W.I.S.E. Up! – It's Back to School
Is your child or teen empowered or prepared to answer the inevitable adoption questions from new classmates, teachers and friends?
Are you from China? Are your REAL parents still there? Did you live in an orphanage? Is that your real sister? She doesn’t look like you.
Nearly all kids who were adopted by their families get asked these kids of questions. Haven’t you as parents encountered questions or been subject to comments about adoption? Well-meaning people may ask to be friendly or just out curiosity.
“Oh, is your husband Asian?”, “Do you know anything about her real parents?”, or “Are they really brothers?” or comments like “Oh, those children are sooo lucky!”, and “She’s so adorable, how could anyone give her away!”
Most parents therefore quickly learn that in order to minimize and cope more effectively with the distress these experiences can bring, they must prepare themselves for the questions and develop responses that they are comfortable with.
Adopted children and teens likely encounter these very same experiences – with their peers – friends, classmates – and perhaps even with teachers. It is important that they be prepared. Children often receive misinformation about adoption – from television/movies and the media. Do birth mothers sell their babies sold on the Internet? Are some adopted children kidnapped from their birth parents?
Driven by fears and understandable curiosity, with little understanding of what adoption means, non-adopted children may relate to the adoptee as they might to a child with a physical disability - asking questions and making comments to accentuate how they are different – to distance themselves from the adoptee in order to comfort themselves that this could never happen to them. Knowing that they are delving into private territory, non-adopted children are likely to ask these questions when other adults are not around.
The children we see at The Center for Adoption Support & Education, Inc. (C.A.S.E.) have shared the kinds of questions they get from their peers. These experiences create an added burden of emotional vulnerability. In response to this predicament, C.A.S.E developed the W.I.S.E. Up! Program to empower children to respond to questions and comments made about adoption. It is a powerful tool that is taught to children in groups, in individual, and family therapy, at camps for adopted children, programs run by adoptive parent support groups, and parent workshops. So that parents could teach this empowering tool to their children, the W.I.S.E. Up! Powerbook (written by Marilyn Schoettle) was created, and a complete facilitator’s guide for teaching the program to parents is available through C.A.S.E. as well.
WHAT IS W.I.S.E. Up!
The W.I.S.E. Up! Program first helps children realize that they are smarter than their peers – or WISER about adoption because of their experience of growing up in an adoptive family. They can take on the role of “expert”. This understanding alone helps introduce and prepare adopted children for the distinct likelihood that they will get asked questions and the reasons why.
Second, children learn to think about who is asking the question/making the comment and what they think is the motivation behind the question. Is the question coming from a trusted friend, from the class bully, from a teacher, etc. Is the person just curious or trying to tease?
Third, children learn to identify how they feel about
- the person asking the question/making the comment
- when the question is being asked – are they alone with their friend, or in front of other classmates; what kind of mood are they in – how are they feeling at that particular moment
- how they feel about the question/comment. Children are usually shown a list of possible feelings including – sad, angry, surprised, shy, happy, confused, embarrassed, etc.
W = WALK
AWAY, or ignore what you hear.
I = IT’S PRIVATE, I do not have to share information with anyone, and I can say that appropriately, even to adults.
S = SHARE SOMETHING about my adoption story, but I can think carefully about what I want to let others know.
E = EDUCATE OTHERS about adoption in general, for example, I can talk about how adoption works today, successful adoptees, inaccurate information in the media, etc. I know a lot about it.
With practice, children can choose between W, I, S, or E without hesitation. In the process of embracing the W.I.S.E. Up! Program into their lives, they sometimes find themselves able to “take the sting out” by laughing at the question. They also learn to anticipate additional questions that may come when they respond with S or E. The W.I.S.E. Up! Tool can turn a challenging moment into an experience of confidence and success.
Parents and therapists who use this program with children also find that it is often a door opener that can lead to other important discussions/conversations about adoption.
The W.I.S.E. Up! Program was created by Marilyn Schoettle, former director of education and publications at The Center for Adoption Support & Education
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