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When Do Children Really Understand What “Adoption“ Means?


When Do Children Really Understand What “Adoption“ Means?

Today most Scientists & Adoption Agents are of the opinion that parents should inform their adopted children as soon as possible about their status. The issue should thereafter be discussed more often at various points in time to give the child a chance to grasp their special status and the opportunity to ask questions. Only an early introduction to the subject will give parents and children a chance to develop an open and trusting relationship between each other.

There are two sides to the process of informing a child about it’s adoptive status: First of all the information has to be passed on to the child and secondly the child has to understand the information it has been given.
It is more than likely that a 4 year old child can be made to refer to itself as “adopted” and further tell that it has grown in another woman’s womb before being adopted by it’s present parents. This however does not go to say that the child has understood what an adoption really means. More so it has to be assumed that due to the child’s use of very specific vocabulary related to the issue of adoption the parents are lured into the false belief that their child fully understands the concept of adoption. By doing so, the cognitive capability of a small child is highly overestimated.

It takes approximately 10 years for an adopted child to fully grasp the information about its adoption which they have been given at the age of 3 or 4. This knowledge was the result of the scientific research by BRODZINSKY and his colleagues.

Although the 4-5 year old children had all been informed about their adoption most of them did not have any understanding of the meaning of an adoption (grade 0). At an average age of 5 years and 6 months most examined children either assumed that all children in general were born to their biological parents or that adoption and giving birth are the same (grade 1). At the age of 7 years and 2 months children could distinguish between adoption and birth. They viewed it as 2 different means of becoming a part of a family. The relationship between the adoptive parents and the child was described by the children to be a permanent one. However they could not articulate a reason for the permanence of this relationship other than voicing the assumption that “The child is now owned by its adoptive parents” (grade 2).

There are 3 more grades in Brodzinsky`s research which you can find on the related website

Brodzinsky and his colleagues research clearly shows that the understanding of an adoptive child with reference to its adoption develops in predictable phases. In the beginning the knowledge is still very general and slightly diffuse but becomes more sophisticated with time.


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