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Peer Relations Among Adopted Youth

One of the more challenging aspects of childhood, adolescents and the teen years is the successful management of healthy peer relations.

For adopted children, adopted adolescents and adopted teens (and their adoptive parents), concerns about friends, relationships and peer influence can be particularly acute.

Adopted children and inquisitive peers

As school-age adopted children strive to make sense of their adoption, their friends, neighbors and classmates who know of their adoptive status are also trying to understand adoption.

Adopted children may be asked a variety of questions from their peers (and other adults). Thus, adoptive parents need to know how to help their children answer these unavoidable questions with dignity, confidence, and appropriate consideration to privacy.

Planning ahead

To help prepare adopted children for the peer relation challenges they may face, adoptive parents need to first be aware of what their children are going to experience, and should discuss these situations in advance (in an age-appropriate manner, of course) with their adopted children.  

Here are some common questions that adopted children may face from peers:

  1. “Why didn’t you stay with your real family?”
  2. “How come you look different from your mom? Is she your real mom?”
  3. “Is that your real brother? Your hair is different.”
  4. “Why were you adopted?”
  5. “Does being adopted mean that your real family didn’t want you?”
  6. “Don’t you wonder about who your real family is?”
  7. “How do you feel about being adopted?”

How to help

While it is impossible to prepare an adopted child for every situation he or she will encounter when among his or her peers, the following suggestions can help adoptive parents take some of the fear out of the process

  1. Be a model for your adopted child. Your child can learn the most useful and appropriate responses by listening to you field questions and comments about adoption.
  1. Prepare and evaluate. Practice potential questions (and answers) with your adopted child. After a situation occurs, evaluate what happened, and talk about other possible responses. This will help your adopted child learn that there is no one correct response and that he/she has choices about how to handle each situation.
  1. Help your child consider the source and meaning of the question before the response is chosen. Was it well meaning but invasive? Curious and friendly? Ignorant? Unkind?
  1. Acknowledge the often painful or frustrating feelings that go along with being perceived as “different” by others, and encourage effective coping skills. As does every child (and adult, for that matter), adopted children need the guidance to realistically assess the problems they are likely to face, anticipate consequences of their actions, make the best choices, and learn from those choices.
  1. Help your adopted child identify the names of people who might be able to help. Whether at school, during neighborhood play, or in various social situations, your adopted child should know where (and to whom) he or she can turn for support and protection.

Peer relations are a challenge for all children, so adopted children shouldn’t feel as if they are alone in their struggles to form and maintain healthy peer relationships. However, adoptive parents should be aware of the unique challenges that their adopted children are likely to face, and should help prepare them to deal with these challenges in as productive a manner as possible.

Depending upon the specific internal and external issues that an adopted child is dealing with, professional assistance (in the form of counseling, therapy, or enrollment in a boarding school that is prepared to provide the proper level of guidance and support) may be the best options to ensure that the adopted child grows up to be a happy and healthy adult.

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