Tuesday Topic: How Do We Help Our Children Navigate Hard Questions at School?

Dimples - May 2007
Dimples – May 2007

It’s been ages since I’ve posted a Tuesday Topic and I’ve missed hearing from all of you. The accumulated wisdom here is remarkable and I love seeing us help one another. Today’s question should have been posted a few weeks ago when I received it, but it is so relevant that I’m going to share it now and look forward to hearing your thoughts, experiences, and encouragement. It comes from Natalia who writes,

We have two foster girls (3 and 5) who have been with us for about 5 months. Both of them will be starting preschool/pre-kindergarten in the next couple of weeks and as they enter into the school year I am anticipating a lot of “getting to know you” activities in their classrooms that encourage students to talk about their families, past experiences, etc.  The girls will most likely be the only foster kids in their classes. I’m wondering how others have helped their (young) kids tell their stories appropriately, respond to any questions or confusion they may get from their peers, and generally navigate a new school  environment with confidence and grace.  

Last week, when Eby was the Star Minion, we navigated this, but he has been home since he was two, so it is quite different from Natalia’s situation. Even still, it was something I thought carefully about as we prepared his “All About Me” poster and wrote a story about him. So many of us are walking through this right now. Please take a moment to leave a comment and share your thoughts or any encouragement you have for Natalia. I look forward to hearing from you. Encourage one another, Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Cindy
    September 30, 2014

    A tough one, indeed, and unfortunately, each child will be different, coming from a different personality set, background situation, willingness or desire to be open, etc. One thing that I do is to send a letter to the teacher at the beginning of the year. In that letter I remind him/her that every child is unique as are past experiences. I ask the teacher to keep this in mind when assigning tasks such as "Me Week", family trees, Name that Baby, etc. This may not change the assignment but will help to educate our teachers that some of these assignments are more difficult for foster or adoptive children. We have always been open with our children so these assignments give us yet another opportunity to discuss what the child wants to share and how. These can be great avenues for our children to open the eyes of their peers as well, but only if the child is willing and able. Sometimes sharing a favorite book, that deals with adoption, is a great way to introduce the topic in a neutral way. When introducing herself, the child can say, "I brought this book because I like it. One reason I like this book is because it is about a girl who has a family" instead of "I am adopted" or "I live in a foster home."

  2. Christine N.
    September 30, 2014

    We are adopting our first grader sometime during this school year, so I'm hoping I'll get to go do some kind of talk around the time it happens, but there isn't a plan yet. I was asked twice last year by a student about why we didn't match, and when the plan was reunification I just said that her parents were going to school to learn how to take care of her and she was staying with me until then. After the plan changed to adoption, I said that she has another mommy who carried her, but because her first mommy couldn't take care of her anymore that I was going to be her forever mommy. She spent most of last year in a "trauma fog," so those kinds of issues didn't really come up between her and the other students. With three to five year olds, it might not. Keeping good communication with her teacher was essential.

  3. Karen
    October 1, 2014

    While your children may be the only foster or foster to adopt children in their school, I do doubt that they will be the only children with a different or less traditional living environment. For my girls (home as infants and now almost 12 and 15 years old), I typically modeled the response for them in the beginning with something like, "Families are made in different ways. Some kids have a mom and dad, some kids live with their grandma, some kids live with just a mom, some with just a dad. The main thing is that kids have someone to take care of them and love them and I do that for HHHH." I also gave permission to my girls to be able to respond with "that is none of your business," encouraging them to say it in a nice way. We talked about how everyone doesn't have to know everything about their lives or our family. It's not a secret but it's not something we must talk about if we don't want to do so. For example, we all toot or pass gas. That doesn't mean we want to go around telling other people about our mom tooting. We also all brush our teeth but it isn't something that we talk about to just anyone or everyone and it's not a secret. Another thing I did was to tell my girls that all parents are supposed to take care of their children and if they cannot take care of them, then the parents need to get help. For some parents, they can get help by getting food at a local food bank. Some can take some parenting classes. And there are some cases when parents don't know that they need help and so community helpers (police, teachers, etc.) have to step in and help. This allows the kids to then be in a position where someone can take care of them. In other words, I never wanted to paint the parents in a negative light. I just wanted them to have a better understanding of the various circumstances that children can face when they come into care or an adoption plan is made for that child.

