School is officially back in full swing for us. My daughter is starting a new high school this year and for the first time it hasn’t crossed my mind that she will have to answer questions about her family. For the first time, she’s going to school with a friend who was also adopted from China, and attending a diverse School for the Arts in a large city. It’s a new experience for us. Since kindergarten my daughter has attended private, parochial schools. She was the minority race and the only kid adopted from China so she had answered all kinds of questions from classmates over the years.
“What happened to your real parents?”
“Did your mom die?”
“Where are you from?”
“Is THAT your mom?”
“That’s your brother!?”
My daughter’s first experience with a question from her peers was as early as pre-school. She came home happy from school that day. While I was helping her get ready for bed, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and it triggered a memory from that day. She stretched the outer corner of her eyes and said, “Joshua told me my eyes look like this today! I want them to look like yours.” I told her how beautiful I thought her eyes were even though they were different than mine. Then I went on to ask her how it made her feel to try to decipher the intention of the comment. “Did it make you feel bad, honey?”, I asked. “Kinda”, she said. “Oh honey, I’m sorry that made you feel bad. You have beautiful almond-shaped eyes and Joshua was probably noticing them since they are different from his.”
Most pre-school children are simply curious and ask innocent questions to understand the world and people around them. Simple answers usually are enough. However, sometimes there is a clever and mischievous youngster in the class who learns to push other’s buttons early.
If your family differences are less conspicuous at first, your child may not have to deal with classmate questions until after preschool. As children move into middle childhood, social comparisons begin and kids may need to develop more sophisticated ways to respond to questions from peers.
“Where did you get your blue eyes?”
“You don’t look like your mom at all!”
“Is that your REAL dad?”
Children need help understanding how to respond to their friends in constructive ways that maintain healthy boundaries. They also need help addressing inappropriate and mean comments they may encounter. And you may too. In my book, Three Makes Baby, I offer five ways to teach your kids to handle social situations. They all begin with the letter D and I use game analogies to help you remember to use them in a moment that catches you off guard. Hopefully, this will empower you and your child to handle any uncomfortable situation that comes up.
When peer questions or comments upset your child, you’ll want to know how to comfort them. As a parent, it’s best to be prepared early. If you are struggling to find the right words, you’re not alone. It helps for families to have conversations at home in advance so a child feels comfortable talking about their family story. I offer simple phrases you can share with your child in my book, Three Makes Baby. You can get a copy of the book on Amazon.com, Target.com or BarnesandNoble.com.