National adoption month series: Parent/teacher talk about adoption

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, growing a family through adoption takes a very private decision, public.  I rarely hear people ask my friends, “what was your labor like” while they wait in line, but I have had more people than I can count ask me in the last 18 months, “wasn’t it expensive to adopt”, or “where did she come from,” or “does she know her real mom?”  I know most of these questions are mere curiosity and I try to answer with grace, but sometimes I just want to buy milk.

Recently, I was at a day care function with Clara and was asked a similar question by a teacher.  I tried to respond appropriately, but I really wanted to say, “Can we talk about this another time, I want to watch Clara color her pumpkin.”

Asking questions…
Adoption is a novelty and by nature mysterious to those who have never experienced it; it is okay to be curious and to ask questions, most parents love to talk about their child, but it is also important to be aware of what is happening around you in the classroom.  I have included some things to consider when asking parents questions about the adoption:
  1.  Most centers include admission paperwork.  I encourage teachers to review that information before asking the parents.  In our case, we wrote out exactly what the teachers need to know, but teachers still ask us for this information.
  2. Ask what you need to know to help the child achieve their fullest potential, not what you want to know.  If you have personal questions about adoption, you may say, “I have some questions about adoption and was wondering if I could ask you sometime.”
  3. Assume the birth story is full of joy, but also assume privacy for the family.
  4. If you have questions try to ask with as much discretion as possible.  Other teachers, parents, and children are curious and will listen to the answer, which may make the parents uncomfortable.

Links to additional resources…

For more information about discussing adoption and using positive language, see the following brochures: Positive Adoption Language   and Helping Classmates Understand Adoption 

Adoption is a wonderful and exciting time for families; an experience most would like share with those important in their life, and the lives of their child.  As an early childhood teacher, you serve a very meaningful role in the life of children and their parents.  I encourage you to discuss adoption with families enthusiastically and compassionately.

Previous posts…

Adoption is Mysterious and Miraculous 

Choosing Daycare



  1. says

    Lots of things to consider here. Thank you for making me think more carefully about adoption. Your insight is great. Thanks for sharing.

  2. says

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone focus in on teachers’ approach to families with adopted children. I’m doing a quick replay of the families I had in my classrooms over the years – although nothing glaring comes to mind, I’m quite sure I could have been more sensitive and intentional! Thank you, Deborah, for sharing your perspective as a parent who has adopted. Communication always benefits when we can see the other’s perspective more clearly.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. says

      Thank you for coming to read it Kathy. With my niece adopting her first child, I am all of the sudden aware of things I had never thought of before. I have been learning about my role as a teacher and as an aunt so I was so happy my niece was willing to share with everyone here.

  3. says

    I had no idea that this topic was so controversial! I kinda feel bad now because I know I have asked questions like that out in public. Thanks for the share.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. says

      Hi Nick,
      I am not so sure I would call it controversial:) I would say it is a topic that just needs the doors of communication opened a little wider. Adoption is very new to our family so I am learning something new everyday and many things are so simple but I just didn’t realize that they were important too! This is why it helps to share a little more often with each other so we can help each other.

  4. says

    I am so glad I stumbled across this series of articles… I was just sussing out another early childhood blog (as I have my own ECE blog that I’ve only just recently started) and stumbled across this which is extremely relev to me right now as I will be teaching a child who has been adopted in 2012. He’s the most beautiful boy and I have worked with him for a while not knowing his background story but I’m so grateful that I do know now and that I’ve found this so that I can remember not to let curiosity get the better of me and ask inappropriate questions of his parents…