Adopting a Sibling

Dear Sharon,

We are adopting a baby girl from China and we are very excited. We need the best advice in how to talk about and prepare our three-year-old son (a birth child) for this joyous moment in our family. We are aware that it is complicated. We hope you can give us some direction.

Thank You

Dear Parents,

Congratulations! This is indeed a joyous moment in your family.

Here are some general ideas I often suggest to parents about to have a second child. I assume they might be helpful in your circumstances as well.

1.Take time to get everything ready for your baby’s arrival. You can involve your child in the process by helping them pick out a toy or piece of clothing that they might want to give the baby. They might also be able to help decorate the baby’s room if they are interested.

2.Mom or Dad can make a photo book of their little ones’ childhood. It can help a young child know how special they are and offset the divided parental attention that soon will become a big part of their life. The book can be used after the baby is home as well.

3.Parents need to plan how involved the child will be in the first moments with the new little one. Explaining the details of a baby’s arrival, especially if it includes extensive travel plans, are very important. Books, drawings, maps (if appropriate) and other visual explanations can help.

Here are some additional ideas that I share with families about to adopt a second child.

1.Parents should match any talk or preparation to their child’s personality and stage of development. Individual children, especially three year olds, can be very different. Some like to talk things through, others like to play or make up games that help sort out new ideas, still others stay away from impending transitions and work changes out after they have happened. Some children like to read books about pertinent topics. Two possible suggestions on this topic are: A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza and Little Miss Spider by David Kirk. I suggest that parents review on line resources or bookstore shelves to pick something that might be just right for their child.

2.If a child is open to discussion then I suggest parents begin with one phrase at a time, leaving plenty of opportunity for their child to react or ask questions. In general I suggest that parents talk for at least half as much time as their child. Children process things more fully when conversations are at their own pace and presented at their individual level of understanding.

3.Parents I know have begun a talk with phrases like: “A new baby sister will be coming into our home soon.” “Your sister will be coming from another country” Depending on the reactions of a child (questions, playful response or a desire to end the discussion). a parent could respond accordingly even leaving the topic for another day if it meets a child’s needs. If a general explanation is appropriate I have heard parents use some of the following starting off points: “All babies need a home with their parents and they all really want to come into their home as soon as possible. Some babies come home right away, others take longer. When they come home it is very wonderful.” For a child who is more interested in the details of birth than the following is a possible way to begin: “Babies come home to their parents many different ways. Some babies grow inside their Mommy’s tummy and when they are ready they come right to their parents and their home. (Children’s books on birth can be helpful if needed) Other babies grow inside other bellies and then come home to their families. When babies live far away from their families they wait for their families to come and get them.”

I wish there was a script for the complicated talks that come with the job of parenting. There will be plenty of opportunity to process or explain your new addition. Siblings have a way of bringing up thoughts and emotions about each other for years to come. Congratulations and best wishes!