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Understanding of adoption

Level one: under four years
At this age children are thought to have no real understanding of adoption. However, this period is important because it is when children first become familiar with the word ‘adoption’ and start to associate it with positive or negative feelings.

There will be many natural opportunities for you to introduce the word ‘adoption’ and start to build your child’s understanding – the earlier you start, the easier it will be:

  • tell your child bedtime stories about when they joined your family and how happy everyone was. Say things like: “You grew in Sarah’s tummy and then you came to live with us.”
  • if your child still has toys or gifts from their foster carer or birth relatives, use these as the basis of stories about their past.
  • regularly sit down together to read your child’s life story book, and keep it somewhere they can always find it – they should think of it as a special book that belongs to them.
  • if you have Letterbox contact with your child’s birth family, sharing information from the letters with your child can also provide opportunities for discussion.

The way in which you use the word ‘adoption’ is vital – if you are comfortable and positive then your child is likely to associate it with good things.

Don’t overload your child with details straight away – these will emerge over time if the topic is kept open within the family. Associations are built from a very young age and are influenced by what you do both verbally and non-verbally. [Back to top]

Remember, children’s pre-school years are a time of discovery and delight as they learn about the world around them. Due to their earlier experiences, your child may have missed some important stages of their development. This could mean that they may be behind and need some time to catch up.

Discussing your child’s past from an early age will create an environment in which adoption is a natural part of life. It is also an excellent opportunity for you to practice telling their story! This will help you become comfortable with the adoption issue and familiarise yourself with the facts. Keep telling the story so you feel at ease with it and it feels natural. You can then expand on the information you provide as your child gets older, responding to their level of understanding and the questions they ask.