How to Create a Classroom That Supports Adopted Children

Sep 6, 2019 by

Adoption is a wonderful solution for children whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them for whatever reason. However, many children who are adopted face challenges that their peers in school do not. They may have suffered trauma, are struggling to transition into a new home, or have trust issues due to their early experiences.

Educators need to be aware of these challenges and should make an effort to create a classroom environment that supports adopted children and makes it easier for them to succeed. Teachers are likely to have children currently or formerly involved with the foster care system in their classroom at some point. In 2016 alone, nearly 300,000 children entered the system and almost 120,000 we awaiting adoption placement.

As an educator, here’s what you can do to help adopted children feel welcome, safe, and secure at school.

Tips for Educators

Sometimes, it’s difficult to identify adopted children in the classroom unless the child’s parents choose to tell you. Pay attention to what your students say about their lives and consider creating an assignment specifically designed to get to know your students, their circumstances, and their lives. A “get to know me sheet” can frame questions appropriately and allow you to learn more about each student’s situation privately.

It’s important to realize that standard activities that seem harmless can be very confusing or painful for adopted children. Having students build their family trees or learn about genetics by comparing themselves to their parents can make adopted children feel uncomfortable or left out. Since family structures are evolving in the 21st century, it’s a good idea to shift these activities to more inclusive lessons so that all children feel comfortable participating.

Handling Classroom Behavior

Classroom management is a key skill for teachers. In one survey, effective classroom management was one of the top two skills educators identified as being “extremely important.” As any teacher knows, however, handling classroom behavior can be very difficult, especially when students are struggling and acting out at school.

ADHD, anxiety, depression, behavior disorders, PTSD, poverty, and other factors can all influence poor classroom behavior. While these challenges can and do occur in non-adopted children, adopted children may be more likely to have some behavioral problems due to their individual history.

To set the classroom up for success and prevent poor behavior as much as possible, teachers need to be proactive. Creating consistency and structure in the classroom is an important starting point. Students should know the rules of the class and know that they will be enforced. Educators must never assume their authority and should be prepared to respond to behavior issues firmly but with compassion.

When it comes to managing classroom behavior, it’s important for educators to understand that students in different circumstances have different needs. Adopted children may need more empathy and understanding from their teachers, who must react to poor behavior with appropriate body language and firmness while avoiding shaming.

It is often best to address poor behavior privately, to avoid feelings of shame and isolation. Children in the classroom, regardless of their background, need to feel cared for at school, even when their behavior is less than stellar.

Going the Extra Mile for Adopted Students

Adopted children may need some extra support from their teachers. As an educator, you can go the extra mile for adopted students and help them feel safe and included in the classroom culture. Reach out to the parents and get to know them. They might be able to offer some insights into the student’s past and you may be able to help them with any academic issues their child is facing.

Even if you don’t have an adopted child in your classroom, you can help other students to understand that some children live in foster care or adoptive homes through books and lessons on the subject. This will help them to respond appropriately should they ever have an adopted classmate.

Don’t Assume Anything—Just Offer Support

It’s very easy to make assumptions about adopted students. Every adopted child has a different story and a different situation. Although you may need to offer an adopted child more support, remember that being adopted does not make up their entire identity.

Respect an adopted child’s privacy, and make your classroom as inclusive as possible. Most adopted children just want to fit in with their peers. Achieving this may require a little more effort from educators, but it’s well worth the extra work.

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