A new school year brings all sorts of challenges: Will your child make friends? Is the teacher nice? What’s the homework load like?

Yet for families formed through adoption or foster care, or for children being raised by a non-parent relative, the challenges often go well beyond where to sit in the lunchroom. In fact, for students from non-traditional families, some of the most common school assignments and activities can present unintended challenges.

Judith A. Stigger, director of international adoption at the Evanston, Ill.-based Cradle adoption agency, talks about how to use the classroom to teach other children about adoption.

-If the teacher asks students to bring in baby pictures, an adopted child who doesn’t have baby pictures might "bring in a picture of when she was younger." This creates a space for the child to participate and for the class to learn about different kinds of families.

-If the assignment is to draw a family tree, modernize the tree by "using branches for the adoptive family. The child is the trunk. The roots are the birth family. For children from China, you may use the Chinese words for mother and father," Stigger said.

-If a child feels singled out for being "different," Stigger recommends celebrating the child’s background. Parents can teach the other students about their child’s culture and "give kids a sense of normalcy," she said. For example, if the adopted child is from Russia, parents can write the names of their children’s classmates in Russian; if the adopted child is from China, parents can talk about Chinese New Year.

Of course, this works only as long as children welcome parents in their space.

"When they’re little, they love their parents to come in, but around 3rd grade they don’t," Stigger said, "By then, they can use their own words. Kids don’t always want everyone to know they are adopted."

Stigger offers solutions to other challenges.

For instance, when a child’s school asks the families of students to "adopt" a family for Christmas, turn it into a teachable moment by saying you’re "’sponsoring’ a family rather than ‘adopting’ them," Stigger said. Adopted children just learning English may not understand what the word "adoption" means in this context, and might confuse this act of holiday charity with their own situation.

Another issue: the notion that all children are born from their mother’s stomach. Stigger recommends that parents explain that children either came home from the hospital or by airplane from Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Guatemala and so on.

What to do when books and bulletin boards don’t reflect blended families? Stigger recommends asking your child’s teacher if you can post pictures of your family or similar families to create the space to include non-traditional families.

For more information, go to caffa.org.

SOURCE: LoHud.com in an article by Kelly Haramis of the Chicago Tribune

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