Question: We have just adopted a toddler. We consulted with our two older children throughout the process and they knew our plans, but now they are both very resentful of the time and attention the new little one is taking away from them. I feel they should just get over it and understand that this child needs us more right now. How can I make them see this?

Answer:

When a family adopts a child (or really, when any new person enters the family), the entire family dynamic shifts to incorporate the new person. Youngest children may feel they’ve lost a privileged position, oldest children may have new responsibilities, and parents will inevitably divide their attention differently. No amount of discussion or preparation ahead of time alters the fact that everyone has to adjust to a lot of change.

It’s really important that you not tell your older children to “just get over it.” That would feel very dismissive to them. Their feelings are real, valid and important. Tell them that you want to understand how it feels to them now that the anticipated adoption has actually happened.

Take some time to be with your children and ask questions like, What is this like for you? Is this what you expected? How is it different? What can we do together to make this a good experience for all of us? What do you need from me? What are you willing to do / not do to help all of us adjust well?

Your new child will undoubtedly need you in significant ways. Help your older children to understand why this would be. Explain about trauma and attachment and how your adopted child has missed much of what they have experienced. Help them observe with you what acting-out behaviours look like and the messages behind them. This will help your biological children understand that their new sibling is not simply trying to get attention or be a pain in the neck to all of you. This will help build empathy and understanding.

Do make it a priority to find ways to continue to meet the needs of your older children. As your time and energy permit, spend special time with them, reassuring them that they are still important and significant to you. They need to be reminded that you are still their mom and dad as well and that you have not lost sight of that. You may need to be more creative and they may need to learn to be more patient.

Hopefully by talking together about this you can alleviate your children’s fears of being “left behind” and bond well as a new family unit.

© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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