Preparing Children for an Adopted Sibling
As a Child & Adolescent Psychoanalyst and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist specializing in adoption, I have assisted many adoptive families lovingly integrate a newly adopted child into a family with other children.
Adoptive parents can rest assured that studies have shown that the siblings in families with one or more adopted children are typically as close and compatible as siblings who are biologically related.
However, any time a new member is added to a family – whether through birth or adoption – the family dynamics change! Some challenges are common to all children when a new sibling – whether biological or adopted – enters the family. But bringing home an adopted child can also raise some unique issues that are different from the issues faced by bringing home a biological child.
Building Siblings’ Excitement for Adopting a Child
Most children will probably experience some excitement about the prospect of a new sister or brother. You can foster their enthusiasm by emphasizing the importance of their own role in the new family dynamics, which builds a “connection” between the child and the new sibling even before they arrive!
For example, you can emphasize that an older brother can soon teach his new younger adopted sibling how to throw a ball or ride a bike! Or, you may wish to highlight to an only child that he or she will soon have a sibling to play catch or dolls with – or to help get dressed or learn to read.
Sibling Jealousy When Adopting
It is very normal for children to wonder if they were not “enough” for their parents and to feel jealousy over a new sibling. It is important to keep in mind that ultimately jealousy is NOT about the new sibling at all, but about getting love and attention from Mom and Dad.
Let Dad carry the baby into the house the first time, while Mom goes straight to the other children with hugs & kisses, while telling them she missed them and loves them. If the adopted child is a baby, let the older children hold him or her (have an adult support the head). A baby’s head gives off pheromones, which will cause them to fall in love and feel protective!
Also, continually reinforce all of the positive attributes of each sibling and how they contribute to the family. Try not to continually ask your older child to be the “big kid” – let him or her also “be your baby” as much as they want, without shame or guilt. And, of course, give him or her lots of extra love and individualized attention.
Special Sibling Issues Related to Adoption
While the above suggestions apply to any new sibling, your children may also face certain issues specific to adoption.
If you have traveled to a foreign country to get your new child, your children’s introduction to the new sibling may have been preceded by a lengthy separation from you. Not all children successfully manage a long separation – even when in the care of loving family members such as a grandparent. And if your other children were also adopted, they may have even greater vulnerability to separation issues.
In addition to the tips above, it is essential to devote extra awareness, care and attention to your children’s response to your absence – even though you are simultaneously coping with the needs of your newly adopted child.
It will also help your older children if you clearly explain that their new sibling needs to learn that she now has a mommy and daddy (and brother or sister) who love her and can make her feel better. Engaging your children in helping to “teach” this to their new sibling, not only helps connect them to the new child, but also helps allay any fears or jealousy they may have about “losing” your affection.
Adopting Children with Adopted Siblings
Introducing an adopted child to a sibling who was also previously adopted can sometimes result in a bit of regression in the older child, in various forms. The adoption of another child may cause unpleasant memories of pre-adoption life to resurface in your previously adopted child.
If regressive behavior presents itself, help your child identify these difficult memories while comforting them. Acknowledge the memories and reassure them once again that the painful events of his early life will not be repeated in your family. And certainly do not shame them or insist they “grow up” or “be a big boy” or “big girl”.
Bringing home an adopted child to an adopted sibling can also remind a child that children do not always stay with their biological parents. Providing an age-appropriate explanation about why biological parents sometimes are not able to keep children can help the adopted sibling process what happened to them, and help reassure them that you will always be their parent and that they are permanent part of your family unit.
Listen, Listen, Listen to Children with Adopted Siblings
It can be hard to really “listen” to all of your kids when you are juggling the demands of a new a baby or child, along with your existing children’s needs. Getting everyone fed, clothed, bathed and to sleep can be overwhelming! But it is essential to remember to listen for questions and concerns expressed by your children when a newly adopted sibling is brought home.
Keep in mind that children may not ask a question or express a concern as directly or clearly as an adult. If they bring up a topic even remotely related to their feelings about the adoption, the new sibling or the changed family dynamic, stop what you are doing convey your interest. Try to give factual answers, without dismissing their concerns or sugarcoating the situation. But be careful not to present more information than they can understand or handle. Above all, acknowledge their feelings and reinforce how much you love them and how important and valued they are as a member of the family.
Oakland County Therapists for Families with Adopted Children
With patient and loving parental understanding and guidance, your children – whether adopted or biological – can form wonderful, lifelong sibling bonds!
However, if your child is exhibiting persistent, troubling or destructive behavior resulting from the adoption of a sibling, do not wait to consult with an adoption therapist. It is always better to talk to an adoption therapist – who can help sort out the problem, and offer tools that you can use as a family – rather than wait until a problem escalates.