Ask AF: Sibling Adjustment

Strategies for parents to help a big brother or big sister adjust to having another child in the family.

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Q: Our 16-month-old has been home for about a month now, and our three-year-old (who was also adopted) still sees his little brother as Public Enemy #1. Will this get better? What should we do?

A: Yes, it will, though the sibling adjustment may take time (a month isn’t very long!). Address your son’s concerns head-on in conversations. You might say, “Some kids worry that, when a new brother or sister comes into the family, there isn’t enough love to go around.” To make the discussion concrete, you can draw a picture of yourself and a big heart and say, “This is how big my heart is from loving you.” Then draw another picture with a bigger heart and say, “And this is how big my heart grew when your brother arrived. Mommies’ and daddies’ hearts can grow bigger and bigger with every child, so we’ll always have plenty of love for both of you.”

Studies have shown that the social adjustment of adopted and biological siblings is virtually the same. The basic strategies– spending one-on-one time with the older sibling, using “big brother” language to help get him used to his new role, and so on– apply in your situation. While adoption does not change these basics, it is something to consider. This would be a good time to bring out your older son’s lifebook, retell stories about the trip to adopt him, and, of course, stress the permanency and dependability of your family. Start a few family traditions– cooking special dinners, having a family movie night– to reinforce this idea.

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