When you made the decision to adopt your son, it was one of the happiest days of your life. Now, though, he’s of the age where you feel it’s only right to talk to him about the fact that you adopted him. How do you even go about starting this difficult but necessary conversation?
To tell your 10-year-old son that he’s adopted, you should:
- Plan for a quiet time where you can both dedicate yourselves to the conversation
- Keep it between you and him or add another parent, but not siblings (not right away)
- Don’t necessarily tell your son everything if he has a painful past, at least not yet
- Speak in plain, simple terms understandable to a child his age
- Be ready to answer questions
- Mention how much you love and care for your son and how special he is to you
- Tell him that this doesn’t change your relationship with you and him as well as his other parent and his siblings
If that sounds like a lot to remember all at once, don’t stress. Throughout this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to prepare for this pivotal moment. We’ll also include what reactions your son may have, how to deal with them, and methods for coming together as a familial unit once more.
When Should You Tell Your Child He’s Adopted?
If you adopted your son when he was very young, then he might not have much if any recollection of his birth parents. He probably just remembers living with you for as far back as his memory goes. To him, you and your spouse are his real parents.
Still, he has to know the truth sooner or later. Some experts recommend telling your child as soon as he’s two years old. You could wait until he’s four and has a bigger vocabulary. If you do want to share the news with your child at this age, then you should start saying “adoption” casually when possible. This will help your son wrap his head around the word and its connotations.
Others believe waiting until the child is far older, such as six to 12 years old. You’re in that boat yourself. Whether because you adopted your son late or you thought talking to him about adoption at two years old was too early, you waited. Now he’s 10 and shouldn’t have difficulty grasping the concept of adoption and having different adoptive parents. That said, as we mentioned in the intro, speaking in plain terms works best.
At the age of 10, your son is considered a tween now and not a child. Considering that most tweens are going through physical and emotional changes through puberty and also growing up, learning they were adopted at this time can prove devastating to some kids.
Tweens already want to know who they are and where in life they fit. Having to question their past through adoption makes it that much harder to understand themselves. You’ll have to keep this in mind as you open up the discussion about your son’s adoption.
How Do You Talk to Them about Being Adopted?
Okay, you’re ready to finally break the news to your 10-year-old son that you adopted him. How do you go into this all-important talk? Here’s some pointers to follow.
Set Aside a Quiet Time with No Other Obligations
If there’s one conversation you don’t want interrupted by work emails, phone calls, or texts from school friends, it’s this one. In fact, you might opt to keep all smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and computers out of the room.
Make sure both you and your son have at least a few hours open before you sit down and have this conversation. It’s possible that you may talk about everything all at once, but this doesn’t always happen. Your son might need time to absorb the news before he comes back for a follow-up conversation. Either way, it’s better to have the time now and not use it than have to turn your son away because of prior obligations.
Keep the Conversation Semi-Private
If you want to tell your son the news alone, that’s fine. If you have a spouse who partook in the adoption as well, then they might want to have a say in matters. Otherwise, keep everyone else out. Telling your son he’s adopted in front of his whole immediate family can make him feel ashamed and self-conscious. Younger siblings might not understand the gravity of the situation and can accidentally make things worse.
Consider Which Details to Divulge
While you want to clue your son in on his birth parents, maybe he doesn’t have to know every last gory detail. If, for instance, his parents gave him up because of a drug addiction or substance abuse problem, leave that info out. The same is true if your son was by chance the product of rape. Also, if his birth parents have died, don’t share that information right away. There’s always time later.
This can be a painful, tumultuous time for your son. Adding insult to injury by telling him his birth parents are bad people will make the situation far worse. Whether it’s now when he’s 10 or some years later, with time, your son will have a natural curiosity about his birth parents. He’ll likely come to you then with questions. If he’s older, you might decide to tell him the full truth at this time.
Use Simple, Plain Language So Your Son Understands Everything You Tell Him
Remember that you’re an adult speaking to a tween. Your child is only 10 years old. He’s probably in the fourth grade, maybe the fifth. You want to speak in words he already has in his vocabulary. That sometimes means you explaining the very concept of adoption to him.
The words you choose here matter a lot. Saying adoption is something that happens when a mother doesn’t want her child can leave a lasting scar on your son. Instead, you might phrase adoption as what a parent does when they love their child but can’t give them the best life. Your son should understand that well enough.
Prepare for Questions, Lots of Questions
This is a very confusing time for your son. He’s undoubtedly going to have questions about what you tell him as well as what you don’t tell him. This may come all at once as a barrage during the initial conversation or later once he’s had some time to sit with the news, as we mentioned.
You want to answer his questions as best you can, but again, watch your language and avoid diving too deep into painful subjects. He already has enough on his plate. Don’t add more.
Make Sure Your Son Knows How Special He Is
Your son is an extraordinary child. He’s a great friend, neighbor, classmate, maybe even a sibling. He needs to know more than ever that you think he’s great. You might tell him all the qualities that made you choose to adopt him if you think he can handle that story. Otherwise, highlight all he is that makes him so very unique and wonderful. Remind him that you feel that way about him.
You want to make the sentiment seem authentic. Just saying he’s special without stating reasons why might not go over well. Even if you do say something from the heart, your son might not be in the mood to hear it right away. You have to think of things from his perspective. He just endured earth-shattering news. Compliments might not sit too well with him right now.
