Returning to school in any year can be challenging, especially for adoptees. Returning to school after a pandemic and varied levels of remote and in-person learning across the country can be even more complicated, anxiety inducing and difficult to navigate. Preparing your family and those who joined it through adoption for the return to school should start even earlier this year than in previous years. Here are our tips to help you get started.
Meet your child where they are: Start talking to your children about their return to school and how they feel about their return sooner rather than later. Allow them to express their feelings, fears and emotions in open dialogue. Help them process the grief they’ve felt over the last 18 months of inconsistent schooling. A great place to start? Ask them what they liked about school last year and what they didn’t. Or try asking what they are afraid of and what they are hopeful for. Lastly, recognize if you have any expectations of your child that may not taking their history into account. Consider if you need to work on accepting your child where they are emotionally and understanding how this transition may be particularly difficult for your child. Not all children are ready to return to the classroom setting five days a week. And that’s ok!
Prepare yourself: Congratulations, you’ve taken a good first step by reading this article! Just like your child, processing your grief from the last year and addressing your fears of the upcoming school year is important. Try journaling about it, talking to your partner or someone you are close to or your adoption social worker. Allow yourself to feel your range of emotions, just like you would your son or daughter.
Be understanding of the changes in your child’s personality: The pandemic changed all of us and we’re still understanding and adjusting how we’ve changed. This is true for our children too, and they don’t have the experience or, often, the emotional awareness to know, process and accept these changes. A child that may have been outgoing or a standout student prior to the pandemic has grown and changed and shifted and may have become shyer or not as interested in school. A child who was previously shy is maybe more interested in people because they’ve gotten their fill of alone time. Allowing your child to explore these changing parts of themselves and normalizing that it’s ok to change is essential for their mental health and well-being. Talk to them about it and explore the new parts of themselves they like and enjoy.
Build a partnership with administrators, teachers and staff: Discuss your and your child’s concerns and fears with school staff. If your child isn’t ready (or you aren’t ready for them) to return to school five days a week from the first day of school, that’s understandable. Remember, as an adoptive parent you’ve advocated for your child from the day you started the adoption process, you know how to do this! You have the power to make the return to school work for your child and your family. If your child needs an adjusted schedule, tell the school and ask them to work with you.
Talk with administrators, teachers and staff about adoption: While you are talking with school staff about the upcoming year, share the parts of your adoption story you are comfortable with them knowing (Aren’t sure what you are comfortable sharing? check out this article on how much to share). Make sure you explain the language your family utilizes when speaking about adoption. This does double duty, it normalizes your child’s adoption story for your son/daughter and allows staff to ask questions and know how your family addresses difficult topics. Here’s a letter to a teacher you can use as a jumping off point. Here’s a resource that you can provide to teachers to supplement your conversation. And here’s an Adoption Basics for Educators that can be useful as well.
Provide the school with age-appropriate books about adoption: Books with adoption story lines aren’t just good for adoptees, all children can learn lessons in these books. By donating books to your children’s school, you’re providing resources for the school to normalize adoption for all kids. Here’s a list of some of our favorite adoption related books (scroll down to the age-appropriate books).
Ask about tricky assignments: Explain to teachers why a family tree and other personal and family history projects can be difficult for individuals who are adopted. Help by steering them towards assignments that are more inclusive for every type of family. Utilizing this guide is a great place for parents and teachers to brainstorm inclusive assignments.
Prepare your child for adoption questions and comments: No matter how much you prepare, your child is going to get tough questions and likely some unkind comments. While teachers and schools may be supportive, children are curious, aren’t afraid to ask questions and aren’t always delicate. Empower your children to answer those questions and respond to those comments. W.I.S.E Up! at C.A.S.E can be a great resource to start a conversation with your child about these questions and comments. W.I.S.E. provides four easy options for your children to address these questions and comments, it stands:
- Walk Away
- It’s private and I don’t have to share
- Share something about my adoption
- Educate others about adoption in general
Creating a Family also has some great webinars on talking to your children about adoption.
Want more resources and still have questions? We’ve compiled a bunch of them for you:
Back to School Round Up: Expert Advice for Adoptive Families, NCFA
Prepare your Kids Mentally for the Transition Back to School, CNN
Safety Tips for Returning to School during COVID-19, Mayo Clinic
Understanding the IEP Process, Creating a Family
Pandemic Schooling Advice from a School Counselor, The Adoption Connection
How Do We Help Kids Navigate Hard Questions at School?, The Adoption Connection