Ask AF: Preschooler Grieving After a Failed Match

A prospective adoptive parent wonders how she can comfort her grieving preschooler, who doesn't understand that her sibling's adoption didn't go through.

Q: We had a match that failed at the last minute about a week ago. Since then, our three-year-old daughter has been searching for the baby — climbing into the crib we bought, “checking” baby strollers when we are out somewhere. Is she grieving? She was excited to be a big sister. How can we help her understand?


A: One would expect your daughter to feel excited about having a baby brother and disappointed when he did not arrive. You should validate these normal and sensitive feelings. But also, keep in mind that, since she is only three, she does not have a clue what adoption means or about the adoption process, even if she articulates the word “adoption.” You are upset because the adoption fell through, she is upset that her baby brother did not arrive as expected.

Your daughter doesn’t have the words to express her grief, but she is “telling you” by her actions that she wishes she knew where he was. Put her feelings into words for her and let her know that you’re mourning together: “You are sad because your baby brother did not arrive. We are sad, too.” You can save more complex explanations until she is older.

When you do succeed in an adoption, she will be happy. And, by the time she begins to really understand what adoption is, she will see that, quite often, it works!

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