What is a Lifebook?


LifebookA Lifebook is a connection to an adopted child’s past, a record of the child’s personal history and a valuable tool for helping a child understand the difficult transitions in his or her life. It is a detailed record of his or her life prior to adoption and a window into the child’s identity. Lifebooks give an adopted child the opportunity to tell his/her story, both in what occurred before adoption as well as what their hopes are for the future. Part scrapbook and part memory book, lifebooks are uniquely individual, can be plain or creative, and belong only to the child. They are personal records and the child determines when, where and with whom they can be shared.

The lifebook begins with information, copies of documents, pictures, and mementos of the child’s biological family. For many adopted children, the details of their early years are somewhat blurred or, in some cases, virtually unknown. They need this information (as much as can be provided) to help them develop a sense of self and minimize their magical thinking of what their past was like. Descriptions of where the child lived, what his family looked like, pets, activities, friends, and school information can be included. Maps of the country they are from, pictures from travel magazines of similar villages or the child’s own drawings of something they recall seeing can be added. Room should be left for the child to write his/her memories of that time and what was important to him/her. If the child is very young, they can report what they remember verbally and the adoptive parent can record it in the lifebook. Any information you may have received on the child’s family tree is helpful. Including this will allow the child to retain connections to his/her past and know that there were generations of family who came before them.  It is important for him/her to know about their beginnings.

The child can continue to add to the lifebook as time goes on. He or she may wish to record feelings, dreams, and important events, or celebrate milestones such as birthdays or awards. They may want to include drawings, pictures, cards, letters, report cards, newspaper clippings, movie tickets, or other memorabilia which is especially important to them.  Opportunities for journaling should be included. If your child is creative, loves to draw, takes photographs, or enjoys crafts, these skills can certainly be employed with a lifebook to make it uniquely their own.The best way to construct a lifebook is to do it with your child. The child must be given the opportunity to tell his/her story but they may need your help to do so. Especially with younger children, you will need to help them record the information, present it in a healing manner (Discussions about the past can be emotional.), and oversee the use of tape, markers and staples. With older children, the teamwork approach allows you to plan the lifebook together and openly discuss the child’s past in a therapeutic way. These discussions allow for the healing process to continue. The teamwork approach to lifebooks is the most rewarding! Additionally, the child may want his/her social worker, teacher, foster parents, birth family, extended family, neighbors, therapists—anyone who has played an important role in his/her life—to contribute valuable information or quotes. Insight from others who have known them can sometimes help them visualize more of “the big picture’ of their life.

There is no wrong way to make a lifebook. They can be done using a computer, creatively embellished with scrapbooking materials or placed in three ring binders with protective sheet covers. There are preprinted pages available to purchase from many on line resources or notebook paper can be used for writing the story. Just be sure that your child has had input in the construction of his or her lifebook and has been allowed to make it his/her own. The important aspect is to cultivate communication with your child, develop closeness and trust in discussing the sometimes painful aspects of life, and help him/her develop an understanding and appreciation for their own unique and special personal history.

Ideas of what to include in the lifebook: photographs, drawings, journal entries, maps, magazine pictures, copies of birth certificates and report cards, letters and notes, newspaper clippings, event tickets, a family tree, shared memories or family stories, descriptions of family members, information on pets, friends and extended family members, medical history, sibling information, a list of placements if in alternate care settings, quotes from those who know the child, school details, poems or artwork created by the child, recollections of the child’s early life, a picture of the house in which they lived.

You can find additional resources for creating Lifebooks:

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.