I work as a Certified Child Life Specialist in a hospital setting where I am often charged with
providing supportive conversations with children about new diagnosis, surgery and loss.
Even with formal training and a degree to support this work, it is often my 5½-year-old’s infinite curiosity that brings me to a loss for words.
Our family currently finds itself in various stages of permanency. We have an adopted son, a baby we are fostering, and I am also expecting. On the way to school one day, my son asked, “What will happen if we can’t adopt the baby (in your belly)?” Previously, he had asked, “Will we get to keep the baby in your belly?”
This led to a conversation about why someone might enter foster care, or need adoptive services. I started, “Everyone grows in their mom’s belly, sometimes kids get to stay with that mom and dad and sometimes they need to stay with another family who will help take care of them.” Then he wanted to know, “Why did Mama need help taking care of me?”
I appreciate that everyone has a different story, and that everyone who enters foster care does so under unique and often very sensitive circumstances. Sometimes these details may not be appropriate for young children to hear, but I also appreciate a child’s need to develop his self-identity and to become familiar with his own story. We have an infamous statement in my field that we often share with parents to encourage sensitive transparency, “if children aren’t given information, they often make it up for themselves and oftentimes their version can be very far from the truth.”
There are resources and people to support you through these tough questions. While it might be easier if our kids talk to their counselors, teachers, therapists or caseworkers about these thoughts, they often come up under our care. A kid’s curiosity often peaks at bedtime, or while you’re making dinner together, during trips in the car or other moments where there is quiet attention. How will you respond?
- Be honest, even if this means saying, “I don’t know, I often wonder that, too.”
- Be supportive of the vulnerability it takes to ask you these questions by saying something like, “Wow, those are some big questions. Thank you for sharing them with me.”
- Be committed to helping your child find the answers or support she is seeking. Contact your social worker for more help with outside resources. “I don’t know, but I will talk to someone who might be able to help us find out more.”
- If you are worried about the biological family’s privacy and sensitivity of the information, always consult with your child’s social worker, therapist, or other support person before answering your child.