Every Child
11/4/15 at 09:22 AM 1 Comments

Welcome to our Family: Preparing Your Children for a Sibling

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The following originally appeared in Lifelines, Bethany Christian Services' quarterly magazine.

Many adoption and foster care resources focus on the relationship and adjustment between the parents and the new child coming into the home. But parents often have questions and fears about how their other children will adjust to a new child in the family.

As they prepare to increase their families, adoptive and foster parents share similar concerns for their children that biological parents do when their only child is about to become a big brother or sister. They worry that they may, on some level, unconsciously fail to meet their children’s emotional needs or that their children will feel pushed aside for their new sibling.

Following is insight from Bethany Christian Services on how you can prepare your children to welcome a new sibling, whether by adoption or through foster care.

WELCOMING A SIBLING THROUGH FOSTER CARE

As a foster family, the most important preparation for your children is to discuss what foster care is and what it means prior to deciding to become approved as a foster parent. When a child is placed into foster care, the goal is typically to reunite the child with his or her family when it is safe and appropriate to do so. You will want to help your children understand that the child placed in your home will be there temporarily.

Before A Child Moves Into Your Home

Be ready for uncertainty. Being a foster family means that a lot of ambiguity and unknowns will enter your life. A child may move into your home for a short period of time (9 to 12 months); however, this child will occupy your heart for a lifetime. On the other hand, a child may enter your home through foster care and become a permanent part of your family through adoption. Be ready for this emotional uncertainty.

Be ready to adapt. Being a foster family means that everyone in the family should be willing to adapt to changes as they arise, sometimes without notice. Help your children prepare for changes such as needing to share everything from their bedroom to their time with you. You may also need to adapt the family rules to each child. Remind your children, prior to a foster child moving in, that he or she has had a very different life experience before coming to your home and may need different rules. Remind your children that you will always treat everyone with the same amount of love, but it does not mean consequences will always be the same for everyone in the home.

Be ready to show patience and understanding. When a foster child enters your home, he or she may feel confused and scared. They may yell or cry and may not want to play with your children. Prepare your children to be understanding of what the foster child is going through and try to help them not take it personally. Sometimes a foster child will exhibit behaviors in your home that he or she has not exhibited before. Remember, the past is an ingredient of the present; it is not a recipe for the future.

After a Child Moves Into Your Home

Institute a family forum. This could take place at dinner, a weekly meeting, Saturday morning breakfast—whatever works best for your family. Make sure everyone in the home has the opportunity to be heard during this time.

Nurture your relationships with your children. Caring for a foster child can consume a lot of your time and energy at first. It is important to ensure you spend individual time with your children during the transition because it can be emotionally draining for them as well, and they need to feel your support.

Establish rules and boundaries for your home. These can be simple and concise, but be willing to adapt as needed. If age appropriate, let your children show the new foster child around the house. Your children can share the often “unspoken” rules, helping them develop a trust relationship with the new child.

Make time for your marriage. Establish a weekly “date night” or monthly getaway and stick to it. It will be easier to care for your children’s challenges if your marriage relationship is strong and nurtured.

The temporary nature of foster care can be emotionally challenging for a family; however, foster care is a great way to teach your children God’s love and compassion through actions. It may be helpful to have a “celebration” with your family after the foster children are able to return to their family. This will help your children understand this is what is best for their “temporary” siblings and what God’s plan is for them. Foster care will be the toughest job you will ever love.

WELCOMING A SIBLINGTHROUGH ADOPTION

When you adopt a child, whether an infant or older child, the unknowns can be overwhelming for your children. The “when” of the event is one of the biggest issues. In a child’s eyes, a finished Home Study and completed trainings should logically result in the imminent arrival of a new brother or sister. When days and weeks turn into a year, much of the initial excitement and even emotional preparation fades. Many parents find they must go back and review earlier steps for sibling preparation. Parents may need to cycle back several times to educate and prepare their children before the adoption is complete and a new child enters the home.

Find families that have a similar adoption experience. Whether for international, transracial, foster care, infant, special needs, or older child support needs, you can typically find support groups by contacting your adoption specialist or networking with an adoption care ministry. Explain to your children that you will be meeting other families that have adopted, and then talk to your children after these events. Ask them how they thought older siblings felt when those families adopted younger children into the family—this plants the seed of realization that there will be both joys and struggles when they finally get the brother or sister they have prayed for.

Plan a celebration dinner. Shortly after the new child arrives, plan a celebration similar to a birthday party, but for immediate family only. No guests. Decorate a cake with everyone’s names on it, and have the children give gifts to each other. This is the important part: Not only does the new child receive presents from the other children, but the new child gives presents to the other children. This doesn’t have to be terribly expensive to make the point; simply work with whatever is in your budget. Even if your adopted child is an infant, this celebration is an important visual cue to other children that they are just as valued as the newly arrived member of the family.

Spend one-on-one time with your children. This can be difficult, depending on the age or circumstance of the new child in the home, but it will be important to provide each child with some “alone” time with Mom or Dad. If you are a single parent, you might consider getting a sitter for a couple of hours and taking each child out one at a time.

Every child will feel a bit like he or she has been “pushed aside” for a new brother or sister. Children, by nature, feel they are the center of things. This is a survival instinct and cannot be completely alleviated by a parent’s careful planning and preparation. A gentle hug from Mom or Dad and an assuring “I understand; things will be better one day” is sometimes the best we parents can do.

Even if we, at one time, enjoyed being an only child, most of us who had a sibling are glad we had someone to help us navigate childhood and share our family memories.

For more information on how you can become an adoptive or foster family, visit www.bethany.org.

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