Enhancing Sibling Bonds
Sibling bonds within your family will give your child perspective and a sense of security. Sibling bonds are almost as important as attachments with parents. Helping your child maintain healthy relationships with siblings will ensure he feels connected.
Every parent wants smiling, loving children who are one another's best friends, but that goal can seem very far away when they're screaming at each other over who used up the shampoo or punching each other and yelling, “I called the front” in a race to the car.
Consistently reinforce “We're a family” and “We're a team.” If you adopt a younger child, prepare the older one ahead of time. Role play what it will be like when the baby comes home. Many parents recommend that you give your older child a doll that he can practice diapering and holding.
Acknowledge an older sibling's feelings when a baby comes into the family. Tell her about things people said when she was a baby. Remember some of the gifts or cards she was given. Get out photos from when she entered your family and help her understand her arrival was just as special.
Parents who adopt internationally advise taking the older child to pick up the younger. Also, if you don't have a partner and spouse to make it a family trip, enlist Grandma, an uncle, or a good friend, because dividing your attention will be impossible. Generally, the older child will adapt more readily to the new sibling if he is allowed to be there right from the start, rather than being left behind.
However, make the decision carefully — consider all aspects of your trip and your child's personality, especially if you're picking up your new child from an orphanage in a poverty-stricken country; the experience may be too intense for some children. See Chapter 13 for more about sibling bonds.
If your adopted child comes into a family that already contains children, you must help him feel part of the group. If he's an infant or toddler, the process should be relatively easy, because everybody responds to babies. However, if he replaces someone as the baby of the family, then you'll deal with sibling rivalry, just as in birth families. If you adopt a child that is preschool or elementary aged and you already have children in this age range, sibling rivalry is also likely.
Sibling rivalry is normal, but you can mitigate it in various ways. Ensure that your current children don't feel pushed aside by the newcomer. They should be secure in their attachment to you, and they should trust that you will continue to meet their needs for nurturing and structure. You can demonstrate your love for them through your consistency in meeting needs, establishing reasonable boundaries, and awarding appropriate consequences when family rules and boundaries are broken.
When adopting or having additional children after your first adopted child, carefully consider how ready your first adopted child really is for a sibling. Your child may have developed a certain level of self-sufficiency, but might not have formed a secure attachment with you. Introducing another child, whether by adoption or biologically, can intensify attachment weaknesses, leading to sibling rivalry and other problematic behaviors.
Linda Sonna's book, The Everything® Parent's Guide to Raising Siblings, contains excellent advice on controlling competition and rivalry and settling squabbles. She also addresses the issue of adopted siblings and preparing your biological children for the placement, as well as what to do about helping to forge bonds.
Your adopted child may wrongly believe the other children are somehow more real members of the family than he is. Make it clear to everyone that there is no priority among children, that you love all of them, and that each has his or her own important place in the family. It is also important to allow all members of the family to express their feelings and work through anger and jealousy in safe ways.
Coping with Changing Sibling Roles
If you had an only child when you decided to adopt, you will deal with issues of learning to share space, attention, and your love. If your firstborn child gains an older sibling, your problems will multiply exponentially. Birth order is extremely important to all children, and giving up the very real first place can be traumatic. Many adoption experts will caution you about disrupting the birth order in your family.
If you have a relative who needs a kinship placement of a child older than your own and you feel that your obligations to your extended family member outweigh any discomfort your current child might have, be sure to engage the services of a reliable and competent therapist who understands adoption issues and can help your child work through problems.
Strengthening Sibling Bonds
One of the hardest lessons to learn as a parent is that your children will have their own independent relationship with each other that has little to do with you. You can teach them to treat each other with love and respect, but at some point, you have to step back and let them create their own relationship. This doesn't mean you have to let a war break out. There are things you can do to help them strengthen their bond and appreciate each other, so that as they grow into adults they will have a strong bond to rely on.
Help your kids understand what there is to appreciate about each other. Point out the unique and wonderful qualities they each have and find ways this can be meaningful to them: “Look, Damian, Amanda's outside shooting baskets. You're so good at that, I'll bet she would love it if you gave her some pointers.”
Allow them to create shared experiences. Sometimes as a parent you just have to remove yourself from the situation. Let them play with modeling clay alone together, or go into the next room while they're playing checkers together. They need space to relate to each other in their own way. Being nearby is fine, but you should not try to micromanage them.
Help them see that disagreements are not fatal. Siblings argue all of the time, whether they are biological or adopted. It's not the end of the world if they get mad at each other or disagree. Help them work through it and get to the other side. Sometimes, it is helpful to not get involved at all and see if they can work it out on their own.