When you are bringing home a new child by adoption, it’s natural to be hyper-alert to the impacts this adoption will have on your new child. After all, he will have experienced a great deal of upheaval and challenges on his way to your family. However, it’s critical to remember that the kids already living in your home (also called resident kids) will also experience a wide variety of impacts from this adoption.
Becoming an adoptive family can yield incredible benefits for the kind of adults your kids will become. Many siblings of adopted children carry a strong sense of purpose to contribute to the world. We hear from families about broader worldviews and increased empathy that their resident children develop. However, there are some potentially negative impacts that you should be aware of for resident kids.
Common Negative Impacts of Adoption for Resident Children
One of the typical impacts that resident kids commonly struggle with is feeling invisible to their parents. In the face of an adopted sibling’s transition or trauma behaviors, your child might not get the same degree of attention he formerly experienced. This feeling of invisibility can leave a sense of living in the new sibling’s shadow. Alternately, the resident child can feel as if her issues or challenges pale compared to the newly adopted child’s. She might brush them under the rug if she senses you are “too busy” with her sibling.
Another impact is that your child can recognize your transition struggles, weariness, or overwhelmed state. Often resident children respond to this awareness by becoming either extraordinarily self-sufficient or particularly attention-seeking. Both responses are your child’s way of expressing a need. Still, in her immaturity, she might act out in distancing or clingy behaviors that are challenging for all of you to manage.
Of course, there are other impacts that children in the home may experience. You can learn more about these effects in this free CreatingaFamilyEd.org course.
How to Handle the Negative Impacts of Adoption
Mitigating the challenging effects of adoption for resident children can be built into your everyday rhythm as a family. When you make plans for preparing and supporting your resident children, consider these ideas for handling the negative impacts of the adoption as well. Try to keep in mind that they are not “once and done” like a checklist you complete and never revisit. Instead, view them as habits you do daily and weekly. These suggestions can help you build a strong, securely attached family and positively impact all of your children.
1. Give Your Children a Voice.
If you haven’t already, find ways to give your resident children a voice about the adoption. Invite the resident kids into the conversations if you have not started an adoption or foster process yet. Talk about your desire to adopt as soon as you can, including your “why.” Please encourage your children’s curiosity and make space for them to share their thoughts, worries, and fears. We aren’t saying you should feel the need to ask their permission. However, when you seek their input, you can convey that their voice matters and that you are open to their perspectives and feelings.
2. Make Education a Family Affair.
Your agency or caseworker should guide you through the educational requirements for this adoption. As you take advantage of the training and education, consider equipping your children as well. When you prepare resident kids in age-appropriate ways about trauma, loss, and even the adoption process itself, you offer them tools to understand how your family is changing. You can talk about the behaviors you might see in a newly adopted child and how your family plans to handle those behaviors. Talk about and make plans together about how to help your prospective child heal and attach to everyone, not just to Mom and Dad.
Children’s books are excellent tools to prepare for the adoption of a sibling.
3. Prioritize One-on-One Time.
Some families give experience gifts to their children for holidays or birthdays. What a tremendous opportunity to participate in something new or an activity your child loves! It will help your resident children feel special and prioritized if you can schedule regular events like special birthday dates or Girls’ Nights.
You can also look for opportunities to maximize connection time by inviting your child into shorter, more spontaneous moments like daily check-ins at bedtime or trips to the grocery store together. Car time to and from soccer or dance are also great times to take stock of your child’s needs.
4. Practice Healthy Family Communication.
Healthy communication is the general feeling between the family members that each is free to honestly and safely express thoughts and feelings without fear of how the others will receive those expressions. Talk as a family about how each person can participate in the necessary changes. Encourage each other to take responsibility for their shifts and improvements. It’s a tall order but start now to identify unhealthy patterns that might exist between you.
Give each other some specific ideas for how you can all build new communication habits together. If your kids are very young, intentionally model healthy communication with your partner or spouse in front of the kids a few times. You can bring the kids into the conversation later and offer examples from the talks they witnessed. When they are little, it will help to have concrete examples of improving their unhealthy patterns.
Keep These Tips on a Loop
Remember, none of these suggestions are “once and done.” Healthy communication, building connectedness by spending time together, giving voice, and educating yourself are elements of the strong family you are building together. Each time your resident child enters a new stage of understanding, or every time a new child joins your family, you should be tuned in to the risk for new versions of negative impacts. You can loop back to these tools to mitigate those risks and intentionally strengthen the attachment between you all.