  4. sciencedino
    October 2, 2014

    Because of our 5th grade son's IEP and involvement with school based mental health, the school psychologist and his classroom teacher both know he's in foster care. As far as I know, his classmates do not know. For their "All about me" poster at the beginning of the school year, there was no section for "family." There was just a section to write a list of "people I love" and draw a picture of them. But for his "Favorite memory" our son did write living with his birth mom and siblings. So maybe he'll choose to explain that when he goes over his poster in class on Friday or maybe he won't. We're going to do a practice run at home and help him think through what he's comfortable sharing.

  5. Mary
    October 3, 2014

    I think the first defense against STPS (stupid things people say) is the dialogue at home. We have aimed for openness at home–we have our son's birth mom's picture on the shelf with other family photos. We talk about her often. We pray for her. We discuss our skin tones and why they are different. We talk about the things that make all of us family. And we pray for a sense of family amongst all of our children. If we run into a comment out in public that is not appropriate or potentially hurtful, I try to blow through it quickly if our son is present. Get the person to move on. If it is someone we will have ongoing contact with, I would discuss in private why some of their comments were inappropriate. If it is a stranger, I just move on. But then I speak with my son about it later. "What did you think about what so and so said?" And then we can talk about it.
    I feel so much less afraid about what people might say because I don't feel anything is hidden at home. Nothing is "off limits" for discussion.
    We don't discuss the details of why our son was in foster care and adopted. Those details are for much later in life. We just discuss the general idea that for adult reasons, his Mama T (what we call his birthmother) couldn't take care of him like she wanted to and so he has two mommies.
    What has also helped me personally with the awkward feelings I also have about the situation is realizing we are not alone. Lots of families have difficult things that make their family look "less than ideal." Divorce. An aunt raising a child. Death. Remarriage, etc.
    For a while I felt like I needed to validate myself as my adopted son's mother by making it feel like the same relationship I have with my birth children. And that was a fool's errand. Now I try to embrace the beauty of God bringing us together.
    That was kind of long. But I think the basic premise is–embrace the story (keep it at your child's level). Make no conversation off limits at home. And always check in with the child after an uncomfortable encounter with STPS.

  6. Kayla
    October 3, 2014

    We have always tackled stuff like that with the truth and tried to show our kids that they should not be ashamed of their stories but that they should embrace those stories, especially the positive parts of them. My kids don't have any "horror" stories in their pasts which helps make that a bit easier. That said, my 4 year old was born with congenital limb differences and only has 1 1/2 fingers. So we often have to deal with lots of questions about his hands and sometimes downright rude comments. In fact, just yesterday, we were at the mall playing and a little girl said his hands were creepy. I didn't hear it said but my 8 year old came over and was annoyed and I could see my 4 year old yelling at her, "They are not!" In that case, I was there to intervene and to tell her that "They are not creepy. They are different. That is just how he was born. Just like you have blue eyes and 10 toes. Would you like someone to say your blue eyes are creepy?" Anyway, my point is, I think it's about making the most of those moments and then preteaching what you can. In the case of the mall, I need to sit down with my 3 kids who were present to debrief a bit, to recap what we did well and how we can handle another similar situation. It has also meant preteaching my 4 year old by talking with him a head of time. For example, we went to our local college's football day, where the college team plays football with the elementary kids. My 4 year old got to go too but I knew that he would be with a lot of kids he didn't know, many of whom would be older. So before we went, I asked him if he thought people might say he couldn't play football because of his hands and what he would tell them. I think those principles apply to the stories some kids carry: to anticipate tough situations, to preteach them how to tell their stories in a way that feels comfortable, and then to also teach them how to get a grown up involved if they need help because there are always situations where other kids (or grown ups) are not satisfied with the answer given, where another grown up needs to step in and be the advocate.


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