Talking to older children about a younger sibling’s adoption

Adopting a child inevitably has a huge impact on the whole family, and any children who are already members of your family are no exception. Your older child (or your older children) may have been an involved and enthusiastic part of the adoption process, but just like any other time a new sibling is added to the family, there is going to be an adjustment period as your older child gets used to having a new sibling in their life and used to sharing your love and attention. 

A second piece of the puzzle is that your older child and your new child are going to develop their own relationship, which is something separate from either of their relationships with you. This means that the way you and your older child talk about adoption right now could have an impact for years to come on the way your adopted child hears and thinks about it.

Finding a balance

One of the best ways to help your newly expanded family get off to a good start is by spending some time early on making sure that neither your older child or your new child feels forgotten or left out. Rivalries have a much harder time forming when children don’t start out feeling like they need to compete. Having a significantly fuller house all at once may seem like a hectic time to initiate one-on-one bonding time, but just making breakfast with your early riser or spending a few extra minutes at bedtime reading with your night-owl can be enough to help build and strengthen your individual bonds with each child enough to help ease that particular tension between them.

The other side of this issue is, of course, helping your children build their relationship with each other. Getting your older child involved in helping your new arrival settle in can help the new big brother or sister form positive associations with that bond.

Acknowledging but not focusing on differences

As your children grow, they’re going to have conversations with each other that may not include you, so the way you talk to your biological child about adoption now is important not only because it will shape the way they will understand how your new child came to join your family, but also because it will shape what your new child may hear from their older sibling later. This includes anything your older child may hear about your younger child’s birth parents and the adoption process in general.

This can be a tricky space to navigate, because depending on your older child’s age, simple concepts could easily be the most appropriate way to explain the new addition to your family, but adoption is a complicated process associated with complex emotions. While it’s tempting to talk to your older child merely about the happiest side of adoption – how lucky your family feels to have gained its newest addition – that story leaves out some of the difficult realities – which may include a sense of loss – experienced by your adopted child and their birth family.

In the end, the most important thing for all of your children is that they grow up knowing they’re a family and that they’re all loved. But talking about adoption in an open, respectful way is also an important part of helping your children find comfortable ways to think and talk about the way your family was formed, both with you and your partner and with each other.

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