Big Bear (our birth son) was 5 years old when we began the adoption process. How to involve him and ensure that the adoption would be a success from his point of view as well as ours was one of our main concerns. Here are some of the things we did that seemed to help:
- We were very honest with Big Bear and kept him involved right from the start. We discussed adoption with him before we met with any Social Workers. I’m not sure it would have been a good idea to persevere with the plan if he had been very negative about it.
- We explained in very simple terms what the next step was at each phase to give him some sense of time frames.
- Big Bear did some preparation work with our social worker and we worked through the BAAF leaflet called “Adopting a brother or sister”. We also read other relevant books such as Nutmeg Gets Adopted but that one does have a lot of text. I think these sorts of things helped with giving Big Bear an idea of what adoption was and why a child might need to be adopted.
- I found that raising some of the possible issues of having a sibling in real life situations made Big Bear think the most. For example if we had been playing with a child and their sibling and an issue had arisen over sharing or hitting or turn taking, I would talk about it with him afterwards. I might say “did you notice how Bob snatched that dinosaur from Jane? I think lots of brothers and sisters do that. I wonder how you’d feel if your brother or sister does that?”
- We tried to talk about the things that worried Big Bear and take them seriously so that he knew he could talk to us about anything. His biggest concerns were generally about his ‘stuff’.
- We tried to draw up some house rules that took his worries into consideration e.g. his precious things could be kept in his bedroom and he didn’t have to share them; the Bears would need to knock on each other’s doors and couldn’t go in unless the Bear in question had said yes; toys that were downstairs needed to be shared.
- We were very careful about not telling Big Bear too much about the potential match until after matching panel, as we didn’t want him to become attached to somebody we might not end up being matched with. We made sure he was first to see any photos after panel.
- We involved Big Bear in all the preparation for Little Bear arriving. He helped us make a DVD, he decorated the front of Little Bear’s photo book and we went to Build-a-Bear workshop where Big Bear chose and built a bear for his brother. We bought Big Bear a “congratulations on being a big brother” gift so that he didn’t feel he was missing out. Big Bear helped us get Little Bear’s bedroom ready and we made some little changes to his room too.
- Once Little Bear was here it became obvious that our preparation of moving toys around and plans to knock before entering were not enough. Little Bear couldn’t be trusted at that point to stay out of Big Bear’s room. In fact he tried to get in there the second our backs were turned. Big Bear couldn’t settle himself as he was anxious about the little one getting in when he was out or in the middle of the night. Whilst we knew Little Bear probably wouldn’t do anything much if he got in there, we felt it was important we listened to Big Bear and did what we could to lessen his stress. We put a lock on his door. It was too high for Little Bear to reach and it opened from both sides so we knew it was safe. I think it’s quite an extreme measure but it was the best thing to do in the circumstances.
- If I accidentally leave the door open now, Little Bear tells me off and shuts it for his brother J
- Luckily Little Bear goes to bed early so each evening one or other of us has special time with Big Bear. We have found that to be vital in making Big Bear feel as though life hasn’t changed too much and giving him the space to speak to us about anything he might be worrying about.
- Big Bear has only said something negative about the arrival of Little Bear a couple of times. We didn’t tell him off: we wanted him to know that he can speak to us honestly. We decided to handle it by upping his special time, with help from the grandparents and he seemed much happier after a week or so.
- We have always worked hard to keep the rules the same for everybody e.g. no hitting. We are clear on what behaviours will result in consequences and what those consequences might be. I think it has helped both boys to see that we are fair and that they are both treated the same way if they do something they shouldn’t.
- Equally, we have tried to engender kindness. If Little Bear and I were out while Big Bear was at school, I might encourage Little Bear to choose a little treat or gift for his brother and then one for himself for being kind. I would make sure that Little Bear gave the gift, not me.
After a very rocky start, the Bears now have a lovely relationship. They make each other laugh, they are affectionate, they look after each other (each is always ready to defend the other) and I can honestly say they very rarely fall out. The bedroom door remains resolutely locked though!