Five Ways to Talk to Your Child About Biological Siblings and Adoption

It’s never too early to start the conversation.

Shannon Hicks July 15, 2015
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Those of us who welcome our children through adoption believe that family is more than blood. This is true. It is also true that blood is important. After becoming a mom through adoption, I am more convinced than ever that my daughter deserves to know as much as she can about her biological family.

Many children who are adopted have biological siblings who are adopted into different families, or siblings who remain with their biological parents (or other relatives). Your family may have contact with these siblings, or not. And conversations about them can be tough. First and foremost, it is important to reassure you child that their biological siblings are their “real” siblings (as are any of your other children—whether they share DNA or not). A frequent saying in our house is that our hearts are big enough to hold them all. Stumped on talking to your child about biological siblings? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Talk early.

It’s never too early to start the conversation. When my daughter moved in, she was four. She came with a lifebook, but together we also wrote and illustrated her story, including all of the biological siblings that we knew about at the time. Later we added photos and had the story printed in a photo book format. This was a nightly bedtime story for many months. As she has grown, she doesn’t reach for it as often, but it is always there for her if she needs it. (And when she does choose to read it, I know it’s probably a time that she needs to talk about her biological siblings).

Talk often.

As with other tough topics, it’s probably better to have a series of small talks or an ongoing conversation as opposed to sitting your child down for “The Talk” about biological siblings. A conversation at the dinner table, one at bedtime, one in the car. Some kids feel less threatened and more at ease if you bring up difficult topics while you are doing something side by side (cooking, painting, hiking, changing the oil).

Talk honestly.

I am a firm believer that my daughter’s story is hers. All of it. And she deserves to know it. Everyone’s life story has difficult parts. For some of the children who join our families through adoption, those parts feel intensely magnified. Obviously, your conversations about your child’s story should be age-appropriate. They should also be honest. There is never a perfect time to have a hard conversation. But today is probably better than tomorrow. It’s their story. They deserve to know it.

Talk (and listen) empathetically.

Grief and loss are intertwined with joy in every adoption story. There may be biological siblings that, for a variety of reasons, your child will never meet. I’ve found that there is great power in the words “me too.” Whenever my daughter talks about her biological family with sentences starting with “I wish . . . ”  I just listen. And nod. And say, “Me too.” The truth is I haven’t walked in her shoes. I don’t truly understand. But because I love her, her wishes matter a lot to me.

Talk proactively.

Sometimes conversations about siblings seem to come out of the blue. Often they do not.  Think ahead about things like birthdays, holiday celebrations and family reunions. These events can be obvious triggers. Be proactive. Have a conversation with your child in the days or weeks leading up to these events. Retell their stories. Reread their lifebooks. Answer their questions honestly. Listen well (no smart phones allowed). And be there.

Conversations about your child’s biological siblings can be tricky. They can evoke strong emotions. They might make you uncomfortable. But they need to happen. It is vitally important that your child is able to trust that you will tell them the truth—especially about hard things.  And most especially about their own life story.

How do you talk to your child about biological siblings and adoption?

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Shannon Hicks

Shannon is mom to two amazing kids who joined her family through foster care adoption. She is passionate about advocating for children through her writing and her job as a kindergarten teacher. You can read more from her at Adoption, Grace and Life.


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