A Teacher Speaks: Adoption and Sharing Chinese Culture with Your Children
An experienced teacher examines ways teachers and families can share Chinese culture with children of different ages.
Interview by Allison Martin
What role can a supportive teacher play for children whose families are adopting?
All you have to do is look around and you'll see just how many Asian children there are in American homes. You spot them at church, in the mall, and at functions. It seems everyone knows someone who has adopted internationally. These children mix into our society and our schools are no exception. A teacher can definitely help families as they go through the process. His/her enthusiasm, interest shown, and understanding can make a huge difference.
First of all, parents need to share their adoption plans with their birth child's teacher. If there are any changes in the child's behavior, an informed teacher will spot this immediately. A teacher has the opportunity to incorporate Chinese literature, geography and history into the day's lessons. This can create an environment of excitement and curiosity.During Chinese New Years a teacher asked me to come into her class and show my slides of China. Sitting in this 3rd grade class was an adopted girl from China. After the slide show, chopsticks were passed out and the kids had fun trying to eat fruit. I could not help but notice the joy on that little girl's face. The teacher used this holiday as an opportunity to not only foster acceptance of another culture, but nurtured the seeds of pride in that child's heart.
How might families adopting from China incorporate various aspects of Chinese culture into their lives?
Belonging to a support group is an excellent way of keeping the Chinese culture alive. Socializing with other families who have adopted gives each family member the opportunity to not only learn about China but also allow the sharing of any problems or concerns that may come up along the way.
There are several organizations whose purpose is to support families. Examples are Families with Children from China (FCC), Chinese for Families, and adoption agencies. There are also various fun day camps held locally, and even tours specifically designed to take families back to China and the orphanage the child came from. Magazines such as Adoption Week and websites such as Come Unity are also a valuable asset. In some communities mandarin lessons are available along with Chinese dancing, calligraphy, and kite making.
What suggestions do you have for families with older children? Younger children?
Younger children will have different issues than older children. When the family is in the process of adopting it is important to include the other children. Allow them to help decorate the nursery, put the memory book together, and choose the baby's name. Shopping for toys and clothing helps everyone feel included and generates excitement.
For the younger adopted child, celebrating Gotcha or Adoption Day is a wonderful practice. The whole family spends time together in remembrance of the day the child came to live with them. The 100 Wishes quilt and life memory book is not only valuable for the baby, but it also connects the family to this child.
Adolescence is usually not a time of wanting to be different from their peers, but desiring to be the same. Emotions can run wild with any teen and the adopted daughter is no different. As she matures, questions may become more difficult to answer. Discussions about abandonment, the one child policy, and male supremacy will need attention.
It is my personal opinion that if a child does not bring up adoption issues it is then up to the parents to do so. I feel it is healthy for the child to get these feelings and thoughts out in the open. If this is not done when she is younger, then problems may manifest in later years.
Adoption should be treated as a natural occurrence and discussed from the time the child is very young. Doing so can eliminate possible difficulties later on. There are many children's books that can be used for this purpose. Selecting an age appropriate book can assist parents with opening conversation and answering difficult questions.
What aspects of Chinese culture would you consider to be important or fun for children to learn about?
I discovered so many interesting things about China while doing the research for "The Journey to Mei". China's mythology, legends, superstitions, and festivals are all fascinating and will foster both appreciation and curiosity. If at all possible, a trip to one of America's Chinatowns during the Chinese New Year can be an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to do just that in New York City last February and it was wonderful. Attending various family fun day camps that are sponsored by different adoption groups can also be very worthwhile.
It's important to teach Chinese heritage without forgetting that she is foremost an American. When I was in China doing my research, I happened to be at Xian visiting the site of the Chinese terracotta warriors that were uncovered in the 1970's. While there, I noticed a small group of children at the exhibit. Their appearance said Chinese, but their mannerisms screamed American! They each had their small purses hanging from their shoulders, some wore jeans with Abercrombie shirts, and all walked around with little notebooks writing things down. Shortly after, I noticed their Caucasian families and realized this was a group of Asian-American children on tour. It was then I truly understood environment vs. heritage.
Freddie Remza is the author of The Journey to Mei, a children's novel about adopting a sister from China. She is a retired school teacher with 30 years experience.
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