You have children already, but you’ve decided to add to your family either through birth or adoption. Congratulations! It’s an exciting time. However, you may also be feeling apprehensive about how your children will react to a new arrival.
You probably have many questions. How will your children react to the news? Will your adopted child be jealous of your biological child? How will your biological children feel about an adoptive child? How can you help your children get along? Let’s take some time to address each of these questions.
How Will Your Child React to the News of a New Arrival?
Every child is an individual, of course, but here are some general ideas on how your child might react to the news of a new arrival based on his/her age.
Toddlers 1-2 Years Old: Toddlers aren’t going to understand what is going on. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about the new arrival, though. Hearing and seeing your excitement about your new child may rub off on them.
Children Aged 2-4 Years Old: Children at this age are very attached to their parents. They don’t yet understand how to “share” you with other people. Your child may feel threatened by the idea of a new family member.
You may want to wait a little while before telling your child about the arrival of a new family member. For instance, you may want to wait until you start buying furniture or clothes for the new child. At the same time, you want to talk to your child about the new arrival before someone else tells him/her. Picture books may help your child understand what is taking place.
You should tell your child that the new family member will take up a lot of your time. If you are having a biological child or adopting a baby, tell your child that the baby will cry a lot and that it will be a while before he/she can play with his/her new sibling. Reassure your child that your love for him/her will not change when the new child arrives.
You may want to time your child’s milestones around the arrival of your baby. Try to finish switching from a crib to a bed or finish toilet training before the new child arrives. If you can’t, you may want to wait to help your child achieve these milestones until the new child is settled in. Your child may find it overwhelming trying to learn new behaviors during such a big change in his/her life.
You can expect your child to regress. If he/she is toilet trained, your child may start having “accidents” again. Don’t tell your child to act his/her age. Your child’s regression is completely normal. It is your child’s method of self-reassurance that he/she will still get your love and attention. Give your child the attention he/she needs. Praise for good behavior will also be important to your child.
Children 5 Years of Age and Older: Children at this age probably won’t be as threatened by a new arrival as younger children are. However, they may be resentful of the time and attention the new arrival gets. It’s vital that you make your child feel like he/she is an important part of the family.
Tips for Preparing Your Child for a New Arrival
Involve Him/Her in the Preparation Process: Have your child participate in the preparation process. You may not want your child choosing your baby’s new name, but you can allow him/her to help you make other decisions for the new arrival. For instance, if you are registering somewhere, you can take your child with you and allow him/her to pick out some things for the new baby. You should probably make this trip a short one. You can always go back later and add items to your registry if you need to.
Your child could help pick out baby clothes, bedding, and toys for a new baby or an older adoptive child. If you are adopting an older child, you can allow your child to choose some new games and toys they can play with together. You and your child can also buy some games or puzzles you can do together as a family once the adoptive child arrives.
Sibling Preparation Classes: Sibling preparation classes are a wonderful way to help your child learn about what having a new baby brother or sister will be like. Some of the topics covered in these types of classes include ways your child can be around his/her new sibling safely, information about pregnancy and childbirth, ways family life can be affected by a new arrival, and how babies behave.
Classes may use demonstrations and role-play to help teach children. Classes also usually have a time where kids can discuss how they feel about becoming a sibling.
Many hospitals offer sibling preparation classes. You can ask your OB/GYN if he/she knows of any sibling preparation classes in your area.
Practice: Try to find a baby doll that will be about the size of a newborn baby to give to your child. Your child can practice feeding, diapering, and holding the doll. Treat the doll as much like a real baby as you can. In the weeks before the new baby comes home, you can even put the doll into the baby’s car seat.
If you know someone who has recently had a baby, you could ask if you can visit them with your child. Your child will be able to see first-hand how a baby behaves. You could also see if the parents would allow your child to feed or hold the baby, with adult supervision and aid, of course.
Explain the Game Plan: Before you pick up your new child or go to the hospital to give birth, explain what will happen with your child. If you need to be gone overnight to pick up your new child or if you are giving birth at the hospital, tell your child who will be taking care of him/her in your absence. Reassure your child that you will be able to talk to him/her on the phone or through video chat. Check the hospital’s policy on visiting, and let your child know that he/she will be able to visit you after the baby is born.
