How to talk to teachers about adoption issues

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.
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(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?

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