Preparing Your 0-2-year-old Child for a Sibling
Our two daughters, 21 months apart, were adopted domestically as newborns through the same agency. The social worker knew from the beginning that we wanted to adopt more than once, so we talked with our first daughter from the first week of her life about her adoption and birth family. We also told her the following, “Some day (emphasis on the “some”), we hope to adopt another baby to become your little brother or sister.”
By 18 months, our daughter was talking and understanding things well, so we told her that we were talking to “the nice lady who helped us adopt” her about adopting a second child. After we met our second daughter’s birth mom we told our first daughter that we met someone who MIGHT let us become the mommy, daddy and sister of the baby she was carrying. We brought our daughter to the hospital to meet the baby, but we told her that the baby’s mommy and daddy still had to decide for sure if they were going to let us take the baby home. We did indeed bring the baby home, included our oldest daughter in the homecoming, and even gave her a gift (toy oven) from the baby who was sooooo happy to have her for a big sister.
We started telling our 19-month-old son that he was going to be a big brother about two months before the baby’s birth. We explained that there was a birth mother who was growing a baby inside her (something he already understood thanks to friends who had just given birth!) and that the baby was going to be his little brother. We talked about what it meant to be a big brother—reading both standard and adoption-specific new baby books—and about the logistics of flying in a plane and staying in a hotel and apartment in another state. We also talked about his birth and adoption and explained the similarities and differences between the two situations.
Our second child was born premature via emergency c-section, so in the end we only had a few weeks to get our older son used to the idea. We were home only 24 hours when our older son asked from the backseat (it’s always in the car, isn’t it?) when we’d be going back on the airplane. Confused, I answered that I didn’t know when we’d go on our next plane ride—probably for a vacation some day. He responded, “No, I mean when are we going back to the hospital to give back the baby?”
My first child, Emily, was 22-months-old when we found out about her little sister, Olivia. We showed her pictures and talked a lot about her sister, but I’m not sure how much she understood.
She stayed with her grandparents while I traveled. I prepared little gifts from Mommy for each day that I was gone. Grandma said that choosing one of the bags was the highlight of each day. I don’t think anything could have fully prepared her for Olivia’s arrival home and addition to the family. Olivia is only 6 months younger than Emily (they were, respectively, 20 and 26 months old when she came home), so she was old enough to wear some of the same clothes and play with some of the same toys. Emily found this a little threatening. For the first week and a half after we arrived home, Emily kept asking who Olivia was, and if we could make her go “bye-bye.” It was a big adjustment for Emily and her development/learning kind of leveled off for six months. Now, of course, they are the best of friends and inseparable most of the time.
When I recently traveled to bring home their little sister from Mongolia I did the same thing with gifts, and also left them a calendar. We circled the day that Jenna and I would arrive home, and they had fun marking off the days. They met us at the airport with ‘welcome home’ signs they had made and balloons they had picked out.
We will be traveling to bring our little girl, Kay, home from Korea in about a week. We talk to our 2-year-old son about Kay’s foster mommy (who is in the picture with her), his foster mommy, and the fact that while we are traveling to Korea, Grandma and Grandpa are coming for a special visit just with him. We transitioned him out of his room into a ‘big boy’ bed about 8 weeks ago, and started referring to it as “Kay’s room” and “Kay’s crib.” We made him a mini photo album of all his family and he loves to look at it, so when we got the referral, and picture, we added it to his book. He points to her picture, says “Baby Kay,” and gives her kisses. We tried reading the book, I’m a Big Brother, but, to be honest, he throws a fit about it. I think he likes the idea of Kay in theory, but has somehow figured out that becoming a big brother is going to have a tremendous impact on his life.
Preparing Your 3-5-year-old Child for a Sibling
Talk Talk Talk! Scenarios of how the new baby will sit here at the highchair or in the car helped prepare our preschooler for our domestically-adopted infant; the bigger kids got involved with shopping and picking out the right items at the last minute when we knew the age and size of the baby. We named him very early with great debates throughout the household members and via emails to our college kids. Not all kids need preparation so thoroughly, however. We surprised our 2-½ year old with four new, older siblings and she did exceptionally well AND started talking!
