Oh, Brother! Oh, Sister!

Your preschooler will be excited to become a big brother or sister, but preparing them for an new sibling may still take some work.

A mother talks about an adopted sibling with her young child

Now that your child is in preschool, you’ve decided to adopt a new baby. The coming months will be filled with twists and turns, and your preschooler will have her own sense of excitement, worry, and wonder as she makes the transition to becoming a big sister. But is she ready for the fun — and challenging — task ahead?

Getting Started

Developmentally, preschoolers are caught up in who they are, what they can do, and what they have. When a new adopted sibling is on the way, a preschool child needs to define what it will mean for him. He’ll need to understand that his new title (“big brother”) comes with responsibilities and benefits, as well as with a new little brother or sister.

A preschooler loves to ask questions. Your child may wonder, “When will the new baby get here?” “What will he look like?” “Will she be able to talk to me?” “Will he like me?” Preschoolers need concrete information, which is sometimes scarce when it comes to adoption.

To help your child through the process, casually introduce the idea after you’ve made the decision to move forward. Say, “We’re going to adopt a new baby brother or sister, but it won’t happen for a while.” If you have certain target dates, present them to the child in relation to holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions. For example, you could say, “The baby should be here late in the summer (or after Thanksgiving).”

As the baby’s birth or adoption date draws closer and more details become known, share them with your preschooler. What might begin as a weekly conversation could evolve into daily discussions. The goal is to give your child enough information so she can prepare for the new baby, but not so much that it overwhelms her with excitement, anxiety, or disappointment (if the adoption doesn’t go through).

When You Have to Say Goodbye

Despite everyone’s best intentions, adoptions do not always work out as planned — birth mothers change their minds, countries reform their adoption laws, or other unforeseen roadblocks develop. If this occurs, you’ll need to help your child grieve the loss, just as you would the loss of any other relationship.

One way to say goodbye is to send a helium balloon carrying a picture or message for the baby into the air. The more real the hoped-for sibling seemed to your child, the more important it will be for her to heal before she can open her heart to a future brother or sister.

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