Grief and loss

Children who join their families through adoption often bring with them a tremendous amount of grief and loss. Losses could include birth parents, extended family, home, pets, neighbourhoods, schools, friends, treasured belongings, and in some cases culture. 

Children don't always have the words to express loss and grief, so instead they express their feelings through a variety of behaviours. These reactions could include include anger, sadness, hyperactivity, changes in appetite, hoarding food, inappropriate emotional response, headaches, and difficulty making decisions, regressive behaviours, and clinginess. 

Not only do they not have the words to express their feelings but often their emotional reaction to loss can be very confusing even to themselves. This is because many of our adopted children experience ambiguous loss.  Ambiguous loss refers to the grief experienced by a person when there is confusion or uncertainty about the loss. For instance, a parent may be physically present but emotionally unavailable to the child (as in the case of addictions or mental illness).  Or the parent may be physically absent (whereabouts unknown) but still very present in the child’s mind (as in the case of abandonment or an unknown parent). These types of circumstances make it difficult for the child to grieve in a healthy way and for others to know how to support the child and acknowledge the loss.

Part of being an adoptive family is to understand and help the child work through loss issues throughout their lives. Adoptive parents need to exercise skill and sensitivity in dealing with their children and provide the necessary support to ensure children emerge from this stage as self-assured and confident adults. 

Have questions about grief and loss in adoption?

Connect with our adoption support coordinators! They are all adoptive parents, happy to answer your adoption questions.

Real, life stories

Search our article database for stories of adoptive parents, adoptees, and birth parents experiences with grief and loss.