I believe that my sister and I have always had a bit of a unique relationship as siblings. I am legally blind and can see very little compared to someone with 20/20 vision. Perhaps my sister felt like she needed to look out for me when we were young. I always felt more comfortable in new situations when she was with me. I believe my unique needs helped bring us closer together when we were children.
However, that isn’t to say that our relationship hasn’t had its ups and downs. I remember when I was in my early teenage years, all I wanted was to be left alone. I wasn’t very interested in interacting or playing with my sister like I used to be. Meanwhile, my sister still wanted to play with me all the time. To be honest, I found it annoying.
Once I moved from my home state of Indiana to Colorado for graduate school, my sister and I became closer than we ever were before. We talked to one another on the phone nearly every day. Now that she’s married and has three precious children, we don’t get to talk quite as often, but we typically still talk two or three times a week.
Neither one of us is particularly mushy with our words, but we both know that we love each other. We use our actions to show each other our love and care. My relationship with my sister is one of the few relationships where I never doubt that she will do her best to be there for me if I need her.
Our parents divorced when my sister and I were young. They each ended up remarrying other people. My stepmom had four daughters and one son while my stepdad had two daughters and one son. These stepsibling relationships were more challenging to navigate.
When you blend a family, relationships among the children can present unique challenges. In honor of National Siblings Day, I’d like to give you some tips on how you can get your adopted and biological children to connect.
National Siblings Day
Claudia Evart lost both of her siblings early in her life in two separate accidents. Knowing how important siblings are in our lives, Evart founded National Siblings Day in 1995. National Siblings Day is celebrated every year on April 10th. Evart chose April 10th for the holiday to honor her late sister Lisette’s birthday.
Helping Adopted and Biological Children Connect as Siblings
Perhaps you have one or more biological children but felt you had more love to give and adopted one or more children. Or maybe you tried to have biological children but were unsuccessful, so you decided to adopt one or more children only to conceive and give birth to a healthy biological child later. No matter what the case, there are several things you can do to help all of your children get along and connect.
Preparing Existing Children for New Siblings
Preparing your children for the addition of a new family member, whether adoptive or biological, is important.
First, talk to your children about how you want to add to your family. Children tend to think that everything is about them, so you must provide reassurance that your current children are enough.
Second, include your children in the preparation process as much as it is appropriate to do so. If you are giving birth to a biological child, you could have your current children help you choose a theme for the baby’s nursery, pick out baby clothes, and ready the nursery for their new brother or sister.
If you are adding to your family through adoption, you could have your children help you select a theme for the nursery or an older child’s bedroom, prepare the nursery or older child’s bedroom, and choose some new games or puzzles you could play or do together as a family once the adoptive child comes to live with you. Your children can even attend pre-placement meetings with you.
Third, talk about how things will change after your new family member arrives. No matter how you are adding to your family, a new child will take up more of your time, especially in the first six months to a year after the child arrives. Let your current children know that they can help you and the family as a whole by taking on a new responsibility or two around the house.
If you are adopting a child after having biological children, spend some time educating your biological children about adoption. You can use age-appropriate books and movies to help explain adoption. Your adoption specialist will also be able to help you talk to your biological children about adoption.
If you are adding an adoptive child to your family, your kids will have questions about his or her past and why he or she has been placed for adoption, even if they don’t ask you these questions directly. Explain the adoptive child’s circumstances in an age-appropriate way. Know that other people, such as your children’s friends and classmates, will ask your children about the adoptive child’s circumstances as well.
If you are having a biological child after adoption, your adopted child may experience insecurities. He or she may wonder if you’ll love your biological child more than him or her. He or she may also worry that he or she will become the second-best. Talk with your adopted child at length about his or her feelings. Reassure him or her often that your love for him or her will never change and that he or she will always be a valuable and special part of your family.
It’s impossible to treat your children equally, no matter how hard you try. But it’s important to avoid favoritism. Divide household responsibilities equitably. Give praise and discipline consistently. Don’t give one child special treatment over another.
When a parent shows a preference for one child over another, the non-favored child can come to resent the favored one. The non-favored child may act out toward the favored one.
Make sure your extended family follows the same principle. If you see an extended family member showing a preference for one child, talk to that person about what you’ve observed and kindly ask them to treat all of your children fairly.
