If you’re a birth or adoptive parent, your child may have a lot of questions about siblings and adoption. Your child may be trying to sort through their emotional connection to biological siblings, half siblings, and/or siblings they aren’t genetically related to.
This can seem understandably complex for them and for you. But a person’s siblings are some of the most important relationships they can have in their lifetime, and studies show that blending biological and non-biological siblings has no effect on children.
Talking with your child through their thoughts and feelings about sibling relationships and adoption can help solidify sibling bonds as well as strengthen their own self-confidence. The following scenarios may be common for birth and adoptive parents when talking to children about siblings and adoption:
For Birth Parents
It can be hard at first for the child(ren) you’re raising to understand why their biological sibling or half-sibling is being raised by a different family.
Every child processes their thoughts and feelings differently. Common situations may include:
- They ask “why” their adopted sibling was placed for adoption, and they ask many times.
- They worry about how their adopted sibling is doing.
- They grow silent and sullen when the topic of their adopted sibling comes up.
- They draw pictures for their adopted sibling or talk about him or her often.
- They beg for a visit if the adoption is open.
- They create a fantasy vision of their adopted sibling’s life if the adoption is more closed.
These responses can weigh on your own thoughts and feelings regarding adoption, or can bring back up old emotions.
Try to remember that your child is coming to terms with adoption in their own way; which may be different from your own process, and that you’ll need to stay patient, positive, and supportive of them while they do so.
When talking to your child about a sibling who was placed for adoption, the following tips can be helpful:
- Begin talking to your child about their sibling’s adoption as early as possible to avoid an emotionally shocking and painful surprise, which can damage their trust in you.
- Remind your child that their adopted sibling is happy and loved by both you and their adoptive family.
- Be honest, but age-appropriate, about why their birth sibling was placed for adoption.
- Answer their questions honestly, and ask follow-up questions about their own feelings.
- Speak positively about adoption and the adoptive family, and explain that many families grow through adoption.
- Remind your child that it’s ok to talk about their adopted sibling, to ask questions, and to talk about their feelings.
If you have questions about how to talk to your child about their sibling’s adoption, or if you need additional support and resources for talking to your child about their adopted sibling, you can always ask an Adoption Specialist by calling 1-800-ADOPTION.
For Adoptive Parents
You may have children who’ve come into your family through different ways, be it biologically, through surrogacy, foster care, adoption, or any other path. While siblings will love each other no matter how they came to be in the same family, the differences in their personal stories often need to be talked about.
For example, if you have two children who were both adopted but have different birth families, consider how your child may feel if:
- Their sibling has a more open relationship with their birth family, while they have little to no communication with their own birth family.
Or, if you have a child biologically and another child through adoption, remember:
- Your biological child may feel hurt by common adoption language like “chosen,” or “special,” and feel that they were not “selected” by you.
- Your adopted child may feel alienated by shared genetic characteristics in the family that they don’t share, or as if they’re an “outsider.”
If your adopted child has birth siblings that their birth parents didn’t place for adoption, consider:
- They’ll likely question why they were placed for adoption, but not their biological sibling.
- They’ll wonder what it would’ve been like to be raised with their biological siblings.
- They may feel jealous that their birth siblings know what it’s like to be raised by their birth parent(s) but they themselves will never know.
- They may feel “replaced” if their birth parent has another child after placing them for adoption.
Every child’s personal adoption story and relationship with their birth family (including birth siblings) will be unique. So the best tip when talking with your adopted child about siblings: keep the dialogue open and keep listening.
Your child’s feelings about adoption will continue to evolve as they grow up. Reminding them that it’s ok to talk about their ever-changing thoughts and feelings about adoption and siblings will be important for them to feel secure enough to come to you if they have questions or worries. It may be up to you to introduce the topic!
Siblings are an important part of a child’s life. Biological connections certainly aren’t required for children to be siblings. But that doesn’t mean we should overlook the emotional significance of biological siblings in adoption.
For both birth and adoptive parents, if your child has siblings — biological siblings, half siblings, or siblings that they aren’t genetically related to, remember:
- Always be honest with your child about adoption and siblings.
- Start talking about your child’s siblings as part of your family’s adoption story from Day 1.
- Let your child know that it’s ok to talk about adoption and siblings, and that they can talk about how they feel.
- It’s ok to ask questions.
Every child will have different feelings regarding their adoption and siblings, so keep listening to what your child has to say! You can always ask an Adoption Specialist about how to talk to your child about siblings and adoption by calling 1-800-ADOPTION.
I have an only son who was placed and then adopted from Foster (by myself and husband) he has siblings full and half that were also subsequently adopted either through foster or parental rights being voluntarily given up. In our case the courts (NJ) terminated the birth parents rights. He has only been with us (placed at 4mos) and had a few visitations during that time with 2 of his sibs. My concern is while he knows he’s adopted he does not know the circumstances, but he does ‘wish’ he had siblings. I do realize that sometimes only children do this he is only 8yrs old. When do I talk to him about siblings? Is there ever a ‘good time’? he has some behavioral issues that we’re working on with help through his school and outside but I don’t want him to have a set back.