Lifebooks are an Important Tool


image (9)This week I was talking with a friend of mine who has a teenager who was adopted from Latin America 13 years ago. Since her daughter is now a teenager she is at a critical time where she is defining her identity and how she fits in the world. According to Erik Erikson, adolescents search to identify how they are unique,  what makes him or her an individual and how he or she is seen by other people (Erikson 1963). This stage of development  is more complicated for adolescents who were adopted, especially if they joined their family through international adoption. One of the suggestions I offered my friend was to work on a lifebook with her daughter. She had never heard of a Lifebook before.

Lifebooks can be a great theraputic tool for parents to work on with their children. Working on a lifebook with your child can also help build attachment. Lifebooks are NOT just a scrapbook of memories and they can be started at any age. They tell a person’s life story, contain artwork, memorabilia, celebrates a child and their accomplishments and strengths, and offer prompts to allow a child to express their thoughts and feelings and work through tough issues. A lifebook is not always pretty and perfect because our children’s stories are messy, complicated and full of some tough memories. You can use a scrapbook or a three-ring binder so that pages can be easily added, rearranged or removed. Lifebooks are intended to be completed over time. Your child can keep any special notes, cards, pictures, or have important people in their lives such as social workers, teachers, friends, or family members contribute to to their lifebook.

I initially put off working on a lifebook with my daughter for some
time because she was not ready. I had it from the beginning, but everytime I brought it out, it sparked deep emotions, and to be honest I was a little scared to unleash those big emotions. I also wanted to wait until she had a good grasp on English and could understand what the questions were asking. One day I sat the lifebook out on the table and walked away and the next thing I know my daughter opened it up and started coloring. She was apparently ready! This is her book so I let her take the lead. She can choose to do one page at a time, skip pages or leave some questions blank and come back to them when she’s ready. The first day she was so excited that she worked on the first 5 pages! The first several pages were pretty basic and asked questions like, “Where do you live? Who lives with you? What do you wish was different about where you live?(She said she wish she had a sister!) What’s your favorite color? What do you like about yourself? What do you wish you could change about yourself? What do you wish your family knew about you?” She even drew a picture of our family thanking us for the lifebook.

Parents can help start a lifebook for a younger child by writing down important dates, collecting important mementos and drawings to include and let the child start working on pages when they image (5)are old enough to understand and answer questions. Older children can help decide what they feel is important to include, suggest topics to write about, or come up with creative ideas of how present their life story and how to make the book their own. Every lifebook should be unique and personal and there is no right or wrong way to do it. We started with a Lifebook that was ordered from Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. This is a great lifebook that can be ordered in sections based on your child’s specific needs. There are pages that can be used for any child and others that are specific to children in foster care. MLJ Adoptions has these Lifebooks available if your child has joined your family and you are interested in getting started on a Lifebook. You can also make your own pages or check out these websites that offer free printable lifebook pages:

Here are a few resources if you are interested in learning more about lifebooks and how to use them with your child.

If you feel like you need more guidance or support, Counselors who specialize in adoption often use lifebooks as a tool during therapy and can help you and your child work on one together. MLJ Adoptions offers Support Services if you would like more information or need additional support before, during or after your adoption is complete.


Angela Simpson is an adoptive parent, social worker and adoption advocate. Angela is MLJ Adoptions’ Support Services Specialist and works with families throughout their adoption process. Angela and her husband have two sons and have just recently added a daughter to their family through adoption.