About This site > What is involved in the adoption process? > Primary school children > Understanding of adoption

Understanding of adoption

Level two: four to six years
During these years children are still unable to properly understand the concept of adoption and the difference between being born into a family and joining it through adoption. Adopted children often assume that all children are born into one family and then join another. They may give the impression that they understand because they are able to repeat the story you have told them, but at this stage they do not fully understand what they are saying. At this age they are likely to face questions from their peers, so you need to help prepare them for this. [Back to top]

Level three (a): six to eight years
During this period children begin to develop a real understanding of adoption, learning to clearly differentiate between entering a family through adoption or birth. They accept that adoption is forever, partly because you have told them this, but they do not yet fully understand why.

At this time you need to share more information about their history, again thinking carefully about how to portray the facts. Make sure you seem at ease with the subject and continue to present adoption as a positive thing. Make sure your child feels able to express their feelings, especially if they are still trying to understand.

During this period your child’s behaviour may change and become more difficult as they begin to realise the significance of their story. They start to understand the issue of loss and what adoption means for them, entering the grieving process for the first time.

Level three (b): eight to ten years
During this stage children start to question the permanence of their relationship with their adoptive family. They wonder whether their birth family will reclaim them and whether a disruption within their adoptive family could change things. They also start to develop empathy for others and may start worrying about their birth parents or adoptive parents.

All of this increased sensitivity and awareness is important in helping children make more sense of adoption. You can help by responding positively to questions, taking the initiative in starting discussions about adoption and encouraging them to express their feelings. Brodinsky says: “The adoptive child at this stage needs sensitivity, patience, acceptance of his/her feelings and support from his/her parents.”

Level four: ten to twelve years
During this period children gain the ability to explore the issues in more depth and start to absorb the more distressing parts of their story and why they were adopted. [Back to top]