Parent Education: Back to School Basics
Tips to keep in your own personal backpack
By Deb Shrier, MSW, LCSW
My child is beginning kindergarten this year. He was adopted domestically as an infant. Do I need to share this information with his teacher or the school?
This type of question frequently comes up when a child starts a new school or begins his/her elementary education. School opens up the world for your child to experience life outside their adopted family. The reason most parents tend to inform teachers about their child's journey to their family is to make sure the teacher is sensitive around issues that may come up in the classroom or playground. Some parents do not feel that teachers need to know private family issues (such as a child's adoption) for concern that it might lead to unnecessary labeling of the student. One recommendation is to check in with your child's teacher during a parent-teacher conference. Give the teacher a chance to get know your child first and listen to your son's impression of his teacher as well. Ask about upcoming school assignments and reading material. Is there anything that seems to be concerning to you? If so, then discuss it with the teacher. Keep in mind that you are your child's biggest advocate. Consider yourself as a partner to your child's educational learning team.
My 6 year old wants to bring her photos of her family in for "show and tell" at school. She was adopted from Guatemala at 12 months and her family photo album includes pictures of her foster family. Is this too much personal information to give the other children in her class?
It is terrific that you have chosen to include your daughter's foster family with her album! Her decision to share her family photos says a lot about her sense of pride and respect for the important people in her life. You might ask her what she wants to say about her photos and what kind of questions her friends might have at school. Ask her if she needs any help in discussing the people in the album without focusing on anyone in particular. By doing so, you are helping her to normalize her adoption story.
My daughter is going into the second grade. She is very proud of her Filipino heritage and our family's connection to her birth country. One of the assignments in this grade is called "My Life." It is a timeline with pictures of a child's life from birth until now. We do not have early photos of her as a newborn or young child. This is not a fact that we dwell on, although her referral pictures from age 2 is what she considers her "baby" pictures. She knows she was born and then cared for in an orphanage in the Philippines until we adopted her.
At your daughter's developmental stage, most children would prefer to be "just like everyone else." It sounds like you are aware of this fact and are appropriately sensitive to this upcoming assignment. After the project has been assigned, ask your daughter how she would like to begin this project. She may very well be excited and have a zillion ideas of her own that she would like to share with her teacher and friends! You stated that she knows she was born and then cared for in an orphanage in the Philippines. That is truly where her life story begins. Although you might not have early pictures of your daughter, perhaps you have (or can find on the internet) photos from her birth country. If your daughter enjoys drawing, she might also want to include an illustration of an airplane as a way of depicting her flight to the U.S.
Keep in mind that this can be an exciting project for your daughter. It may also bring about additional conversations with you about her adoption story. Consider this another opportunity to share how exciting her arrival to your family has been!
Last spring, my two children (ages 7 and 9) refused to take the bus to school. They stated it was due to the long ride to our house and I ended up driving them for the last two months of school. Over the summer, I learned from my 7-year-old daughter that they were being taunted by other children on the bus about not "really" being brother and sister. (I did not mention this to my son.) They were also asked many personal questions about their adoption which they did not want to answer. The new school year is approaching and I am not sure whether to let them take the bus.
Have your children expressed their own feelings about this yet? If not, you might consider talking with them about their reluctance to take the bus last year. Also, find a comfortable way of bringing up with both children what your daughter shared with you. It will give you an opportunity to explore this further as a family. One suggestion is to help them come up with appropriate responses. Role playing the scenario from the bus and exploring their feelings/reactions is useful as well.
A difficult bus ride each morning to school can add unnecessary stress before a child even enters the classroom. If it becomes a problem again this year, ask your children how you might be able to help. Consider talking with school personnel if the problem continues.
Our 10-year-old child has been diagnosed with learning disabilities. He understands that his brain works in a different way and that accommodations have been made to assist in his learning process. He recently asked me if this was the reason his birthmother could not raise him. I was surprised that he was making a connection between his learning issue and the reason for his adoption. My wife and I told him it was not, but I am not sure he has convinced.
A child sometimes feels that he or she might have been responsible for the decision to be placed for adoption. All children are very focused on themselves, their actions and their ability to cause whatever happens next. They do feel very powerful in so many ways. While it may appear that your son is making a leap from his learning disability to the reason he was placed for adoption, it sounds like your son is at a new stage in his understanding of his adoption. It is terrific that he has come to you with this question! Spend some time talking with your child about his story. You might consider talking, in general, about the various reasons children are placed for adoption. Children are typically not consulted about this important decision but then are faced with understanding it throughout their lives.
Does your son have a solid understanding of his learning issue? Talking with someone at school (such as a psychologist or social worker) with him about his learning disability may be reassuring to your son and allow him a greater understanding of his educational needs.
Talk openly with your son about how much you love, cherish and are proud of him each day. Be sure to recognize his strengths as a way to develop positive self-esteem. Continue to build on the foundation of support for your child, especially during his approach to adolescence.