Starting the Adoption Conversation with Toddlers

Starting the Adoption Conversation with Toddlers

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Where to find adoption-themed books and toys for young children

“So, when are you going to tell him he’s adopted?”

I have been asked this question several times in the two years since I adopted my son. The inquiring minds are typically people on the periphery of our lives: nurses who saw the blank spaces in his medical history, service coordinators who scheduled his prematurity-related therapies.

“Um . . . I already told him,” I always answer. “It’s not a secret. We talk about it openly.”

Adoption experts resoundingly maintain that talking about adoption early and honestly is the best approach to creating a healthy family discussion.

“Parents have to be proactive, intentional truth tellers,” says Jayne Schooler, an adoption advocate and author, in an article in Adoption Advocate regarding how to talk to your child about adoption.

“Tell your child about his adoption early on,” she says. “Give him truthful answers from you, so he doesn’t find things out about his adoption from others in ways you would rather he didn’t.”

But where to start?

In my house, we started from day one by making adoption part of routine conversations. I’ve pointed out to our family, in his presence, whom he resembles from his birth family. We celebrate his adoption day with ice cream and a fun outing. I show him pictures from that first year when the adoption process was all-consuming.

Toddlers and preschool-aged children are simply not going to sit through a heart-to-heart about adoption. Their world is close by: their mommies, their pets, their close friends, their teachers. So we’ve been talking about it indirectly through books and toys.

Check out these resources to start your conversation:


My Family, My Journey: A Baby Book for Adoptive Families by Zoe Francesca (Chronicle Books, 2007). This baby book is beyond fabulous. My son loves to flip through his and look at the pictures while I tell him stories.

What’s smart about this book is that it could work for almost any adopted child, whether the adoption was done at birth or when the child was a teenager; whether domestic or international; whether private or from foster care. Instead of pictures from each month of infancy, there are places for pictures from each month the child has been with his family. There are pages to put pictures and stories from the child’s adoption day. There are pages to honor people who helped bring the family together and pages for stories about the child’s birth family.

Not all pages apply to every family—I simply wallpapered over inapplicable sections with photos.

The one major con about this book is that it uses the pronoun we throughout, a definite sore spot for us Solo Moms. I paused for a moment, initially disappointed, but then rationalized that we works because my son was adopted into a family that includes not just me, but extended family and close friends.

A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza (Puffin Books, 1996). This was one of the first books I bought for my son. While he’d rather read Curious George and books about the potty, I sneak this one in every once in a while. It’s a sweet story about a bird who goes searching for a mother based on looks. Could that walrus with the puffy cheeks like him be his mother? Could the penguin with wings like him be his mother? Eventually, he realizes that a mother isn’t someone who looks like him but someone who loves him.

Bonus (spoiler alert!): the mother he finds is a Solo Mom. Hurray!

I Wished for You by Marianne Richmond (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2008). Reading this for the first time to my son, who was about a year old when my mom gave this to us, made me all misty. “Mama,” says Barley. “Tell me again how I’m your wish come true.”

This sweet scene, with a mommy bear and a little bear snuggled together in a chair, starts this honest and easily digested children’s book that deals directly with adoption in words young children can understand.

Mama tells Barley about her wish to be a mother and how he was her greatest wish to come true. “What about the mama who grew me in her tummy?” asks Barley. “Didn’t she wish for me, too?” “Sometimes, Barley,” says Mama. “A mama will grow a baby in her belly and for all kinds of reasons, she’ll decide she cannot be the very best mama she wants to be.”

This book isn’t for every family—there are mentions of God and also of children being adopted from a faraway place—but by and large, this is a fantastic place to start a conversation with your toddler.

And Mama is a Solo Mom. Near perfection.


Fisher Price Little People. You can find these chubby little cuties in almost every toy store, Walmart, and Target in North America. This line of Fisher Price toys features kids and adults of several ethnicities working and playing on farms, in cities and garages, and at airports and zoos.

What’s great about Little People is that you can buy most of the actual people separately, so you can help your child build a family that resembles yours or maybe a family that also looks like the child’s birth family. You can casually reference your own family as the child plays naturally with the dolls.

Melissa & Doug Make-A-Face Sticker Pad. Melissa & Doug has fantastic children toys, period. And once again, it is spot-on with this sticker book.

The faces celebrate multiethnicity, as kids have a wide variety of skin tones, eye colors, facial features, and accessories to choose from when putting together their sticker people. It’s a great opportunity to be silly with funny faces and to talk about who the faces may look like.

TOOB animals. Finding dolls with similar representation to your own family can be tricky, but animals are a great stand-in. I love these TOOBs because of the variety, but any toy animals will work.

It’s fun to match the animal families together, but what if this alligator joined the turtle family? And sure this puppy doesn’t look like the tigers, but what if the tigers raised the puppy? What if this mama giraffe had a penguin baby and a lion cub?

Animals are fun for parents and children, and a great way to show children that people (and animals!) don’t have to look alike to be a family.

Sarah Netter, ESME’s Adoption Resource Guide, is a single mother by choice to a fabulous little boy, one neurotic Italian Greyhound, and two Spanish Galgo puppies. She is a full-time journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and ABC News.

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