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Adoption: When Siblings Are Strangers

Mikela Prevost
Ease into the transition of building bonds between new siblings after an adoption

“Mom, come quick!” Flory yelled. “George and Jose are fighting again!”

I turned the burner down and headed upstairs to restore order. My husband and I were experiencing the challenges of welcoming George, Abel and their two sisters into our family of five other children.

Before the adoption, Abel and Jose were each used to being the oldest sibling. Now they struggled to find their place. And when George and Jose got into scuffles, Abel always took George’s side to show his sibling loyalty — adding tension to the household.

Incorporating children into a family after adoption can be daunting. But after welcoming three sets of siblings into our home, we’ve discovered several ways to ease the transition.

Be prepared

If you already have children before adopting, find out what concerns they have. Some children worry about being placed for adoption or losing special time with you. Be specific about how you will address these fears.

Acknowledge all losses

Children experience many blessings through adoption, but also many losses. Children who have been adopted have lost much of their past, while birth children lose their family as they know it.

Your new child may be jealous of possessions your birth children have and may resort to stealing, hiding or breaking them. At the same time, your birth children may resent a new child’s emotional needs, which affect their own behavior at home, at school or in the neighborhood.

Before providing assurances that everything will be all right, acknowledge the losses. Statements such as, “I know this must be a little scary,” or “It’s really hard to get used to so many changes, isn’t it?” are conversation starters that validate feelings in a nonblaming way.

Value the individual

Set aside one-on-one time for each child. I went grocery shopping with one child at a time, and my husband took a different child out to breakfast each Saturday. It’s also helpful to provide a private space where a child can keep treasured items that don’t have to be shared.

Encourage bonds

Create deliberate opportunities for siblings to bond. Pair up children to work on a task together, such as making dessert. A shared accomplishment often becomes a foundation for a strong sibling relationship. After we sent Abel and Jose to summer camp together, they began to bond. Over time, Abel, Jose and George all grew closer.

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