The beginning of the school year is here! How will you help your child’s teacher understand the best ways to be sensitive to the needs of your adoptive child? Consider writing the teacher an email that describes some of the general experiences of adoptees, as well as the specific strategies they can use to support your child. Feel free to copy and revise the example letter below:
I hope that your school year is off to a wonderful start! I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with a bit of background on my child, ___, who will be in your class this year. ___ is an amazing kiddo with many remarkable qualities (of course, I know I may be a bit biased!) – he is very outgoing, compassionate, curious, inquisitive, humorous, and eager to learn, and he loves any play involving animals, physical activity, and music. I think that he is truly going to enjoy __ grade and all of the new concepts that will be presented.
I also wanted you to be aware that ___ was adopted at the age of ___, and has been a part of our family for ___ years now. While this is not the only experience that defines him, it is an important part of his identity and daily life. While we feel incredibly fortunate to be a family, we are also keenly aware of the losses ___ had to endure at an early age to join our family, and we try our best to be sensitive to how those losses affect him now. We hope that by sharing some of this information with you, it will help you to understand the uniqueness of his circumstances and respond in sensitive ways, as well.
We choose not share personal details about ___’s first family and history, because we believe it is his choice to decide what he feels comfortable sharing or keeping private. All too often, well-meaning people will unknowingly ask extremely insensitive questions about his history or adoption experience, and it leaves ___ in the uncomfortable position of trying to figure out how to respond in a way that protects his privacy without being disrespectful to the other person. This can bring up really big feelings, so if you notice that ___ seems upset after an interaction like this, we would appreciate it if you would notify us about what happened so that we can talk it through with him. We encourage ___ to explain the parts of his story he feels comfortable sharing with people he trusts, and to be honest when he wants to keep something private by saying something like, “That’s personal, I don’t feel like talking about it right now.” We would truly appreciate it if you could support him in those moments by redirecting the other student (or adult!) from continuing to ask more questions.
We are sure you recognize that assignments related to family trees, genetics, baby pictures and early life experiences can also bring up big emotions for adoptees. If you have any projects like this planned for the year, we would love to talk with you about how they could be adjusted to fit ___’s experiences so that he does not feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or left out. We’ve found that when adoption-sensitive templates are offered in addition to the more traditional templates right from the beginning of the assignment, it gives all of the students who may have non-traditional families the opportunity to be more engaged and not stand out as “different.” We are happy to provide you with some of the templates we already have or collaborate with you to develop new ones.
Because of the losses ___ experienced at an early age, it is also common for him to struggle with change, transitions and unpredictability. Every adoptee’s story is unique, but they all begin with the same lack of control over their circumstances, resulting in a little person who has to make massive adjustments to an all-new environment, which, as you can imagine, is incredibly frightening and disorienting. This puts their brains into “survival mode,” and many adoptees develop reactions to manage the stress. Six of the common coping reactions are Fight, Flight, Freeze, Friend, Fidget and Flop – ___’s “go-to” reactions for handling anxiety, stress and overwhelm are Fidget and Flop.
When ___ is in Fidget mode, it is usually because he is trying a new, challenging task and worries that he will make a mistake or fail. He looks very hyperactive and silly in this mode – we want you to know that he is not trying to be oppositional or attention-seeking, but is trying to find a release for all of the anxious energy that’s taking over in those moments. If you notice him acting his way, it helps to give him 2-3 minutes to run around and get the energy out if it is an appropriate time and space to do so, or if not, to get down on his level, look him in the eye, lightly put your hands over his and apply gentle pressure as you ask him to take some deep breaths in a soft, calm voice; some of the helpful words we use in these moments are, “___, check your body. Let the deep breaths push all the yukky feelings out.” This helps to soothe his active body and calm him down so that he can refocus and feel safe again.
When ___ is in Flop mode, it is usually because there are new people around and he is not sure what to expect of them. This mode can be a bit confusing for the adults in his life – he may look cooperative and calm, but he is actually more like a “zombie” – not very aware of his environment, not genuinely listening or retaining the information being shared, and going through the motions in a robot-like manner without actually understanding what he is doing. You may notice this he when sits quietly and looks like he is listening to your instructions, but then gets up and doesn’t know what the first step is to completing the task you just described. Another example would be if he seems to complete an activity just fine one day, but can’t remember how to go about it at all the next day. In these moments, it helps to give ___ your instructions when you are down at his level, looking him in the eye, and have your hands gently resting on his shoulders, so that he can be present and more alert with someone familiar, instead of disconnected from his environment as a protective strategy with unfamiliar people.
Most of the time, ____ will just seem like one of your typical students, and even though ___ has been through some uncommon experiences as an adoptee, we are constantly amazed by his progress and resilience. He has come so far, and we want to do everything in our power to help him be successful at school this year. We hope that this note helps you to understand him better, and we are more than happy to meet with you to answer any questions you might have as the year progresses. We are looking forward to having ___ be a part of your classroom this year, thank you so much for your support!
Please keep in mind that this is just an example email to offer ideas for phrasing, and not meant to be copied word-for-word. Try to keep your email as concise and brief as possible to respect the teacher’s time, and schedule in-person or phone meetings whenever possible to offer more direct communication and clarification. Not all parents of adoptive children need to reach out to the teacher in this way, but when you know that your child is triggered by or struggles with certain aspects of the academic environment due to their adoption experiences, it is best to be proactive, instead of retroactive, in your collaboration.