Positive Adoption Language: Why It Matters

April 13, 2023 | 4 min read

Words have the ability to shape our attitudes and perspectives on topics. The power of language has a profound effect not only on ourselves but also on how we interact with others around us. How we choose to communicate is an important factor that impacts our world as a whole.

For many years, it was not only normal but accepted to think an adoptive family isn’t a real family - which couldn’t be further from the truth. What once was just discussed in hushed tones or behind closed doors is now a very public and fairly common occurrence. Adoption isn’t something that ever needed to be brushed under the rug or glossed over in conversation.

The power of language has a profound effect not only on ourselves but also on how we interact with others around us, which is why #PositiveAdoptionLanguage matters so much. Find out more in @NEChildrensHome’s blog:CLICK TO TWEET

Now that we undoubtedly know and recognize adoptive families as just as legitimate as “traditional families,” we need to examine more closely how we speak about adoption. To honor those who go through the adoption process, they deserve more than a stigmatizing conversation that lessens their experience. 

What is Positive Adoption Language?

Even though the process of adoption has come a long way in terms of acceptance, there is still an unfortunate stigma that lingers. That's why it’s so crucial to have Positive Adoption Language - words and phrases used by those involved with adoptions that can help create more understanding and empathy for all families touched by adoption. 

One of the most common examples of negative adoption language is asking a family about their child’s “real parents” rather than their “birth parents.” While this question is innocuous enough, the unintended consequences of this choice of words can reinforce negative stereotypes about adoption: saying that the birth parents are the real parents, not the adoptive parents. 

Positive adoption language serves to shed light on these unintended stigmatizing statements and offers alternatives for people to approach adoption conversations more empathetically.

Why Positive Adoption Language Matters

Position adoption language matters because it frames our society’s evolving understanding of adoption. For people not close to the adoption process, it’s easy to not think about the nuances of word choice, especially when their frame of reference largely is shaped by popular culture. People outside of the adoption triad may easily lean on phrasing they’re familiar with.

For example, the question, “Were you put up for adoption?” actually harkens back to a pretty dark part of adoption history. Center for Family Services reveals, “This term originated from the Orphan Train Movement of the mid-1800s when homeless children from the cities were taken to the countryside and “put up” on stage for landowners to select.”

The purpose of positive adoption language serves a simple purpose: giving the members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, and children) the respect they deserve. Find out more from @NEChildrensHome:Click To Tweet

It’s certainly not fair to expect every single person to understand the rich history that may be behind common phrases associated with positive adoption language, but the more people use it, ask questions about it, and share it with their communities, the more likely it can be utilized across the board.

When it comes down to it, the purpose of positive adoption language serves a simple purpose: giving the members of the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, and children) the respect they deserve. Monitoring your choice of words is a small sacrifice to ensure families feel affirmed in their adoption journey.

Benefits of Using Positive Adoption Language

Adoption is an incredibly powerful and positive force that has brought many families together, and using positive adoption language is an important part of maintaining this positive atmosphere. Positive adoption language can help to promote a sense of acceptance and understanding for everyone in the adoption process who may have faced struggles that people outside of the adoption process wouldn’t know about. 

Positive adoption language isn’t just beneficial for others, it can also be beneficial for adoptees as it promotes a positive self-image from a young age by using respectful language. Using positive adoption language helps show respect and kindness to all the special people touched by adoption. 

Adoptive parents, birth parents, foster parents, and most importantly, children – all should feel safe, loved, and respected when discussing adoption. Positive adoption language honors the unique bond of each family affected by adoption while raising positive awareness of the positive experiences many have had through adoption.

Examples Of Positive Adoption Language

Let’s look at some of the most commonly used negative adoption language phrases and come up with some positive alternatives.

  • Instead of saying “real parents” - say “birth parents”
  • Instead of saying “is adopted” - say “was adopted”
  • Instead of saying “adoption triangle” - say “adoption triad”
  • Instead of saying “natural parent” - say “biological parent” 
  • Instead of saying “foreign adoption” - say “international adoption”
  • Instead of saying “surrendered for adoption” - say “placed for adoption” 
  • Instead of saying “abandoned” - say “separated from parents” 
  • Instead of saying “adopted child” - say “my child”
  • Instead of “gave up for adoption”= say “made an adoption plan”

It can be difficult to know what words to use when talking about adoption, but it is worth taking the time to learn some positive adoption language. This type of language can help make adoptive families feel more comfortable discussing their decision with others and can help reduce negative feelings associated with adoption.

To learn more about NCHS’s Families Forever program, reach out to our team today.