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Words, and how we use them, can tell us a lot about ourselves. They’re the filter between who we truly are and how we want to represent ourselves. What we decide to say — or rather, what we decide NOT to say — reflects both our principles and beliefs. A simple sentence can transform perceptions, and a single phrase can revolutionize the world.

Alternatively, silence can be just as powerful. Our life is a series of choices, characterized by the moments we decide to speak up. We can choose to be a bystander, staying quiet instead of letting our voices be heard. In those moments, we unintentionally characterize ourselves and expose our values.

Believe it or not, babies can understand basic words as early as six months old. Human comprehension is incredible, and our ears are fine-tuned to pick up phrases at young ages. In other words, your little one grasps more than you give them credit for. Before long, words will accumulate in their ever-expanding vocabulary. Only deliberate thoughtfulness ensures that your child’s babble of “mama!” doesn’t evolve into a string of curses.

The most harmful words are the ones we don’t recognize. These words slip easily off our tongues, without a second thought. Negative phrases are insidious. They creep into the lingo of every family, causing invisible destruction before they’re noticed.

Every parent dreams of being their child’s role model — a beacon of light for their child to follow. But most parents aren’t aware of the power of words. When cognitive dissonance controls your life, it’s hard to set a good example. Words and actions must work in harmony.

Little kids, especially those that were adopted, are hyper-sensitive to their surroundings. They constantly absorb what others say. Dismissing the importance of words can have lifelong consequences on your child. On the other hand, positive adoption language paves the way for openness and acceptance.

Trust us on this one — switching out expressions can change mindsets for years to come. That’s why we’re listing five handy phrases you can start using now.

“Real parent” vs “Birth parent”

If your child gets confused with their family lineage, it may be tempting to refer to their biological parents as their “real” parents. Nevertheless, it is critical that you refrain from doing so. There are better ways of differentiating between families by using positive adoption language. For instance, describing one mother as “real” undermines the other mother’s legitimacy. If you identify them as the “birth mother,” however, you can emphasize their role in the child’s life without diminishing the other parent’s significance. There is no one true mother– both families play important roles, and that must never be discounted.

“My own child” vs “my biological child” 

Siblings, when placed in opposition with each other, often compete for attention. Even though playful sibling rivalry is natural, they should never second guess your devotion. Some children, haunted by stories of their adoption, develop abandonment issues. These are only heightened by preconceived beliefs about not fitting in. Once these negative thoughts develop, they’re nearly impossible to destroy. By referring to your children equally, you can prevent these assumptions from ever forming in the first place.

“Keep” vs “Parent” 

By replacing the verb “to parent” with “to keep,” you can avoid circumstances where you might unintentionally objectify a child. When you say that a mother “kept” a baby, you’re implying that the child is owned. Nobody possesses the child. Rather, they care for, nurture, and parent the child.

“Give up for adoption” vs “Placed for adoption”

Any child, upon hearing that they were “given up,” will feel unwanted and deserted. This perpetuates a damaging lie. Women rarely ditch their baby and leave them to fend for themselves. Instead, most make an informed decision to set their child on a better path. Finances, health, unfortunate circumstances, and more can contribute to a family’s decision. When mothers are no longer able to provide, they make powerful sacrifices to ensure the safety of their children. Rather than contributing to your child’s loneliness, be conscious of how you describe their adoption process.

“Adopted Child” vs “Child who was adopted”

Adoption will always be a part of your child’s identity. That doesn’t mean it has to define them. When children are referred to as “adopted children,” it emphasizes their adoption status as the most important thing about them. This rule applies to numerous identifiers. For instance, a child with disabilities should never be addressed as a “disabled child.” Before anything else, they are a person.

Furthermore, your child’s past belongs to them, first and foremost. They always have the right to privacy. While some kids are candid about their adoption, some decide not to share. Labelling a child as “adopted” reveals aspects of their past that they might want to keep to themselves.

It’s important to be open about adoption and avoid pervasive stigmas. Nevertheless, adoption is not always relevant to the conversation. Respect your child by recognizing their achievements and appreciating the beauty of their personality. Never consider an adoption status as a central aspect of their personality.

Positive adoption language: an uphill battle

Let’s face it– nobody can think about every single word that escapes their lips. It’s human nature to make mistakes. Once in a while, you’ll slip up and say something you wish you hadn’t.

Like any new language, positive adoption language takes practice to perfect. You can’t be bilingual overnight. Although improvements take time, refining your vocabulary prevents problems down the line. Don’t forget: words can be forgiven, not forgotten.

Adoption Choices of Oklahoma

If you are currently in the process of adopting a baby and have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact, Adoption Choices of Oklahoma. You may visit our website here or call 405-794-7500 (Oklahoma City) or 918-982-6220 (Tulsa).

Support Adoption Choices

CrowdriseAdoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.

However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.

About the Author

Kenneal Patterson

Kenneal Patterson is a sophomore at Northeastern University in Boston. She is currently studying Journalism and Political Science, with a minor in Global Health. She is honored to work with Adoption Choices, and hopes that her journalism will inspire others to be more empathetic and kind. She thinks that writing can convey important messages of hope and love, and wants to share these messages with others.

Kenneal spends her summers at home in Golden, Colorado, with her many cats and dogs. She is eternally grateful to those who read her work!

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