Let your child be the first one to meet the new arrival. You may welcome other family members and friends to stop by the hospital to visit you and the baby or to your home to meet your new adoptive child, but your child should be the first one who meets his/her new sibling. Make this first meeting private – just you, your partner, your child, and the new arrival. This will give your child a valuable opportunity to express himself/herself naturally.
Having a Biological Baby After Adoption
It may be especially difficult for an adopted child to learn that you are going to have a biological child. While he/she may understand that family is more than blood, you can expect him/her to feel uncertain and insecure about his/her place in the family. He/she may feel “second best” to a biological child.
It is vital to reassure your adopted child. Let him/her know that he/she will always be a special part of your family and that your love for him/her will never change. Explain that the new baby will take up a lot of your time and energy, and reassure your adopted child that you will always be there when he/she needs you.
Adopting When You Have a Biological Child
There are a few things to consider when adopting a child after having a biological child or children. First, it is important to consider birth order. In general, it is best to adopt a child who is younger than your youngest child. Children naturally develop roles within families, and this is partly due to the order in which they are born. Adopting a child younger than your youngest biological child ensures that familial roles aren’t displaced.
Another thing to consider is the age gap between children. There is no guarantee that children will get along, no matter how big or small the age gap is between them. Adopting a child close in age to your biological child means that your children will go through developmental stages together, and this may be easier on you as a parent.
When you are adopting after having biological children, it’s important to talk to your children about adoption. Books and movies can help you get the conversation started. Before you tell your children that you’re going to adopt, have a general discussion with them about their thoughts and feelings about adoption.
Involve your children in the adoption process. You may want to bring your children with you to meet the birth mother, for instance.
After Your New Child Comes Home
There are several things you can do after you’ve brought your new arrival home to ensure that your child doesn’t feel ignored or resentful.
Don’t Show Favoritism: Your children will inevitably have different needs. Newborns require a ton of time and attention. A new adoptive child may require extra time and attention for the first six months to a year after coming home as he/she adjusts. Give your kids praise and discipline in a consistent manner. Encourage extended family and friends to treat your children fairly.
Give Individual Attention: Your new baby or adopted child will inevitably take up a lot of your time and energy. Your older child may feel insecure or threatened by how much time and attention you’re giving the new baby or child.
Frequently assure your older child that you love him/her and are there for his/her needs. Set aside some special time each day to spend with your older child, just the two of you. This could be during your baby’s nap time, for instance. Spending some time with your older child before bed may also be an option. Reading to your older child or just sitting and talking with him/her for a while before bedtime will help reassure him/her of your love and support. Be consistent. It’s important that your older child knows that he/she can count on that special time with you each day.
Accept Help: If your older child wants to help you take care of the new baby or adoptive child, let him/her help. It may take longer to get things done than doing it yourself, but allowing your older child to help will allow him/her to feel included. A few things you can have your older child help with are getting clean diapers for you at changing times, putting socks on the baby, or pushing the stroller. You could also set out a few outfits for the day and let your older child choose which one the new baby wears.
Older children may feel excluded if you are breastfeeding. You could read a book with your older child or watch a television show with him/her while the baby eats to help him/her feel more included.
Put Attention on Your Older Child: Whether you gave birth to a new baby or adopted a child, members of your extended family and friends will want to come visit and meet the new family member. It can be difficult for older children to see everyone fussing over the new family member. He/she may feel ignored and feel resentful of all the attention the new arrival is getting.
Encourage your visitors to bring a small toy or book for your older child if they are planning to bring a gift for the new arrival. Encourage your visitors to pay attention to your older child as well as the new arrival. Suggest that visitors spend some time talking with your older child about something that is important to him/her that is not related to the new arrival, such as school, activities, or friends.
Expect a Normal Sibling Relationship: It will initially be an adjustment for everyone welcoming a new family member, but before long, your kids will begin to form a sibling bond. Know that your children will have squabbles just like other siblings. They’ll also form wonderful memories they’ll be able to cherish for a lifetime.
Adding to your family is wonderful. While it will certainly be an adjustment for everyone, your new child will be an invaluable part of your family, a family member your older child will come to love and appreciate.