AdoptMatch | Words Matter: Positive Adoption Language

Words Matter: Positive Adoption Language


Language is the vehicle we use daily to communicate our ideas and notions about the world we live in. And although we might not be aware of it, there is also a subtext to the words we choose, reflecting our values in subtle ways, even when we aren’t consciously trying to do so. Words have a way of shaping our beliefs and thought processes.

Adoption can be an emotion-driven topic, and sometimes we fail to realize that word choice in certain contexts may convey unintended negative messages. For example, it is typical to hear the phrase “giving up for adoption” or to ask about a child’s “real” parents. Terms like these, amongst many others that are commonly used in adoption today, can actually have a very damaging effect on how others perceive adoption as well as on how adoption triad members view themselves.

On the other hand, positive adoption language can help correct the stigma that adoption once carried. It encourages the world to view adoption not as second-best to parenthood, but rather, as a positive option for those who cannot or are not ready to parent. By using positive adoption language, we honor and show respect to birth parents for making a loving, courageous, and selfless choice. For adoptive parents, we affirm their role as their child’s forever family.  Most importantly, for the child, using honest, but positive language, can be the difference between shame and confidence about their story. It’s more than being politically correct. It’s being emotionally correct.

Whether you are an expectant or birth parent, a waiting adoptive family, clinical professional, or even just a friend to an adoptive family, it is crucial that you familiarize yourself with positive adoption language:

Terms to Avoid: Positive Adoption Language:

Unwanted Pregnancy

Unintended Pregnancy

Real parent/mother/father

Birth parent/mother/father

Natural parent/mother/father

Biological parent/mother/father

Adoptive parent/mother/father

Parent, mother, father, mom, dad, etc.

Natural child/ own child/ one of my own

Birth child/ biological child

Adopted child (vs. own child)

My child/son/daughter, adoptee

Abandoned child, unwanted child

Child placed for adoption

Illegitimate child

Born to unmarried parents

Give up for adoption, put up for adoption, give away, adopted out, abandoned, surrendered, released, relinquished

Make an adoption plan, choose adoption, place child for adoption, terminated parental rights

To keep her child

To parent her child

Is adopted

Was adopted

Child taken away

Court termination

Adoption triangle

Adoption triad


What’s wrong with these terms?






Common Phrases to Avoid Altogether:

It is so wonderful that you have adopted a child in need!

Your son/daughter is so lucky to have been adopted by you!

Your son/daughter is so much better off with you as a parent.

I could not raise someone else’s child.


What’s wrong with these phrases?


Transforming perceptions, one word at a time.

We can’t expect society to change its perception of adoption overnight, but changing the way it speaks of adoption is one step towards meaningful heart change. It isn’t easy to change the way a culture speaks; it’s even hard changing our own language. You may find yourself correcting your wording mid-sentence; that’s okay.  It’s an opportunity to share your perception of adoption to help influence how others begin to think and talk about adoption. Be attentive to how your family and friends are speaking about adoption. You can be an adoption advocate, educating others on how to reference it in a more positive, considerate manner. Be kind, but don’t be afraid to respectfully correct people who use negative adoption language.