playing with different scenarios such as, if a stranger approaches and says, “Were you adopted?” Explain that it is okay to walk away from a stranger or to say that it is private, but that it isn’t appropriate to tell a stranger your whole life story. However, if your best friend asks, “Do you miss your parents in China?” you can still respond by saying, “I’d rather not talk about that,” but you probably wouldn’t walk away from your best friend. If you’re willing to share you say could say something like, “Yes, I miss them, and I think about them often.” One of the main goals of the workbook is to eliminate feelings of shame about adoption by empowering kids to talk about their story when and how they feel most comfortable sharing.
There is a Wise-Up training taking place in Indiana on Monday December 4 from 5:30-7:30PM hosted by The Villages. Families who live in Indiana may decide that attending would be helpful for their child. For more information call 812-238-8700 or visit the event website.