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The Psychological Effects That Can Occur in Adopted Children

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The Psychological Effects That Can Occur In Adopted Children

Emily Waller

Oakland University


This academic argument talks about the psychological affects adopted children will have throughout their life. Children who have been adopted will begin to realize that they may not fit in with their family. They begin to develop feelings of worthlessness and abandonment. Society needs to see adoption not only as a positive outlook on a child’s life but also as a problem concerning a child’s future. This paper talks about the psychological affects children can have as well as the point of view of adoption by the adoptive parents and psychologists.


Around the world parents make a choice to give their child up for adoption. This choice gives hope to anxious parents who hope to begin a family of their own. From that moment on that child’s life has changed for better and worse. Adoption is perceived in many different ways in today’s society. Majority of people view adoption as a win-win situation, a child getting a chance to start a new beginning and a couple getting a chance to start a family. Many people view adoption on the surface, only seeing what they think they know. That is because those people haven’t experienced adoption and won’t know the underlying affects it has. 

My family adopted me when I was one year old from Xian, China. Being adopted defines who I am. It will always have a large impression on my life. I was given up for adoption for unknown reasons but luckily brought into a new family. This family was supportive, nurturing, and kind. A year later my twin sister Kirstie joined me in America where we grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. Our half sister, Lauren, is eight years older than we are and has an ongoing positive influence in our lives. As I grew up I began to fully understand adoption and the impact it has on my life. I struggled with identity issues within my school as well as with my family. This made me realize that I was different from my family. I saw the physical appearance as a barrier to connect with my immediate family as well as my extended family. I may have developed similar personality traits and mannerisms but having a physical resemblance to your parents is an important connection to form when growing up.  Research has been done to show that adoption causes psychological issues in children. Many adopted children develop a sense of loss, grief, worthlessness, and may develop identity issues throughout their lifetime. Creating a community of adopted children will give these children a sense of belonging in their new home.

Background Information

Adopted children represent approximately 2% of all children under 18 years old in the United States (Smit, 2002). About 1.5 million children live with adoptive parents in the United States (Smit, 2002). Many families who cannot have children of their own decide to adopt. Now, in today’s society, many different types of families have started to adopt. Same sex families and single parents see adoption as a way to have children when they could not. Families also adopt to give those children a better chance in life before their life has started to begin. Some families choose to adopt children who have special needs to give them proper care that orphanages could not give them. In our society adoption is usually viewed as a problem solving, not a problem-creating, event (Caffrey, 2011). When parents decide to adopt they prepare for their new child. What they cannot prepare for is the long-term psychological effects that their new child will struggle with. There is no pamphlet or brochure to warn adoptive parents of these issues.  Adoption needs to be viewed in both a positive and negative viewpoint.  

As adopted children began to grow and mature they notice the difference between themselves and their family. Not only does physical appearance set them apart but also the difference of personality and talents may further dissociate them. These factors lead to the psychological issues that adopted children face. Eileen Smit (2002) a professor at Northern Michigan University found that, “Loss is the primary adoption-related issue from which the other issues flow. Without loss there would be no adoption. Adoption involves many losses for the child. Adopted children have lost the chance to be "normal" like their friends who are growing up in their birth families.”

Psychologist Point of View

Many psychologists believe that adopted children develop psychological issues at different stages in their life. As the child’s emotional and cognitive understanding of adoption matures, new questions will be raised at each developmental level (Smit, 2002).   These questions harbor truths about the child’s past. Adopted children are essentially missing parts of their life. Their past, present, and future are missing small but relevant pieces that make up a whole of their life. Questions that may reflect the losses experienced in adoption include: "Why was I placed for adoption?" "Why can't I have parents that are like everyone else's parents?" "I wonder if my birth mother is looking for me? (Smit, 2002). These questions reflect the child’s feelings and are normal for adoptive children to ask. These questions also stem to other issues that the child is feeling. Research has shown that adopted children feel unwanted by their new family; they lack self-acceptance that leads to feelings of worthlessness. Children who feel this way transfer these emotions onto others, which lead to these children feeling unaccepted by society. These feelings may be amplified when adoptive parents show unwanted feelings toward their child. Children may look for signs of unhappiness with their adoptive parents, especially those who have brothers or sisters who are not adopted. Having siblings who were not adopted may cause more psychological issues in the adopted child. They feel that they are the lesser child in their family and may feel neglected in their new home. Adopted children face many emotions at an early age that other children may not go through until later in life. This may set them further back emotionally.  Every adoption is different and every child develops different levels of psychological issues. Some children may experience the affects of psychological issues more than others.

Adoptive Parents Point of View

Adoptive parents have a different perspective on adoption and the psychological affect it may have on children. These parents go through a long process to even be considered to adopt children. Parents adopting know they want children, have tried to have children, or already have children. These types of parents are emotionally ready for a child and have prepared for this moment in their life. No first time parent or experienced parent can be ready for an adopted child. Adopted children are more complex because they are not biologically related to their adoptive parents. Parents may raise that adopted child to know that they are their mother or father but psychologically those children feel loss because they eventually realize they were given up for adoption. Some parents may not see or choose to see how adoption affects their child, which leads to the parent not understanding the child’s situation and may lead to neglect of the psychological issues that child may have. Both parents and others outside the family may be more prone to view adoptees as being at risk for problems and, thus, more likely to refer them for treatment even when problems are still relatively minor (Brodzinsky, 1993). When the parent knows the child is dealing with issues it leads to better communication between the child and parents as well as help for their child. Adoptive parents can now understand the depth of psychological barriers that the child may go through in his or her lifetime.



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