Sibling rivalry is a common and typical occurrence among siblings. There is an innate desire for siblings to compete, challenge, and squabble. Children who grow up in the same home together, whether by birth, adoption or foster care learn how to manage their future relationships through these early interactions with siblings. A healthy and supportive family environment gives children opportunities to learn to resolve differences and develop stronger relationships that they can use in other areas of their lives as they grow up.
When a child joins a family through adoption they come with a history of trauma, and parents should anticipate and prepare for some difficulties in sibling dynamics. By understanding their trauma history, parents can prepare and make safety plans to address issues that may arise. For example, if a child has a history of physical abuse or has been exposed to violence, a safety plan should be in place to protect all children in the home from aggression and additional trauma.
Establishing a new sibling relationship will not necessarily come easily or effortlessly. Here are a few ways that parents can promote healthy relationships among siblings:
- Carefully examine the motivation behind adopting and set realistic expectations. The primary reason behind adopting shouldn’t be to provide a playmate for your child. If there are children in the home already, help them to understand there may be some difficulties, adjustments, and struggles to adding a child to their family through adoption.
- Have a plan and explain to your children how you will manage sharing attention among children. Children in the home may feel like their new sibling requires too much attention from their parents during the transition. Encourage open communication and encourage them to talk to you about their feelings.
- Focus on creating positive early interactions between children. A good first impressions can set a relationship up for success from the beginning. Take into consideration the time of day and regular routine of the children before introducing them for the first time. Don’t introduce them to their new sibling when they are exhausted, hungry, dysregulated or distracted.
- Reserve time each day to spend time one on one with each child. Attachment specialist encourage adoptive parents to use the 10-20-10 approach, which recommends giving each child 10 minutes of quality time and attention in the morning to start the day on a positive note, 20 minutes in the afternoon to process through any experiences from the day, and 10 minutes in the evening before bed.
- Encourage healthy competition, playing fair, and good sportsmanship. Teach appropriate social skills such as negotiation, compromise and emotional regulations when conflicts arise.
- Practice and model appropriate problem-solving skills and empower children to solve their conflicts independently. As children mature try to intervene less in sibling arguments allowing them to work out issues on their own.
- If family or friends want to bring a gift for your new child, suggest that they also bring a small gift for the existing children in the home as well. Adoption is a big change for everyone in the household and a special gift or attention can help with the transition.
- Prepare for possible developmental regression in both the current children in the household and adopted children.
Connection and relationship building takes time. Close, healthy relationships do not develop overnight and relationships change over time. Some siblings are close when they are younger and others do not establish a good relationship until they’re adults. If there are significant concerns regarding sibling rivalry reach out to an attachment therapist. There may be deeper issues that need to be processed. An attachment therapist can also provide more activities or suggestions on how to promote positive attachment between siblings.
By: Angela Simpson