Anytime you add a new member to the family, it changes the existing dynamics permanently. Though the changes are typically positive, adjusting to them takes time.
If you already have children, they may have mixed feelings about the addition of an adopted sibling. Excitement about the prospect of a new family member may mix with apprehension about the changes that will follow. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes some behavioral reactions children are likely to have to the news of the adoption and some ways you can help them adjust.
1. Regressing or acting out
Children under stress can regress to earlier, less mature behaviors that they seemed to have grown out of or they could act out in ways that they know are inappropriate. This is a normal way for children to deal with any stressful situation, whether positive or negative, and is usually temporary. You can help by encouraging your children to express their emotions in a healthy way, allowing them to talk about their feelings and thoughts without judging them.
2. Trying to be perfect
It is normal for young children to want to help out their parents in ways that may or may not be effective. Your children are more likely to want to help, or strive to become the perfect child, if they see you or their new sibling struggling.
It is not bad if your children want to help out, but it can be damaging for your children to believe that they have to earn your love by being extra helpful or holding themselves to an unachievable standard of perfection. Make it clear what you expect of your children and that they do not have to earn your love by acting perfect or helping out. Look for opportunities where you can ask your children to help out effectively.
These are two sides of the same coin: Knowing that your love is unconditional helps to improve their confidence, and applying their strengths to solve problems helps to improve their self-esteem.
3. Rivalry or resentment
The addition of any new sibling to the family, whether through adoption or biological means, can be threatening to your older children. They may feel that the new sibling is taking up all your attention and, as a result, they are losing their place in the family. This can lead to resentment toward the new sibling.
You can help prevent this by communicating realistic expectations to your child about what the new sibling’s needs will be and how your family life will change as a result. You should also be clear about what will not change, e.g., that you will always love your child and he or she will always have a place in the family.
Be proactive in addressing these issues before they arise by preparing your children for a new sibling before the placement occurs.