The Psychology of Adopted Children

An adoption, be it of an infant, child or teen, is often portrayed as a joyful event for all parties. Indeed, it often is. However, not all aspects of adoption are so rosy, and those aspects should not be dismissed. Psychologically, adoption is a difficult process for the child, and his concerns and fears should be addressed and tended to properly.

Missing Genetic History

Your older child will wonder what medical information they’re missing. Even simple matters such as the color of their birth parents’ eyes is a common curiosity. Betrayal can be felt in adolescents who did not previously know they were adopted, and found out only through a medical necessity. According to the Administration for Children and Families, "A routine visit to the doctor's office, where the adopted person is asked to supply medical history information, may make adopted persons acutely aware of how they differ from those who were not adopted. Those who find out only later in life that they were adopted as infants are sometimes put at risk by their long-held assumption of a family medical history that they later find is completely incorrect.”

Abandonment and Fear of Rejection

A child adopted an older age will be all too aware of their circumstances, and most grapple with feelings of abandonment. They also might fear further rejection by their new family, worrying that they’ll simply be found unsatisfactory in some way and sent back to their place in the foster or group environment. According to an article at, “Psychotherapy is extremely helpful in reducing guilt, anxiety, depression and fear about being adopted.”


In the event that your child has been adopted into a home where a biological child already exists, or a biological child arrives after the adoption, feelings of fear are not uncommon. Favoritism is perceived to be a real threat for the adopted child. These fears might be unfounded. In fact, according to author and evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber, writing in "Psychology Today," “parents treat their adopted children just as well as biological children.” 1

Mental Health Issues

While one of the disproved stigmas about adoption is that all adopted children will end up have special psychological needs, problems in even the most accepting child can arise. Occasional bouts of depression, acting out and even an unhealthy preoccupation with their adoption can prove challenging to you as a parent. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, “Some adopted children may develop emotional or behavioral problems. The problems may or may not result from insecurities or issues related to being adopted. If parents are concerned, they should seek professional assistance. Children who are preoccupied with their adoption should also be evaluated. A child and adolescent psychiatrist can help the child and adoptive parents determine whether or not help is needed.”