Dr Richard C. Woolfson
There are instances when a couple who already have a child (either their own biological child or adopted) have the opportunity to adopt a young baby. That’s an exciting time for the parents, as they prepare for the new arrival with great anticipation.
The six-year-old, however, may not be so enthusiastic about her soon-to-be-adopted baby sibling – the prospect of a young baby can be threatening to a child this age, whether he is her adopted sibling or biological sibling. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to prepare her for the impending change in family structure.
Perhaps the main difference between an adoption and a baby from your own pregnancy, as far as your child is concerned, is that she may not have the normal adjusted period before the baby arrives. For a start, she will not have seen your tummy grow during the nine months; that obvious visual guide can be very helpful for a young child. And you may not have much advanced notice that the baby is coming to your family. The time scale is typically shorter with an adoption, compared to the typical full-term pregnancy.
That’s why it makes sense to discuss the new baby with your older child long before the new baby is expected. Tell her months in advance about your plans, explaining that in this instance, the new baby will be adopted. That eliminates unnecessary surprise. She’ll want to hear all the details, so be ready to answer any questions she has as best you can. Rest assured, she’ll love her adopted sibling as much as if he was her natural brother.
The main adjustment for your six-year-old to make is not accepting the fact that her new sibling is adopted, but accepting the fact that he is a sibling at all! If she is a single child until now, the challenge of adjustment is even greater. She is so used to being the centre of attention that she doesn’t give up this pole position easily. She may resent the new arrival, showing jealousy towards him. This has nothing to do with the adoption – she’d feel the same if he was your biological child. On the bright side though, statistics confirm that sibling rivalry of this sort is much less likely or extreme when the age gap is five or six years.
Get your older child involved in preparations for the baby as much as you can. When you have a clear idea of the details of the adoption, and of the baby himself, take your child along with you to choose nursery furniture, curtains, wallpaper and toys. Ask her to give an opinion about which items to pick, and let her make the final selection occasionally. Suggest that she picks a present for the new baby.
And when the new baby finally arrives amid tremendous excitement, keep your six-year-old involved, for instance, by asking her to help with bathing, changing and stimulating her young sibling. The more she engages with her new sibling, the more comfortable she feels about his presence in her family home.
After a few weeks, as life settles down once again, you’ll find that your child soon adjusts to her larger family. At this age, she has her own school routine during the week, her own schedule of activities, and her own friends, and as long as these are maintained, any potential anxieties she might have about your adopted baby will vanish.
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