On Thursdays, I post from the vault. This is from September 2013.


As the school year
is starting, many adoptive parents may be contemplating having a talk
with their child’s new teacher about any adoption-related issues that
may arise. I’ve done this myself and thought that I would share some of
the segments of letters I’ve written in previous years to address
adoption, the complexity of “family tree” or ancestral assignments for
adoptees, and race conversations in class. I have personally found it
helpful to be proactive in any potential issues. If it turns out issues
don’t arise, there is no harm in bringing it up, but it’s nice to try to
prevent them. I’ve also found that teachers tend to be appreciative of
more feedback about their students, and I’ve tried hard to communicate
my trust in the teacher, offering myself as a resource at each turn.
Here are some templates that may help if you are writing your own
letter:


ON TRANSRACIAL ADOPTION

I
wanted to give you a bit of a heads-up about our family. As I’m sure
you’ve noticed, my child was adopted. At this age, we’ve found kids tend
to be a bit curious about why our skin color doesn’t match. We’re very
open about the fact that our family was formed through adoption, but
we’ve also tried to empower our kids to have boundaries around sharing
details regarding why they didn’t stay in their birth family, if they
don’t feel like giving up that personal information. Some of those
losses are sad for him. We’ve also empowered him to avoid terms like
“real mom” since we very much feel like we are a “real” family. I know
that kids are naturally curious and we’ve found that honest but brief
answers work well in case you ever observe these questions occurring in
the classroom.

If it’s of interest, we are
always happy to come and share about adoption with the class. We have
some great books and could take questions from the class. My husband and
I are both family therapists so we are very comfortable talking to kids
and enjoy helping others understand the unique way our family was
formed.

ON EARLY LIFE

I
also wanted to let you know that my child spent a part of his life in an
orphanage, and did not join our family until he was almost 4. The fact
that he missed out on those years as a part of our family is a loss for
him that creates some sadness. I know that sometimes classes do
assignments about ancestors, family trees, or what a child’s life was
like as a baby. If you wouldn’t mind giving a heads-up if you do an
assignment like that, maybe we could brain-storm about how to tweak it
for my child so it doesn’t make him feel alienated or different.

image

(Check out this incredible adoptive family tree assignment at Never a Dull Moment)

 

ON ATTACHMENT BEHAVIORS
(from this post)

I
wanted to discuss a few patterns we have observed in our child that are
common in children who lived in group settings early in life. At a
young age, my child learned that there were two ways to get his needs
met: to be the loudest/bossiest/controlling, or to be the most
hurt/helpless/needy.  Even though he now has attentive parents, he still
struggles with defaulting to these behaviors for attention at times. 
The result is that he can be very dramatic at times, or he can use
behaviors to try to control a situation (anything from pretending to be
hurt to walking slowly on purpose).  He does best when adults are able
to maintain their authority – oddly, while he craves special attention
and seemingly wants to be in charge, when an adult relinquishes control
to him, it makes him feel unsafe and then his behaviors will get worse
and worse. While he spends a lot of energy trying to take the reigns
back from adults, he is very anxious when he is able to. It’s a strange
dynamic, but I wanted to point it out.  He did very well in school last
year, because his teacher was firm and impervious to his
attention-seeking behaviors so he quickly stopped trying. However, over
the summer he was at a day camp with younger teachers who were more
passive, and his behavior deteriorated pretty quickly.

All
that being said, he is always a very sweet and loving kid.  I haven’t
observed him to be aggressive or mean-spirited, and does very well
socially. His issues tend to be with authority figures more than his
peers, and tend to revolve around testing limits and seeing how much he
can get an adult to give him attention. He responds well to affirmation
but also to natural consequences and positive reinforcement. He likes
working on a goal and being reminded that he is capable. We do a star
chart here at home for behavior and when we are consistent, his behavior
is much better. He has a great desire to be a leader, so setting him up
to lead by example is a great intervention as well. I am hopeful that
he won’t have any behavioral challenges in the classroom this year, but I
did want to give you a heads up just in case any of this cropped up. We
are always available to talk about any concerns that crop up.

These
are some of the aspects of adoption we’ve felt warranted some
discussion with teachers. If you have adopted children, have you felt
the need to communicate anything at the beginning of the year?