Last week we shared Gem’s story about adopting for a second time(see here), after Pip joined their family earlier in the year. This week, we’re sharing Gem’s top tips for introducing another child into the family….
This is by no means a complete list but things I’ve learned along the way. I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious things so please add to this list.
1. Keep your child/ren informed as much as possible about the adoption process and what is happening and what it means to them. Be aware of the timescales involved though. Be prepared to discuss openly with your Social Worker what you feel is the best approach for your existing child/ren. You know them better than anyone else. Feel confident that you can challenge the adoption process and its rules. I can understand why a Social Worker might feel it inappropriate for you to give details of a new sibling prior to Matching Panel due to the risk of the match not being approved but there is precious little time to do all the practical things you need to achieve after Matching Panel so your child will realise that something is afoot beforehand when you are buying things and making preparations for the new arrival. Ensuring the strength of your relationship with your child/ren is important so that they can trust what you are telling them. Trust your instincts.
2. Involve your child/ren in the preparations. Get them to help to choose bedding, room paint and clothes and toys etc.
3. Help your child/ren imagine what life will be like with their new siblings. What sorts of things will be the same and what will be different? Draw pictures. Show them pictures of their new sibling and imagine the things that they can do together. Try and highlight some of the real practicalities though so your child/ren can see where things will change.
4. Help your child/ren choose a toy to give as a present on the day they meet their new sibling. Also give your new son/daughter a toy as a moving buddy. We gave Pip a soft bedtime bear which was passed onto his Foster Carer after Matching Panel. Blue Bear was introduced from that point and is a key part of Pip’s life and bedtime routine now.
5. Choose a present for your new son/daughter to give to your existing child/ren. Ask if the Foster Carer will keep it at their house so it can really seem that their new sibling has chosen the gift just for them. This can help break the ice; distract the children and also help the children feel positive about each other.
6. Try really hard from the outset to ensure that your existing child is receiving as much attention as you can give them. This is harder than it sounds because introductions are intense and you will be learning so much about your new son/daughter whilst trying to balance the needs of your existing child/ren. If you have a partner try to split your time between the children. If you are a single adopter then take a trusted family member or friend with you. In our case Daddy spent more time with Katie whilst I was learning all about Pip but we tagged each other every so often so I could spend time with Katie (and all the other foster children) as well. I won’t lie, it was exhausting! I think we’re only just starting to feel more emotionally calmer five months on.
7. Once home try not to worry about the housework. I found this ridiculously difficult to do because the house was/is a constant mess. Try to focus your attention on the children. Don’t worry about spending hours cooking wonderful meals at this stage. They probably won’t eat it anyway. Keep it all as simple as possible. Try and stick to a daily routine so everyone knows what will happen each day. Maintaining two different routines will be tough. Pip has probably had to adapt more quickly to our routine than Katie did when she arrived although we tried to maintain his routine from his Foster Carer as much as possible.
8. If your child is school age speak to your Head Teacher prior to introductions start to keep them informed on your timescales and any time off school your child might need and also so they know that your child might behave differently in school. We were lucky to be able to arrange our introductions the week prior to half term so Katie had half term week at home with Pip (in fact we pushed hard for this with Children’s Services). Her Head Teacher gave us some latitude after half-term if it was needed but Katie readily accepted that she had to go back to school on the same day Daddy when back to work.
9. Try to involve your older child/ren in the day to day routine of your new son/daughter. Encourage them to help where possible and show their younger sibling how to do things but equally accept if they don’t want to be involved. You can’t rush these things and your child may need to feel angry and uncooperative for a while.
10. Try to let your children spend time together naturally and try really hard not to jump in to orchestrate things. This is really hard to do because you are on tenterhooks and have a heightened anxiety about making sure things are moving forward and everyone is happy. This will also depend alot on the age of the children. They probably won’t be happy to start with. Life has changed beyond all recognition. They will argue and probably even hate each other (or more realistically the scenario) at times. Katie has said that she wishes Pip could go back to his Foster Carer and even said she wished he was dead. On these occasions we have reminded her that we are all a family now and that no-one is ever going back to foster care (this is to reassure her as much as anything because she may well be worried that we will send her back). We have discussed how much time Pip takes up with his various needs and how we both feel about that.
11. Be prepared for some major regression in your children. Katie stopped referring to herself as “I” and started talking like a baby for quite a while. We didn’t draw attention to this but kept praising her when she acted in an age appropriate way. She wanted to wear nappies one day which we allowed her to put on over her pants, reminding her that she could do this for fun to be like Pip but that she didn’t need to wee in her nappy because she was already so clever and able to use the toilet. We had some very interesting regression behaviour, including massive and quite aggressive tantrums, which we tried very hard to talk to her about how she was feeling rather than react to the behaviour. Not always easy! Our Social Worker advised us to respond to her as if she were the age she was behaving and this really helped to see her behaviour differently and feel less anxious about it. When Pip has a temper tantrum I felt very differently about it than when Katie did. Now I try to see the same frustration and anger in them both and respond similarly (most of the time!).
12. Talk to your Social Worker honestly about how things are going. I know we worry about things going wrong and Children’s Services thinking that the match isn’t going well and removing the child but they’ve really seen it all before and can offer valuable insight and techniques for helping your children settle in together. Our Social Workers have offered lots of support and some future psychological input to help us further.
13. Create “special time” for each child where they have your undivided attention. Ask your child what they want to do, if this is possible. Katie and I go out for coffee and cake on a Saturday morning. We are going to tweak this a little bit and alternate between me and Daddy because Katie is currently rejecting Daddy again. This will encourage her to know that this is her “special time” but that it might be with Mummy or it might be with Daddy. I try hard to give Katie time after school to do her reading with me and she goes to bed a bit later than Pip to give us nightly story and chat time. Pip is at home with me so he gets my almost undivided attention during his waking hours.
14. Give it time. Be patient with yourselves and your children. Try not to worry that things aren’t going as well or as quickly as you would like. You can’t put a time pressure on this process. Your children are going to feel that their nose is out of joint and their will respond to this, mostly inappropriately. We are now 5 months into placement I think things are just starting to settle down, for all of us. I feel more confident managing our daily routine and in my parenting abilities and strategies. I feel that I know Pip much better now and know how he expresses himself and what his needs are. I can predict flash moments more easily and be more prepared. As a result the household is much calmer. The children are starting to interact more easily together (although watch this space now that Pip is starting to get jealous) and Katie is definitely less angry with Pip for being here.
15. Remember Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. I found chocolate helps a lot!