As we mentioned on facebook, we are starting a new interactive adventure for our families. “Ask Dr. Brandy” will be a monthly (or as needed) resource for having your parenting questions answered. Dr. Brandy is readily available with answers to your most challenging questions. Her answers will be posted here in another effort to offer support to our families – prospective, adoptive and newly placed.
Q: As first time adoptive parents, what can we do to prepare a toddler for the addition of an adoptive sibling when so many things are unknown? We have been talking and reading books about being a big brother and books about adoption. We’ve also given baby a placeholder nickname to help with association when we talk about him/her. Can you recommend any other creative ideas to help with a smooth transition?
A: What a great question! Being in tune with all family members, even your youngest ones, is incredibly important as you transition a new child (or children) into your home.
Let’s start by highlighting some of the ways that you’ve already begun to prepare your toddler—because what you’re doing already is noteworthy and helpful! While your toddler may not completely understand what it will be like to be a big brother, talking about it now is beneficial because you are introducing him to the language you’ll use in the future as well as prepping him for the potential change in his role within the family. By talking about being the “big brother,” you’re letting your child know that his future in your family is still secure. He might not be the baby anymore, but he’s still an important player!
Reading age-appropriate books about adoption is another one of the most helpful things that you can do. As your child sees the characters in the pages get new brothers and sisters by way of adoption, it becomes a normal event in his world. Once you are placed with a child, I would encourage you to go back to those books and re-read them, this time using the story to relate to what is happening in “real life.” This not only gives your child quality time with you, but also allows him a safe way to talk about thoughts and feelings about adoption and the new family dynamic. If you are the creative type, consider creating your OWN book populated with your toddler’s photos and addressing topics you consider valuable for the future! This can be easily accomplished utilizing Shutterfly or another internet based photo print service.
Once you know the details about how and when your adoptive child will join your family, there are several things that you can do to ease the transition for your toddler. Allowing your child to take part in some of the preparation activities can also be a good way to help prepare them for the addition of another child. Let your child help as you get the baby’s room ready or make your trips to the store gathering supplies. This is a great time to reiterate again that the baby will be sharing your child’s space, not taking their place. Help your child envision what that life might look like, and how they might feel once it happens. Give your child some specifics about his new sibling, such as age, a physical description, or what activities the baby likes to do, but remember to keep it age appropriate and positive (if you would be embarrassed by them yelling it out in the middle of the grocery store, that might be a piece of information your child doesn’t need to know.)
If you are having conversations about adoption in an age-appropriate way, you are doing the best that you can to prepare your child. Because there are so many unknowns in adoption, it can be difficult to prepare a toddler for the complex ways that his life is about to change. As a parent, one of the most important things that you can do is be prepared for your child to have a reaction to the adoption. If you are ready, you will be able to see your child’s increased crankiness as their way of telling you “Hey, I’m having a bit of a hard time with this… I might need some quality time” as opposed to just assuming that he or she is being intentionally difficult. Utilizing the “Feelings Charts” we have stored on Pinterest (our user name is: CHIFamilies) would be an excellent way of touching base with your toddler about how they are feeling about the idea of a new sibling. You can use these tools to discuss future experiences in a basic way (“How will you feel to have a baby brother/sister?” and “How will you feel if that baby takes your toy?” etc.).
Some kids will exhibit negative behaviors while they are warming up to their new role as big brother or big sister; they might regress and act younger, may have difficulty sleeping or eating, or may throw more tantrums than usual. This is quite normal and it’s easy to see why they might have a rough time—parents that were previously available round-the-clock are suddenly less available, due to the increased needs a newly-placed child will bring. At this point, finding moments for quality alone time with your older child can help reassure your child that even though mom and/or dad are busy caring for the new baby, they are still loved and cared for too. If you find your child acting out, some quality alone time with a positive focus may be just what you’re looking for. The “Feelings” charts referenced above can also be an age appropriate tool for processing your toddler’s emotions at the time of and after your placement.
Especially in the first few months post-placement, when sibling rivalry can reach its crescendo, make a point of trying to catch your child cooperating, being loving or having fun each day. You can start practicing for this in advance by visiting another family with an infant. Praise behaviors that will be especially important as a New Big Brother/Sister. (“Wow! The way you shared your toy with the baby was so kind! It made me feel so proud!,” etc.)
Upon placement, don’t hesitate to reach out to your social worker or other adoptive families, as many families have been through similar situations! Join an in-person or online adoption support group, and freely ask the advice of parents who’ve been down this road before. Or better yet, consider joining Chrysalis House, Inc.’s support group!
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