Preparing Your Child for an Adopted Sibling

The decision to add to your family through adoption is exciting and stressful for all members of the family, including kids. Talking thoughtfully with your children about the arrival of an adopted sibling can head off problems with jealousy, insecurity, and confusion. Try these seven tips for preparing your children for the arrival of an adopted brother or sister.

1. Talk about what adoption is and how it works. Whether your first child is adopted or not, now is a great time to open (or re-open) the conversation about adoption. Talk about the many ways that families are formed, and point out other adoptive families that you know. If your first child is adopted, talk about how this adoption may be the same or different from her adoption. Stay open to answering her questions about her own adoption, and don’t be surprised if this new adoption brings up some of your child’s emotions about her own adoption. If your first child is not adopted, this is a great opportunity to introduce him to what adoption is and how it works. Your child may surprise you with questions about how you knew that you could parent him when he was born, rather than placing him for adoption.

2. Share when it feels right. Some experts say that about six weeks before the birth or travel to meet your prospective adopted child is plenty for children under five, who may have trouble understanding long time frames. However, I also know families who have included their small children in the adoption process from square one. The bottom line is, only you know your family, so only you can know when is the best time to bring up the subject of adoption. Just be sure you leave enough time (a few weeks at a minimum) for your child to understand what will happen before the new adoptee arrives.

3. Involve your child in the process. Showing your child pictures of the new baby, letting him help with your adoption profile or dossier, and letting him help pick out nursery items or a special toy for his little brother or sister will help your child feel included in the adoption process. If you are adopting from a different country than your child’s country of origin, do some research together to learn what the new arrival’s country is like and what traditions they celebrate there. Keeping your child involved in the process will reduce feelings of resentment or jealousy that many children feel when a new brother or sister comes home.

4. Emphasize that your family and your child are not on trial. Sometimes when adoptions are delayed or fall through, children blame themselves. Be sure to explain to your child that everyone knows that your family is a good family; it’s just that the birth mother has to decide if the adoption is just right for her and the baby, too. Emphasize that adoption is a hard decision for the birth mother and that it is important that it be absolutely right for everyone (“This is a really big decision for [birth mother's name], and she needs to be sure she is doing the right thing for her baby.”).

5. Talk about the good and the bad. When preparing your children for adoption, talk about the good things that having a new brother or sister will bring (like having someone to play with and someone who will look up to the child), and also the aspects that your child may be less thrilled with (like having to mommy and daddy’s time with the new baby).

6. Remember that it ain’t over ’til it’s over. One of the most important things to remember when talking to children about adopting another child is never to tell your child that the new adoptee is part of your “forever family” until that is legally true. Many experts suggest telling your child that you are “babysitting” the new arrival or that she is “sleeping over” until the birth parents and the court decide whether adoption is the best plan for this baby. An adoption that falls through is painful for the whole family, but even more so for a child who is not prepared for this possibility. Also, it can be extremely frightening for young children who are told that the new baby is part of their “forever family” if the adoption later falls through, because the child may believe that he, too, could be taken away from your family. When termination papers are signed and revocation periods expired is the time to tell your child that the new adoptee is his brother or sister.

7. Use books as conversation starters. There are several great children’s books on the subject of adoption. Check some out from your local library and add them to your bedtime reading to help get your children comfortable talking about adoption. A few of my favorites are A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza, Adoption:Let’s Talk About It by Mister Rogers, Sam’s Sister by Juliet C. Bond, and We Belong Together and The Family Book, both by Todd Parr. There are many more!

8. Get other family members and caregivers on the same page. Talk to your child’s extended family members, day care providers, teachers, etc. about how to talk about adoption with your child. Even people who mean very well can confuse a child by saying things like “are you excited to be a big brother?” before the adoption is final. Encourage them to use positive adoption language as well.

Do you have a great story or tip about talking to kids about adopting another child? Post it in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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