Adoption 411 

Adoption is a journey over a lifetime.  Thankfully, research and many years of experience from those who have come before us has provided us with guidance for raising our children with more sensitivity and awareness.  Below are some of the most important things to know when raising an adopted child.



Positive Adoption Language

Don't Say

Do Say

  • your own child
  • your adopted child
  • real/natural parent
  • child IS adopted
  • Illegitimate
  • give up/put up/surrender/release/relinquish for adoption
  • foreign adoption
  • unwanted child
  • foreign child
  • the birth mother kept her other child
  • You (adopted child) are lucky to have such great parents
  • You (adopted child) are special because you were “chosen”
  • your birth/biological child
  • your child
  • birth/biological parent
  • child WAS adopted
  • born to unmarried parents
  • the parents placed for adoption or had an adoption plan
  • international adoption
  • child placed for adoption
  • child from abroad
  • the birth mother is parenting her other child
  • you (adoptive parents) are lucky to have such a great child
  • you (adoptive parents) are special because you were chosen to be child’s parents


A Child's Understanding of Adoption


Age 5

  • Children exhibit no understanding of adoption

Age 5 1/2

  • Children fail to differentiate between adoption and birth; instead fusing the two concepts together. They may think that all children are adopted.

Age 7

  • Children clearly differentiate between adoption and birth as alternative paths to parenthood. They accept that the adoptive family relationship is permanent, but they do not understand why. Many rely on a sense of faith or notions of possession to justify the permanence.

Age 8

  • Children differentiate between adoption and birth but are unsure about the permanence of the adoptive parent-child relationship. Biological parents are seen as having the potential for reclaiming guardianship over the child at some future but unspecified time.

Age 10

  • Children’s descriptions of the adoptive family relationship are characterized by a quasi-legal sense of permanence. Specifically, they refer to “signing papers,” or invoke some authority such as a judge, lawyer, doctor, or social worker who in some vague way “makes” the parent-child relationship permanent.

Age 12

  • The adoption relationship is now characterized as permanent, involving the legal transfer of rights and/or responsibilities for the child from the biological parents to the adoptive parents.

Source: Brodzinsky, D.M., Singer, L.M., & Bbraff, A.M. (1984). Children’s understanding of adoption. Child Development, 55, 869-878


Additional resources for talking to children about adoption

How Children View Adoption by Age


Additional Adoption Links

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Ellen Yarrell, P.C