Many adopted children are bullied and teased throughout their lives. Bullying of adoptees can center around race, gender, adoption status, development, social skills, and much more. It can be easy to dismiss teasing or bullying as “kids being kids” or to suggest that you, as the parent, can relate to a time that you were bullied or teased. While this is true, bullying of adopted children can be more complex. Many adoptees fear rejection and abandonment, something they have already experienced. Talking to your adopted child about bullying is important to help them cope and speak up when bullying starts.
Adopted children can become targets because of developmental, behavioral, and neurological differences. They may also be teased about their complex history or physical differences from their adopted parents or siblings. Many kids who experience trauma early in life are wired to be impulsive and have a fight or flight response.
Adoptees cannot escape these differences. They need adults in their lives to acknowledge and help them navigate the meaning of these differences. We must stand up for them and teach them to respond appropriately. Dismissing bullying and teasing can feel like another rejection for a child who is struggling to understand what happened to them.
Real questions shared by adoptees
“How much did they [adoptive family] pay for you?”
“No wonder they [birth parents] left you.”
“Is your real mom a crack-head?”
“Where are your real parents?”
“Why is your name __________? You don’t look like a _________.”
“Are you dating that guy?” (pointing to an adoptee’s sibling or parent)
“What does it feel like to be an orphan?”
“Were your true parents poor or something?”
“Go back to ________.”
“Aren’t orphans dirty?”
These statements are painful for any child or parent to hear.
How do you talk to your adopted child about bullying?
- Ask questions when your child talks about a bad day at school or problems with friends. Try to understand what is happening. Is bullying taking place? What is the source of the teasing?
- Help your child define what bullying is. Calling it out for what it is can be critical. When we can name an event, we can better process it, and learn what to do the next time.
- Talk about appropriate reactions to bullying. Walk away. Say “stop.” Don’t fight. Stay calm.
- Teach them the difference between tattling and reporting. Talk about the importance of reporting bullying to a teacher, counselor, or parent.
This is just the beginning of a broader conversation. Many children experience bullying and teasing daily. Talking about bullying can be uncomfortable, but it is important. Children must feel safe enough to speak up when bullying occurs. That starts with a conversation.