Give Each Child Individual Time and Attention
Children can become resentful if they feel like one child is monopolizing all of your time and attention. While one child may need more time and attention, you must make it a point to give each of your children individual time and attention regularly.
Set aside time for each of your children regularly when they know they will have your undivided attention. Perhaps you can plan an outing once a month with each child. Take your child out to eat, go shopping, play mini-golf, or do something else that allows you to communicate and spend quality time together.
Encourage Open Communication
Getting kids to talk can be challenging, especially as they get older. Additionally, if you adopt a child from foster care, he or she may find it challenging to verbalize his or her thoughts, needs, wants, and feelings.
Try having regular family meetings where you model and encourage open and honest communication. Family meetings are not only a great time to share information but also a good time to help your children problem-solve if they are having issues in their relationship. Make sure that each of your children has a chance to be heard. Engage in active listening by acknowledging each child’s feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants. Help your children find reasonable compromises whenever possible.
Promote Bonding Time for Siblings
Encourage your children to spend time together doing something enjoyable. Set aside a night each week where your children do something together without parental involvement. Your children could watch a movie together, play board games, do an arts and crafts project, or play outside together. Try to find activities that interest all of your children so they have positive experiences bonding with one another.
Giving your kids opportunities to share experiences helps them build a closer relationship. Do something as a family regularly. Family board game night, going for a walk, having a picnic at the park, going fishing, and eating dinner together are just a few ideas of the things you can do as a family. Family vacations and trips to the zoo, aquarium, children’s museum, and other fun places will also help your children connect. Your children will be able to look back on all the things they did together for years to come.
Take Advantage of Common Interests
If you notice that two or more of your kids share an interest, capitalize on it. For instance, if your kids like to dance, enroll them in some dance classes together. If your kids like to cook, let them take some cooking classes together. If your kids like theater, encourage them to try out for a local play together. Sharing an interest and doing something together will help your children build a stronger bond.
Encourage Siblings Teaching Each Other
Encourage your children to teach each other. If one of your kids loves to crochet, have him or her teach his or her sister how to crochet. If one of your kids can tie his or her shoe and his or her brother can’t have him or her work with him on learning how to tie a shoe. When your kids can share knowledge, it makes them feel good. When one sibling masters the skill, the other sibling can celebrate his or her sibling’s success.
Talk with your partner about what is and is not acceptable behavior in your home. Decide what consequences are appropriate for your kids if they don’t follow the rules you set. You might want to tell your kids that name-calling, cursing, shouting, physical aggression, door slamming, and lying are not acceptable behaviors, for instance.
Model Healthy Relationships
Your kids will imitate what they see you do. If they see you shout, name-call, curse, and slam doors when you disagree with your partner, they will engage in the same behaviors when they are disagreeing among themselves. Help your children learn how to work through conflict by modeling good communication, love, and respect even when you and your partner are disagreeing.
Accept That Conflict Will Happen
Accept that your kids are going to have conflicts. Every relationship has its ups and downs. Kids and adults have occasional disagreements. This is just part of life.
It may not be pleasant to hear your kids disagreeing, but try to let them work it out on their own. Of course, you’ll want to jump in and fix things for your kids, but allowing your kids to work out conflicts themselves will help them learn problem-solving and conflict resolution skills they can use in other relationships. If your kids are fighting to get your attention, intervening may encourage more fighting.
Sibling conflict also helps teach your kids how to use coping skills, express remorse, apologize, ask for forgiveness, communicate their feelings, and forgive others.
Seek Professional Help
Most parents know when a fight is going too far, but how do you know when to seek outside help? You may need to seek professional help for sibling conflict if your kids fight constantly in the home, in the community, and at school. If sibling conflict is causing or making mental health issues such as depression and anxiety worse, professional help is needed. You should seek professional help right away if your kids are regularly engaging in mean-spirited teasing, bullying, or physical attacks such as hitting, kicking, and biting.
A family therapist can help you find the reasons behind why your children are fighting, what they need, and how to meet those needs. Family therapy can also help you repair family dynamics, learn new parenting skills, and strengthen family relationships.
Siblings provide many benefits to one another. Not only can siblings be part of each other’s support system, but siblings can also help each other learn conflict resolution skills, emotional regulation, social skills, and empathy. Know that conflict among your children will occur and that some sibling conflict is normal. At the same time, you can help your children connect and bond with one another by capitalizing on common interests, modeling healthy relationship skills, and encouraging them to spend time with one another regularly.