When we began the adoption process our sons were 3 years and 20-months-old. We talked about adoption in a general way, reading books, etc, and said that someday, we would adopt a baby. The agency had told us probably 2 years, so we didn’t want to make too much of it too soon.
What a big surprise for us when, 6 weeks after signing on with our agency, they called to say that we had been chosen and that our daughter would be born the next day! We told our boys that we had to go on a trip, but we decided not to tell them why until it was certain. When the birth mom got home from court, we called the boys, and then asked my parents to talk with them more about it. When we arrived at the airport they acted like it was the most natural thing in the world, and life just went on with one more in the family.
—Dave & Lisa, Pennsylvania
Our daughter, Grace, was 3 at the time of our second adoption (domestic and open), and we prepared her by being as honest as possible. 3-year-olds take things very literally so I explained that she came out of my belly but the new baby would come from a birth mom’s belly. A week or so later I heard her telling a friend that my belly was broken so our new baby was in a birth mom’s belly (how cute). Our first placement was disrupted at 14 weeks, but my daughter was a trooper. She came home from the hearing and said, “Hannah’s got to go, her birth mom says she can take care of her now and the judge says we have to give her back.” She gave her a kiss and a toy and went out to play with her friends. 7 days later, our daughter was born in New Jersey. I guess everything happens for a reason and Grace (now 4) and Hope (7 months) are attached at the hip 24/7.
Preparing our then almost 4-year-old son for the arrival of his brother was very different from preparing a child for the arrival of a birth sibling. We told him that, one day, a brother or sister would be joining our family. We all went to meet our future child’s birth mother and talked about what would happen next. He went with us to the hospital for the birth, visited him in the hospital nursery, and was with us when we took the baby home. We decided not to leave him behind with Grandma or a babysitter; he was a part of the action throughout. Normal depends on each of us… this was normal. It was another day—a very exciting day—but nothing that required special “preparation.” Every child joins his or her family in “uncertain timing.” Lucky is the child who is able to witness such an exciting change!
We adopted Christina Xinwei from China, and returned four years later to adopt Leanne Pengjing. We took Tina with us and used the trip as a way to explain her own adoption. She saw the procedures involved, and the kind of orphanage she had lived in as a baby. Having Tina also made the transition easier for Leanne. I’ll never forget when Tina put her hands on Leanne’s shoulders and said, “It’s all right. You’re with us now.”
—Joanne, New York
The BEST thing we did for our son (age 4) to prepare him for our trip (traveling without him) to Russia to adopt his baby sister was to make a paper chain. This was his first time away from us since we adopted him three years before, and there was a link for each day we would be gone. His grandparents said he got sooo excited each day when he got to remove a link! It gave him a tangible way to understand how long we would be gone and when we would be home. We also left him a present (from the dollar store) to open each day we were gone. He loved his little gifts, and they kept his mind occupied that day!
As for the “preparation” for his sister’s arrival, we simply talked a lot about baby sisters. We talked about what she would eat, what she could do (not much at 7 months!), etc. She was born in the same region of Russia as our son, so it made for a lot of great conversation about his own adoption and the connections they would share!
My four-year-old son, Isaac, will stay home with Daddy and Grandparents while I travel to China to bring home his sister, Helen. We have been talking to him about his little sister since we began our dossier. We have read every adoption-related book for his age group we could find, and he was involved with painting Helen’s room and constructing the crib for her. We have had discussions about how his sister won’t speak English and everything will be strange and new for her. He knows she may push him away when she first comes home, but we will love her enough to make her feel better. Anything we left out? Anyone who comes within earshot is told about his little sister and where she comes from. We even point out her town on the map of China at church. I think he is prepared. The biggest hurdle will be Mama leaving for two weeks. I have never been away from him before. I think I will feel worse than he will!
When we adopted our girls together (bio 1/2 sisters), we had no other children in the home. Right now, we’re preparing to adopt again. We’re involving the girls in the whole process. We talked to them before we made the call to begin the adoption and we’re keeping them updated as we proceed.
