Preparing Children for an Adopted Baby

How Nannies and Au Pairs Can Help Siblings Prepare for a New Adoption

A new baby coming home is always stressful experience. The adjustment will be very similar to any family bringing home a newborn but when parents adopt a child it is often after much effort and expense. Before a new child is adopted into a family with children, nannies and au pairs can help prepare their charges for the new sibling’s arrival. Nannies and au pairs can help children with the transition tremendously by staying calm, maintaining the siblings normal schedule, reading age appropriate books on the topic, by listening to children, and by validating all of their feelings.

In an article, “Preparing Your Child For a Sibling,” by Jane M. Dalton on the Adoptive Families web site Ms. Dalton shares the following advice for those caring with children about to have an adoptive sibling become part of the family.

Be honest: According to Joan Regan, a social worker with Holt International Children’s Services, children can sense when something is changing, and they may be anxious about the unknown.

Regan suggests approaching the subject of an adopting a new baby by “gradually talking in very general terms about the possibility of another child joining the family. Parents may then define time frames in terms that children can understand, such as ‘after your next birthday’ or ‘after summer vacation’ to anticipate the arrival of the new sibling.”

Susan Watson, Director of Birth Parent Services for Spence-Chapin NewYork City, has worked with older siblings and their families for years. She encourages parents to avoid the desire to ask a child if he or she would like a sibling. “A child shouldn’t have the sense that he has the power to make this enormous family decision. Parental authority in this area should be recognized from the start.”

“When an arrival date seems likely,” says Watson, “children can be involved with preparation like buying bottles, formula, and diapers, and setting up the nursery. Older children can discuss the differences in building a family through adoption or by birth.”

Reassure: Once a child is introduced to the idea of adoption, fears may surface about whether adoption is permanent. A child may fear being placed for adoption if her parent becomes ill. Regan asserts, “Explaining that birth parents are unable to parent at all, due to age, chronic poverty, or cultural stigmas, may help eliminate fears of abandonment if illness or temporary economic reversals hit your family.” Nancy Borders, a psychotherapist specializing in adoption, recommends explaining that adoption is a plan that biological parents make for their child, not a haphazard decision.

A child’s fears may surface as questions, disruptive behavior, or negative comments like, “Mommy will love the new baby more than me.” Borders says that one of the best ways to reassure the child is to “constantly reaffirm her place in your family.”

Children may also fear that their sibling could someday be taken away. Borders suggests reassuring the child that “when you adopt, you become that child’s family forever.” Parents, Borders asserts, should impress upon their children that “siblings, like husbands and wives, develop relationships not because of blood but because they are raised together.”

Encourage discussion: Watson advises, “Include children—but don’t overwhelm them with complex information. Procedural, legal, and emotional issues in adoption are tough for adults to understand. Most children are not developmentally ready to take these on.”

Prepare for questions: Reading books about adoption, role playing responses to intrusive questions, and using positive adoption language helped us prepare our daughter for questions from family and friends. It also helped, after adoption, when we responded with authority to questions others asked in our daughter’s presence.

Watson advises providing children with basic adoption facts and then allowing them to decide how to answer questions. They will model their answers on what their parents say. She adds, “Children should not be given private information that parents want kept within the immediate family. They shouldn’t have to feel that they are keeping secrets. We want siblings to feel proud to tell their family’s adoption story without having to censor themselves.”

Network: Borders says, “Children who have a network of adopted friends do better. I think it’s very important for the adopted child and the biological child to see that their family is as normal as any other family.”

Networking is especially important for families who are adopting transracially. “International celebrations can be fun,” says Watson, “but they are no different than any other family activity. They may be a big hit with some family members and not for others. Your biological child may enjoy Korean Culture Day while your Korean child does not. Parents should set the tone for what they think are important ‘all family’ events.”

Discuss the adjustment: A new sibling, no matter how he or she comes into the family, is a big adjustment. Add to that the possibility that parents may have to spend extra time with a child who has developmental delays, and the sense of being displaced can be overwhelming. “Making special time for your older child is especially important,” Watson says, “even though it can be difficult with all of the demands and activity surrounding a new child.”

Empathy is the key: Sometimes it’s really hard to share Dad with a new baby, isn’t it? Babies can be a lot of hard work, can’t they? You seem really angry today. What’s up? Such questions, explains Watson, demonstrate your recognition that it’s not always easy to be a big brother or sister.

Children may behave negatively during the adjustment period. This is normal, says Watson, “excessive clinging, needing a great deal of attention, regression to an earlier stage of development, misbehaving in unusual ways, or even trying to harm the newcomer.” If you are having a difficult time coping, or if your child does not seem to be adjusting well to the arrival of his or her sibling, contact your pediatrician or social worker for help.

Watch and enjoy: Because so many dreams are invested in adoption, we hope that children will be instantly delighted with their new sibling. Borders cautions, though, that “if you try to force it, you’re only going to cause anger, hurt feelings, and tension. You have to let the kids develop their own relationship.”

Jane Dalton is a writer and mother of two.

Do you have any advice to share about caring for children in families about to welcome a newly adopted child?


  1. Thanks for the great tips. I am so excited that I am the nanny of two older children and their family will be adopting a litte girl from China. Exciting for me is I am a Chinese American. I love being a nanny and cannot wait to help care for the little adopted girl. The parents have been including their kids in all the plans. Yes the kids are a little worried but excited too.

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