Let Him Know He’s Cared for and Loved
That said, it’s very important you tell him how much you love and care for him. Let him know that just because he’s adopted doesn’t mean you love him any less. It’s especially crucial to reiterate that if he has other siblings. In fact, your son might grow jealous of them because they’re your natural birth children and he isn’t.
Reiterate How His Familial Relationships Will Stay the Same
Speaking of familial relationships, your son might perceive that these will change. He’ll now watch with an eagle eye to see how you’ll treat your birth children versus him. If he perceives that they get more attention than he does, good or bad, he might get upset.
You’ll want to have a separate conversation with your other children (if you have them) to tell them that your son is adopted. Explain that he’s still as much a part of the family as they are. Encourage them not to use his adoption as a point of mocking or bullying. You can’t guarantee what your other children will or won’t do, but hopefully the conversation dissuades this type of negative behavior.
Five Ways Your Child Will Probably React to the News
There are many factors that will determine how your son will take the news of his adoption. If you introduce the concept of adoption into his life early and tell him when he’s young, then you might not get much emotional extremes. Older children who have grown up their whole lives to this point believing you and your spouse or partner were the birth parents might have a much harder time processing the news. A child’s personality also comes into play.
Here’s five reactions you should ready yourself for. Do keep in mind that, as we mentioned before, these emotions might not rise to the surface immediately. Your son may be flabbergasted right after getting the news. In the hours, days, and weeks to come, he might embody one or all these feelings.
It’s not abnormal for most kids to go into a type of shock upon hearing the news that they’re adopted. As we just said, if your son has believed for the past 10 years that you and your spouse or partner are his birth parents and he now finds out that’s not true, you’re going to rock the very foundation of his world.
Shock may manifest in silence, numbness, or even disengagement from the situation. In a state of shock, your son might not have much to say right away. Once he internalizes the reality of the situation, that could change.
With that numbness of the matter fading, your son might now express poignant disbelief. He may insist that there’s no way you can’t be his real parents because he’s grown up with you for as long as he can remember. Not only that, but he looks like his siblings, too. How is he not a birth child?
You should reiterate the truth, but not incessantly. Your son needs the time to answer these questions with facts that he already knows but refuses to believe.
If your son doesn’t feel disbelief upon getting the news, he might be angry. How could you lie to him his whole life? How come no one ever told him before now? Who are his parents and why are you keeping him away from them?
In his anger, your son might spew some hurtful things. He might even say he doesn’t have to listen to you anymore because you’re not his real parent. It’s important to let your son get his feelings off his chest, to a point. If he’s hurting those around him verbally or physically, then you need to put the kibosh on things.
Anger can often give way to sadness. Your son might miss the birth parents he never had. Knowing his life has drastically and forever changed could make him feel extremely upset. Let your son mourn the life he never knew about. Do stay vigilant though, because some sadness can easily give way to depression.
If your son doesn’t want to get out of bed, has mostly stopped eating, and doesn’t have an interest in his favorite activities and hobbies, then you might want to consider bringing him to a psychiatrist or counselor.
Very rarely will children show acceptance of their adoption right off the bat. They typically have to reach this place with time, much like going through the stages of grief. If you encourage your son and prove to him that your family will remain a united front with him in it, then he should eventually get to the point where he finds that being adopted isn’t the end of the world.
How to Restore Your Family Dynamic After the News
With the whole family now aware of the adoption, how do you maintain the familial dynamic for your son’s sake? Here’s some pointers.
Don’t Change Much
This might sound counterintuitive, but like we said before, your son will watch you closely to see how you act around him compared to his siblings. He needs that normalcy more than ever. By treating everyone fairly and like you did before you broke the news, your son might adjust faster.
Plan a Family Outing
After dropping such a bombshell, you might want to take the whole family on a trip. Make sure this isn’t right after you make the adoption news, as your son could need a few days or weeks to process all his emotions. A vacation or trip for the next month works best.
Remind Your Son You’re There for Him
As we’ve mentioned, the questions and emotions that can be borne from an adoption announcement may manifest weeks or months after you originally tell your son the news. Let him know that no matter what he wants to talk about pertaining to the adoption or when, you’re there for him.
One matter he might want resolved could relate to his birth parents. He might want to know who they are and if they’re still alive. Then, he could want a way to contact them or even see them. You’ll have to use your discretion on that one.
If you don’t know who your son’s birth parents are, then say so. If they died, it’s better to tell him now then let him go on for years hoping to meet them someday. If they committed a crime or didn’t want him outright, then you might flub the truth and say that you have no means of contacting them. You can also tell your son you cannot legally get in touch with them.
In the instances where the birth parents want to see your son and he wants to see them, it’s your choice whether that happens. If you say no for petty reasons like jealousy, then know that your son will probably seek out his birth parents on his own when he gets older.
Although your son’s birth parents brought him into his world, you’ve guided him through it. The love he could feel for them wouldn’t be the same as the relationship he has with you. If the circumstances are healthy enough where such a relationship could exist, then don’t hinder it.
You’ve decided to tell your 10-year-old son that he’s adopted. This difficult conversation takes a lot of preparing. You need to know just what to say and ready yourself for a flurry of emotions and questions on the part of your son.
With the tips, pointers, and advice offered in this guide, you should be ready to take this monumental step and keep your family on track in the aftermath.
Nicole Malczan is a content marketing writer and freelancer. She's applied her knowledge of marketing and SEO to many clients over the years, ranging from food service to facilities management and currency exchange. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, baking, and music.