With the start of the new school year comes the onslaught of homework and class assignments. While well intended, many assignments can be difficult for foster and adopted children as they require the child to know details about their genetics, heredity, and family history. Our children may feel uncomfortable or too embarrassed to publicly disclose to their teacher or their classmates that they don't know some of their history or their knowledge is incomplete or missing. If they decide to share their story, they could face well-meaning but intrusive and very personal questions they’re not prepared to answer. The child may wind up feeling different from their peers and experience an increased sense of isolation.
We recommend scheduling a meeting with your child’s teacher ahead of time to find out their knowledge of adoption. This could be a great opportunity to educate them and advocate for your child and other children in the classroom coming from non-traditional family backgrounds. Some of the more common school assignments to be aware of and alternative options:
Baby Pictures: This can be distressing for a child who may not have any baby pictures of their childhood. Instead, the child could draw a picture of themselves or the assignment could focus on “All About Me” and include the child’s favorite things.
Family Tree: Many children have non-traditional family structures. A family garden or forest allows the child to include as many individuals in their family as they desire, whether it be step-parents, half siblings, adopted and biological parents, grandparents, aunts and cousins, etc. This is a great opportunity for children to learn families can be all shapes and sizes. Or the assignment could focus on those who have cared for the child, a “caring tree,” including previous teachers, foster parents, doctors, nannies, etc. If the child wants to share that they’re adopted, an alternative assignment is the “Rooted Tree.” The child is the trunk, the roots are members of the biological family, and the branches are members of their current family.
Nationality/Heritage/Country Studies: Rather than having a child pick the country their heritage is from, they should be able to pick a country of their choice.
Autobiographies: Many children coming from painful or traumatic backgrounds lack information about their early years or it’s private and difficult to discuss. Alternatives could be to ask the child to write about a special event or person in their life, their life in the past year, or their entire life with less emphasis on their childhood.
Your child may react differently to each assignment, they may be excited to share information about their adoption or they may desperately want to fit in. Regardless, it’s important to prepare them ahead of time and talk through how they might handle particular situations. A great tool to prepare your child is the WISE Up! Book. WISE Up! empowers children to learn their story is unique, personal, and that they have the choice in how much information they decide to share about that. They can:
- Walk Away or ignore what it said or heart
- It’s private and I don’t have to answer it
- Share something about my adoption story
- Educate others about adoption in general
You can purchase the book online and listen to the companion webinar.