Adoption is filled with so many unknowns, twists, and turns. It is completely normal to feel a significant amount of anxiety when it comes to trying to navigate the ins and outs of the relational issues that may arise within your family with the introduction of a new family member. This can be especially true when adopting an older child when you already have older children in your household. Encouraging all of your children to bond can seem difficult when these unknowns come into play and the differences of the adoptive process are apparent. These relationships will take time to build, and you will find that they often happen organically with little encouragement.
Encouraging relationships between biological and adoptive children will largely depend on the age of each child. For children who are younger than six and close in age, bonding will likely happen organically with little encouragement. Young children seem to be hardwired to connect with others and build relationships. You may find that all children involved immediately gravitate towards each other. However, this is simply a baseline and not necessarily the rule. Some children who are adopted may struggle to bond, even suffering from conditions such as RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder). Biological children may also feel intimidated or jealous of a new child, causing them to be slow to warm up, or they may even seem resentful.
Older children may experience many of the issues noted previously; however, there may be a whole host of deterrents to the bonding process. For older children who are adopted, their experience will simply be very different as younger children are largely able to adapt more quickly. Older children have an entire life story to reconcile and have developed a personality, belief system, and set of expectations. The things that they have gone through and the people whom they have lost will affect them deeply. In addition to RAD, there may intense emotions, resentment, fear, and many other emotions that may stand in the way of bonding. For older biological children, they also have an entire life story and set of expectations that developed long before any new child, regardless of age, enters the home. You may have to contend with jealousy, sadness, fear, and other overwhelming emotions from biological children.
In cases like this, bonding will require a lot of time, patience, and continued education. Encouraging bonding can often accidentally be replaced with trying to force bonding. While you may feel adequately prepared for this adoption and open to bonding with your new child, the experience will be much different for all of your children. If there was any child that was resistant to the adoption, whether biological or adopted, do not expect that to go away just because the adoption has proceeded. Understand and accept that bonding will take time, and forcing it will only hurt the situation. Start slow. Eat dinner as a family. Go on outings as a family. Spend the first few weeks after the adoption mostly as a family as not to overwhelm the situation with a large influx of visitors.
The key component to encouraging bonding will be to remain open and receptive. Make sure that you listen to your child’s concerns and make it known that you are available to talk. If any of your children are reluctant or shy at first, do not try to force them to be involved or force the issue. Try to do family bonding events at home to take the pressure off. Simple things like watching a movie together, eating dinner, having a bonfire, etc., can often break the ice. For a child who is suffering from RAD, it will very likely take a longer amount of time and therapy for the child to bond. No matter what adoption situation you find yourself in, patience will be key. Your children will eventually bond to some degree, and it will likely happen over time. Facilitate opportunities for bonding and let bonding happen naturally.