Understanding Complex Emotions of Adopted Children


By Sarah Lohman, LISW-S (Crosswinds’ Ohio Clinical Social Worker)

The emotions many children go through related to their adoption are as complicated and varied as children themselves. Adopted children generally lead lives that are no different from other children; however, they often face experiences that are unique to being adopted, which can impact their emotions and sense of identity. Fortunately, there are steps that families can take to help adopted children manage these complex emotions.

What is Considered Normal?

Grief and loss are normal emotions that many adopted children experience, regardless of whether they had a previous relationship with their birth parents. Even children who have experienced trauma or neglect while with their birth parents are still affected by the loss of this relationship, with these experiences further complicating their feelings.

Questioning is also an important part of processing. Healthy development for all children includes developing a personal identity, and for many adopted children, the sense of identity becomes complex. Oftentimes adopted children will grapple with why they were placed for adoption and have questions about their birth parents or biological siblings, and they may wonder how these things have affected who they are as a person. A history of trauma can further impact a child’s sense of identity.

While these emotions are normal and expected for adopted children, families can take steps to provide meaningful support.

Encourage communication

  • Adopted children may worry that their questions or negative emotions are a betrayal to their adoptive family
  • Talk openly and honestly about their adoption
  • Avoid talking negatively about the birth parents
  • Answer any questions in a truthful manner

Develop a strong bond early

  • Keep the lines of communication open between child and parent.
  • Provide opportunities for uninterrupted time and attention to help forge a strong attachment.
  • Devote time for one-on-one activities.
  • Schedule downtime with the whole family to encourage conversation and bonding.

Show unconditional love and acceptance

  • This is probably the most important step in helping adopted children manage their emotions and adjust to their new family.
  • Strive to tell and show them daily that they are an important and valuable member of the family and loved unconditionally.
  • Remind them that their past does not make them damaged or unlovable.
  • Communicate in words and actions that all of the child’s emotions, thoughts, and questions are welcome and they need not hide these to protect you, their adoptive parent(s).

Adoption can bring up strong and complex emotions. But with love and support, children can learn to communicate these feelings openly and develop their own sense of identity.

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