I smiled and listened closely as I overheard my daughter, Lillianna, and her friend, Rachael, playing with their dolls the other day. Lilli said, "Let's play orphanage." There was no hesitation. Rachael picked up the theme in a heartbeat and said, "I'll be a mom coming to take my baby home." And thus began an hour of play between these two adopted seven-year-olds and their dolls.
We adoptive parents have made it a practice to talk to our children about their adoption story. We retell it, discuss it from time to time, and add facts and information when it seems appropriate. There may also be times when it does not seem right to talk or encourage our children to talk about adoption, as well as times when the pressures of parenting cause us to forget about keeping up the discussion.
We find that younger children ask questions about their adoption story. As they grow older, we know they continue to think about adoption-related issues. But, ironically, as their thinking becomes more concrete, they tend to ask fewer questions and engage less in discussion about adoption.
But, as Lillianna and Rachael teach us, there is another way for adopted children to work out their feelings about adoption, and that is through play. Playing is comfortable, natural, and more fun than talking. And, lucky and fun for us, we can be a big part of it.
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Play by the Rules
*Do not be afraid to bring up adoption in the context of play. It can help children process their feelings, get comfortable talking, and bring youcloser to them as you share this fun and private time.
*If your child has not wanted to discuss adoption in the past, playing might be the way to get him or her to open up. Play also encourages creativity, helps develop a sense of trust and reduces anxiety. Play can set up a healing stage where your child's buried feelings of sadness or anger can be expressed, explored, and explained.
*Stop the play and/or consult a professional if your child exhibits excessive anger, worry, sadness, fears, aggressive behavior, or new separation anxiety.
Definitely some good ideas here. The article doesn't use any examples of using play to talk about birth parents and abandonment, but of course ANY and ALL adoption issues can be addressed in play. Click here for a post about role-playing abandonment and being found with my kids.
One caveat about the last point in the article -- stopping and/or consulting a professional if your child exhibits excessive anger, worry, sadness, etc. Focus on the word "excessive," please! It is perfectly normal for children to express anger, worry, sadness, and fear when discussing hard issues. Don't stop just because your child is showing her feelings -- expressing emotions is a good thing!
And for general -- and terrific -- advice about using play to become closer to your children and to discuss hard issues, see Playful Parenting, recommended by my friend Lisa.