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The conversation parents of adopted children need to have with teachers

Jill is a sometime runner and expert wine taster from sunny San Antonio. She has a degree in social psychology, one husband and three children. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Babble and she's regular...

Why talking to teachers about your kid's adoption is important and how to do it

Is anyone else looking at the calendar and wondering how the summer can be zipping by so fast? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were counting the minutes ‘till the last day of school and planning our summer?

Is it just me or is the summer slipping away and those three little words — back to school — are appearing every-fricken-where? Sigh.

My two 5-year-olds will be starting kindergarten in a few weeks. I feel like a pro at this whole school thing since my kids went to pre-K last year. We know where the bus stop is and how to electronically load lunch money in just 17 easy steps. School is a familiar place for my kids and I’m confident they’re ready for this new adventure.

More: Transracial adoption isn’t a secret

But, is school ready for them?

My boys are not twins. They are four months apart and if you see our family and have an IQ of above 12, you will quickly realize that they are adopted. They are clearly Asian… my husband and I are very clearly not Asian.

When we started school last year, it didn’t occur to us to talk to the teachers about adoption. I quickly realized that was the wrong approach.

Early in the school year, I heard one of the teachers refer to my boys as “the twins,” so I took a minute to correct her. It might not seem like a big deal, but I am teaching my kids to be honest about who they are and to be proud… and they are not twins.

“They’re not actually twins, although a lot of people think that. They’re four months apart.” 

She gave me a strange look and said: “I don’t understand how that could happen.” 

I’m not proud of my reaction. I gave her my special “you are so clueless” look of disgust and walked away. But that got me thinking... maybe I should have taken a few minutes to communicate my children’s somewhat unique circumstances to the people who were going to be spending a huge chunk of the day with them.

Why talk to teachers about adoption?

Behavior issues:  Adoption sometimes — not always — comes with collateral effects. There might be attachment issues or insecurities that stem from adoption or foster care placement, especially for kids who weren’t adopted as babies. If this is the case with your family, maybe it’s helpful for their teacher to know a bit of your story.

Terminology: No adoptive parent likes to be asked, “What happened to the real mother?” Or, “Why didn’t his real family want him?” As much as I’d like it not to be true, people are sometimes thoughtless when they ask about adoption. If you begin the relationship with the teacher on an open note, you have prime opportunity to introduce appropriate terms, such as, “Becky is Hunter’s birth mother,” or “Emily has three biological siblings that don’t live with our family.” 

More: Ways to get a jump on back to school madness

How should you talk to teachers about adoption?

Since it’s so easy to communicate electronically nowadays, I plan to send our teachers some basic information via email sometime during the first week of school. Back to school nights and meet and greets are probably not the greatest times to launch into detailed family history. Plus, it’s nice for the teacher to have something in writing to refer to later. My email will probably go something like this: 

"We adopted Kyle from China when he was 3. We have limited information about his early life… Can you contact me if you’re planning baby picture/family tree projects? Our family is pretty open about adoption… if you have questions, please ask!"

More: What attachment parenting is like when you adopt

This opens communication and alerts the teacher for potential sensitive spots, like the fact that my child might be the only one in his class without baby pictures.

I’m winging this whole mom thing and talking to teachers about adoption is no exception, but showing willingness to talk about it will (hopefully) start our school year off right. Now, if I could only figure out those damn lunch tickets.

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