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Respectful Ways to Talk about Adoption: A List of Do's & Dont's

The language we use to talk about adoption can have significant positive or negative impacts on children and their families. The list below present respectful ways to talk about adoption with families and children, as well as language and phrases to avoid.

Let’s Talk: Respectful Adoption Language & Behavior

DO: Use the words “birth child” and “adopted child” only when they are relevant to the discussion; otherwise simply use “child."
DON’T: Refer to a child born to his parents as the parents’ “real child,” “own child,” or “natural child.” A child who was adopted is very real and not at all unnatural; she is very much her parents’ “own child.”

DO: Use the words “birth parents” or “biologic parents” only when asking about them is relevant.
DON’T: Refer to the child’s birth parents as his “real parents” or “natural parents.” Adoptive parents are very real and not at all unnatural.

DO: Treat siblings who joined families by birth or adoption equally. They are loved equally by their parents and experience all of the joys and trials of any sibling relationship.
DON’T: Distinguish between children who were adopted into the family and children who were born into the family unless it’s relevant.

DO: Describe birth parents as choosing “to make an adoption plan for the child” or “to place the child for adoption.”
DON’T: Refer to a child as being “put up” or “given up” for adoption. Most birth parents have thought long and hard about their decision to place a child for adoption. It is very important to a child’s self-esteem to know that her birth parents loved her and worked hard to reach a decision that they felt to be in her best interest. Even when birth parent rights are terminated involuntarily, the child needs to know that it wasn’t her fault that her birth parents could not take care of her at the time and that other adults are looking out for her best interests.

DO: Recognize that families come in all shapes and sizes. Some families may have a single adoptive parent or permanent legal guardian and no other legal parent. Others families have same-sex parents.
Assume that the child has two opposite-sex parents.

DO: Refer to birth parents as “choosing not to parent” their child. This implies to the child who was adopted that birth parents made their decisions based on what they felt was in the best interest of each child when they made their decision.
DON’T: Refer to birth parents as “choosing not to keep” their child. This implies to a child who was adopted that he was “not worth keeping.”

DO: Talk with a family about how it celebrates the intercultural and/or interracial nature of the family. Many families make special efforts to include their children’s culture and heritage in daily routines and traditions. Available research shows that children clearly benefit from this practice.
DON’T: Ignore a child’s birth country, race, or genetic heritage. Especially in communities where there is limited ethnic diversity, children from racial or ethnic minorities need family and physician support to overcome racism and develop a strong, positive racial identity.

DO: Recognize that a child understands adoption gradually as she grows, just as with all other developmental tasks.
DON’T: Ask, “Are you going to tell your son that he’s adopted?” Adoptive parents are encouraged to talk freely and honestly about adoption from the time their child is very young so that there is never a time in the child’s life when this information comes as shocking news.

DO: Be sympathetic with the long and sometimes arduous path that parents have traveled to become parents. Some may be experiencing significant financial stresses after the adoption, some may still be grieving infertility losses, and some may be coping with extended family members who do not accept the new member of the family. Recognize that even though the child may not be a newborn, the adults may be new parents. Recognize that post-adoption depression exists and is similar to post-partum depression.
DON’T: Ask, “How much did you pay for your daughter?” Children are not bought. Fees go to pay social workers and attorneys, to complete court and government paperwork, to cover travel, medical, foster/orphanage care, and other expenses, not to “buy children.”

Additional Infromation:

Last Updated
AAP Council on Foster Care, Adoption, & Kinship Care (Copyright © 2014 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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