Tips for Helping Your Adopted Child Through Developmental Phases

developmental phases

A child’s adoption journey does not end with placement, but is a lifelong journey. Growing up is already a wild ride, and parents must understand that, as adoptees, their children will have a bit extra to deal with as they grow up. Here are some tips for helping your adopted child through the different stages of childhood and growing up.


0-12 months

This is the time to really build a strong bond with your child. A safe, nurturing, loving environment for your child lays the foundation for attachment and trust. Creating a strong, trusting bond with your baby will help him or her with building healthy future relationships.

For babies coming from an orphanage or foster care, be sure to pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues, and always remind them you love them and are not going anywhere.


13-24 months

Toddlers are a curious bunch. They are learning about the world and will have a lot of questions about it. Now is the time to become your child’s go-to person for any questions, problems, or needs. Along with this curiosity comes the time to normalize your child’s adoption. Adoption is quite an abstract concept at this age, but it is important to introduce the subject. There are great resources for dealing with adoption at this age, but you also need to be open and honest with your child. Read adoption stories at bedtime that your child can relate to, and reinforce his or her own adoption story so that your child feels comfortable.


2-4 years

Like toddlers, preschoolers are curious, asking just as many, or perhaps more, questions. Their questions start to revolve around family and body parts, and if your child is from a different ethnic background, questions about why your skin is different. With preschoolers, it can be hard to know how much is too much information for your child. Rather than trying to figure out just the right amount of information, let your child direct the conversation. Respond to questions simply but appropriately, and don’t push issues simply because you think they should be discussed. Let your child discover things themselves. But with that, keep in mind that weaving in adoption stories at bedtime and subtly prompting talks about adoption is perfectly okay.

Elementary-aged children

5-8 years

When children enter elementary school, their world becomes less about the safe, nurturing world of home life and more about the outside world and its influences. Teachers, friends, sports, and much more will begin to affect your child in new ways. These influences will likely bring up tougher, more complicated questions about adoption.

Children will also be able to better understand their adoption story at this age. No longer an abstract concept, new, more serious questions about your child’s adoption and birth family will come up.

Allow your child to ask the tough questions and feel the emotional ups and downs that come with learning your adoption story. Help your child to learn healthy ways of coping with any negative emotions he or she faces. Always remind adopted children how loved and supported they are, and that they are a part of your family for a reason.


9-12 years

This is a great time to bring up the more intricate details of your child’s adoption. Preteens know better how to deal with their feelings, as well as recognize others’ feelings. Pay attention to how your child is dealing with her adoption among the many other things going on in a young person’s life. Listen carefully, try to let your child do the talking, and let them know they can talk to you about anything, anytime.


13-18 years

Teenagers- boys, girls, adopted or not adopted- can be tricky. With the constant changes teens face come discomfort and insecurity, and they are more likely to push back against their parents. A lot of give and take is necessary with teenagers- parents must maintain a sense of parental control without making their child feel controlled or restricted. When it comes to a teenager’s adoption, things can become more complicated. They may wish to contact their birth family, or question their place within your family. Let your teen know that you support her and acknowledge her feelings, but remind her that you are her parent and always will be.  Also remember, you are not alone.  Do not hesitate to obtain qualified therapeutic advice and intervention if necessary.  Remember to speak about adoption openly- it is not a subject to be whispered or hidden.  Deception can undermine the parent/child relationship, even when the adoptive parent is seeking to shield the child from hard truths.  Here is a great podcast that delves into this topic a bit more.

Open, closed, or something in between, no one type of adoption arrangement is best for all adoption participants, and what works well for one party at one time in life may not work well for all. Researchers agree, however, that regardless of whether the adoption is open or closed, adoptees are most likely to flourish in an environment where adoption is discussed in an open, positive manner and their adoptive parents have come to terms with their own path to parenthood.

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