Preparing Your 6-10-year-old Child for a Sibling
While preparing to adopt, we made our 6-year-old, Callie, a partner in the process. She helped pick the paint for her brother’s room, and we bought her a special bear to give him. When Callie outgrew her car seat, we put it away for her brother. Toys that she no longer wanted were also saved. I knew that she had grasped the concept when I told her that her dress was too small and she said she would save it for her brother.
—Denise, South Carolina
Communication was the key for us. We knew for a long time that the twins were coming, and we used it as an opportunity to talk to our children—then ages 6 and 8—about the changes to come. After the babies arrived, we took time to “date” each older child, giving them alone time with Mom or Dad—a meal, a movie, or simply a walk around the neighborhood. We wanted them to recognize that they were still an important part of the family, despite the demands of the newborns.
—Adoptive Families Reader
My older children were 7 and 10 when our daughter from India came home to us in Louisiana. My daughter was escorted from India to Memphis, where I met the plane. I flew the quick 1-hour flight alone to get the baby and came home the same evening. The “big” kids had helped me to shop and prepare the nursery, gather toys and books, etc. Later on, I enlisted their help as artists for the pages of her lifebook.
My oldest daughter was adopted at birth in a private, domestic placement. When we pursued another domestic adoption, she was part of the process. She chose photos and dictated her own bio for our biographical brochure. She also spent two emotional weeks in the hospital with us and the baby. Her first-hand education about the social issues surrounding a birth mother’s decision led to some good conversations about her own birth mother’s decision, eight years earlier.
We began preparing our nine-year-old, biological daughter using a Christian approach: God brings families together, and we have been led down the adoption path because God has found the child that belongs to our family.
She realizes that there will be big changes, and that she will have to share many aspects of her life. We continue to reassure her that our hearts can love many people without losing any of its capacity to love. The book, On Mother’s Lap, nicely explains how the bond between parents and children increases with additions to the family. Our daughter is looking forward to teaching her siblings how to play games, etc. We also made sure to talk about some of the advantages of being an older sister (later bedtimes, etc.).
Many people make the mistake of asking their older children, “Do you want a baby brother/sister?” or “Should we have another baby?” The older child may feel cheated if parents proceed with an adoption after they answered, “No.” We simply told our daughter that we want another child to join our family because we are so proud of her, and then asked her opinion in areas in which we could easily follow through, such as, “What color should we paint the baby’s bedroom?”
Preparing Your Preteen for a Sibling
I wanted to adopt a child when my daughters were 10 and 14 years old, but my oldest said that she’d prefer that I wait until she felt better able to ‘share’ me. As a single parent, I wanted and needed their support. A few years later, the time was right for all of us, and I adopted a newborn boy and a 2-year-old girl. My older girls were a great help, and it was wonderful to share the experience with them.
Preparing Your Teen for a Sibling
Our oldest, Andrew, was about to turn 15 when we got approval to travel to Ukraine. We were distressed that we would have to be in Kiev on his birthday, but his wonderful church youth group planned a surprise evening since we couldn’t be together.
We prepared Andrew by discussing our reasons for adopting internationally and selecting Ukraine, and explained that there are many unknowns. We joined an Eastern European Adoption Playgroup, so Andrew had exposure to toddlers and young kids who had come from Ukraine and Russia while we were waiting to travel.
Our church family was supportive, and many members went out of their way to visit him and answer questions while we were gone, and provide support after we returned. We sent daily emails from the Ukraine, plus called to describe the orphanage and what we learned about the twins’ history.
He has been a terrific older brother!
My son, from a previous marriage, was 18 when we adopted our daughter from Bolivia. Matt had just graduated from high school and was looking forward to the freedom of the summer, so we decided that he could fly home after the first week. While in Bolivia, he met his new sister and visited her orphanage.
He now says that going to the orphanage in Bolivia was one of the most powerful experiences in his life. A funny thing did happen while he was there. Matt came with us to the first meeting with the court, and the judge turned to Matt and said, “Do you realize that you will now have to share your inheritance?” I held my breath as I watched Matt thinking, and then answering, “Yes.” He then looked over at me and smiled.