some extent, when you send your child to school you are
expecting the teacher to take over the role of parent. Young
children spend most of their time in public with you, but
once a child enters school, the parental buffer zone
disappears. Can and should teachers fill this gap? How do you
approach your child's teacher to guarantee the best outcome?
Here, some dos, don'ts, and things to remember when talking
to school staff.
proactive. Attend back-to-school nights and open houses, or
make an appointment to talk with your child's teacher before
school even begins. Such meetings can head off potential
problems and keep the teacher from feeling ambushed when
something goes wrong and she is called to intervene.
Alternately, you could consider joining with other "special"
parents - including step-parents and gay and lesbian parents
- to promote a general tolerance toward differences.
aware that your child's teacher may not know much about
adoption. She or he may have received diversity training in
college, but it's a large step from knowing about today's
varied family structures to being the specialist in adoption
that some parents can unconsciously expect of the teacher.
About 2 to 4 percent of the population is adopted, so there
is a chance she or he may never have had to deal with a
family exactly like yours.
informative and concise. Teachers routinely deal with class
sizes of 20-30 students, so the prospect of adapting
curriculum to fit the needs of up to 30 families may seem
an article in "Adoptive Families" magazine, Louis
Melina encourages parents to ask themselves, "If
there's only one thing I want my teacher's child to know,
what would it be?" Try to boil your concerns down to a
few simple requests such as "I want the teacher and
classmates to understand and accept my child's background."
involved. Don't expect the teacher to do all the legwork
behind explaining adoption to a class of grade-schoolers.
While some teachers may be enthusiastic and welcoming,
others will be reluctant to change their curriculum to
accommodate lessons in family differences. Some may simply
want information that they can work into their own lessons;
others may be open to having parents visit the classroom to
talk about adoption.
aware. From "family tree" projects to "bring
a baby picture" assignments, school curriculum offers
many chances for things to go wrong - or right. Use such
assignments as launching points to discuss adoption and the
unique histories of adopted children.
your teacher invites you to give a presentation on adoption,
check out the "Talking to Other Kids" below for
what to include.
Family Magazine suggests tailoring your presentation to the
age of the students. Beyond a simple definition of adoption,
explaining the process to K-2nd graders may require some
creativity. An article in the magazine by Amy Klatzkin offers
some pointers on talking to younger children:
early, ideally before age seven, when they tend to become
shy about personal issues and having their parents in the
that children this young may never have heard of adoption.
to your child. If she doesn't want her own adoption story
told, rely on a book like Families
to get the conversation going.
Use a baby doll to talk about a child moving from his or her
birth family to his or her adoptive family.
grade curriculum may involve a unit on families that is an
excellent launching point for a discussion on how different
families come together. Grades 4 through 6 are more
complicated. By this age, children unfamiliar with adoption
may find it easier to hide teasing or rude remarks from the
teacher. For this reason, it is especially important to teach
them the ins and outs of adoption and to answer their myriad
questions. A panel presentation designed to show students
that adoption is not a taboo topic was the answer for Beth
Roth, another contributor to Adoptive Families. Try to answer
some of the following questions:
is the process of adoption?
do people adopt?
do people put their children up for adoption?
are adoptive families different from - and the same as -
matters. The way you speak is a model for children, and they
tend to follow your lead in how they talk about adoption.
This can avoid unintentionally rude or uninformed comments.
use words like "real" or "natural" to
refer to the child's biological parents. All families are
real. Speak instead of "birth families" or
the phrase "adoptive parents" unless it's truly
relevant. The child's parents are simply his or her parents.
talk about children being "given up" or "given
away" for adoption. Roth points out that these words
are used to refer to objects - and children are not objects.
there is time and the teacher is receptive, consider a panel
discussion consisting of adult children of adoption, birth
parents, and adoptive parents. Allowing students to ask
questions to people with firsthand knowledge of every step of
the adoption process can be extremely helpful.
friends is an integral part of going to school; in fact,
developing social relationships is nearly as important as the
education itself. Friendship is hard for many children, no
matter their backgrounds, but adopted children with a history
in the foster care system are at higher risk for social
problems. They may never have had the opportunity to observe
or engage positive interactions between peers in the way that
children with families eager to set up "play dates"
may have. What else causes friendship problems?
children in foster care have not experienced the sense of
permanency that other children take for granted, they may
have attachment issues and be more anxious and controlling
in relationships with peers.
if foster children have had experiences with peers, these
may have been unsupervised, leading to rough or dangerous
in foster care often act younger than their biological age,
which makes it hard to relate to their peers.
children have a higher incidence of emotional outbursts, as
they may not have been taught to properly regulate their
emotions. This can scare away potential friends.
can you do to help? You can teach your child the social
skills that he or she may not have developed in the past.
about friendship. What does it mean to be a good friend?
This can include listening to others, giving compliments,
sharing a conversation, and understanding others' feelings.
good social skills. How you interact with people is likely
how your child will learn to interact as well.
practice, practice. Role-play situations that children may
encounter on the playground or on play dates.
push. Let your child develop at his or her own pace.
Shorter, more structured playdates or social opportunities
(team sports can provide crucial social interactions without
the pressure of a one-on-one encounter) are often a good
place to start.