Friday's Answers: Changing Birth Order

This week’s Tuesday Topic was from Tami who wrote:

We added two children to our family last October, making us a family of six. The newly adopted kids are now the oldest and the youngest in our “birth order”. I’d love to hear how others have helped their children adjust to the new place they hold in the family. Early on our daughter (age 8), who had been the youngest, had a hard time adjusting to her new younger brother (age 4). Now that we are almost a year in we are seeing stress on our son (age10) who had previously been the oldest. He is having a hard time and feels “displaced” by his new 11 year old sister.  Any tips or advice would be appreciated!

This is what you had to say:

Jane wrote:

I like to remind my previously oldest son that he may no longer be the oldest, but he is still my first child, and will always hold a special place in my heart. Each child has a special place, and if you think about it creatively, you can find fun ways to remind them of their unique position in the family, even if it is a different place than it used to be. Sharing status as well as everything else (attention, clothes, toys, “stuff” isn’t easy, and I think all kids struggle with it to some degree, especially with their new siblings, but I think it teaches them great lessons and character in the long run. Kids often go through times when they need extra reassurance, but once they receive some consistent reminders of your love things get better before long.

Sandee wrote:

I too adopted out of birth order. I have two “home grown” sons and my daughter adopted 3 years ago….that were all set, in order. 12 (son) almost 10(son) 7 (daughter). This summer, we finally completed our adoption (2 1/2 years in the process) of another daughter. Our referral was for a 6 year old (2 years ago)…who would be an 8 year old when we brought her home. I felt good that my two sons, would still be the oldest and my “baby of the family” would remain the baby.

But, as it turns out, our new daughter is actually 11. (could be 12, but we are going with 11) even though her paperwork says 8.

And it has been challenging. For my oldest son, they are close enough in age, that they battle for leadership at home. The fact that they are in the same school, but several grades apart (he is in 7th and she is in 4) really helps. He is still, for all intents and purposes the oldest. My middle son, though, is the one with the challenges. They are in the same class, and she is clearly older…but being in the same grade, he treats her as a peer, IF he interacts with her at all.

His typical method of dealing with this situation is ignore her, or fight with her. 🙁 So I guess this is not a reallybig insight into answers. I can tell you the biggest help we are experiencing at the moment with the sibling fighting is putting into practice some of the principles in Instructing a Child’s Heart, by Tedd Tripp. I am focusing on each child’s heart response regardless of the circumstance and it is the only way to sort out the challenge for us. Sharing the concept of letting go of supposed (or familiar) “rights” as the oldest, (or second oldest) and trying to guide their hearts to Jesus for grace has been our focus of late.

So I guess, I am open to hear others ideas and tips too…since this is all so new for us.

Jen wrote:

We’ve adopted twice. The first time, a sibling group of 3 and the second time, a sibling group of 6. We also have one biological child. Our birthorders are ALL out of order. LOL!

Basically, we ended up with THREE firstborns (all from different biological families – one being our own) who are close in age. Our fb bio. son is also about 1 yr. younger than his adopted fb sister. One thing I remember reading (and have found to be true) is that their chronological age isn’t necessarily their “actual” age (in how they act, feel, think, etc. . . ). Sometimes (often) this means that a younger sibling is afforded an opportunity or privilege that an older sib. just isn’t ready for. And, that is O.K.

It would breed resentment in our son if we didn’t let him do what he is ready for (and healthy for enough emotionally) just b/c his older sister isn’t ready for it (b/c she is not regulated, not attached, or not self-controlled enough yet).

It is the same with the littles (we also have 3 “babies”). We try to give each one what they need at the time.

VERY OFTEN, if we step back and look at the age our child is acting, which is almost always younger , and we parent them from where they are (as opposed to the age the papers say they are), things go better and there is more peace.

For example, we have a 7 yr. old who we adopted 3 years ago who is totally healed and attached and functions like an 8 or 9 year old in many ways. We also have a 7 year old who we just adopted this year who is still not trusting us and still trying to do it on her own. For a while we had them sharing a room b/c they were the same age, but it ended up being MUCH better to put our “little” 7 yr. old in with her 4 year old sib since they are both really preschoolers at heart, and put our “big” 7 yr. old w/ her 10 yr. old sibling. Much more peace!

We often say – Age doesn’t really matter. . . it is a matter of maturity and being ready. It is totally o.k. if you aren’t ready yet and someone else is. (Mom and Dad decide when this is, btw.)

One thing that helps is our little motto “different things for different kids at different times.” and “Fair does not mean equal. . . we give each child what they NEED, not what they or anyone else thinks they should get based on their biological age.”

Michele wrote:

Our families first adoption has turned out to be our hardest so far. We were not told her correct birth date and the daughter we brought home turned out to be not our middle child but the oldest of those living at home. Three years later this still causes some issues. Our oldest bio at home is a real first born leader and there was no way she was giving up her spot. We started calling her our “alpha” and not referring to age. Our adopted daughter is far behind in maturity of even her younger siblings so it usually works for us. There are times when our adopted daughter brings up the fact that she is actually older and we all politely acknowledge her comment and try and move on in the conversation. If she persists because she wants a privileged that has been granted to her “younger” sibling we discuss that everyone gets privileges based upon behavior not on birth dates.

Thank you to each of you who took the time to respond to Tami’s question.  If you have something to add, it is not too late!  Feel free to add a comment to this post.

Happy Friday, friends!  A post about Honeybee’s “Eleven Again” birthday is in the works.


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Melissa
    September 10, 2010

    We adopted a five year old when our boys were three and one and we have fostered teen moms in the past and currently. It can be a difficult adjustment! I completely agree with Michele that privileges are based on behavior not age. And we try to keep a very open line of communication with weekly family nights so that resentment doesn't have the chance to build up. Great feedback from your readers!!

  2. carla
    September 10, 2010

    These comments really help confirm our situation. We have family members that give us a really hard time because one of the two children we adopted is really a couple of years older than we were told which puts her right at our youngest son's age (who has been the youngest by nine years for seven years of his life, he has been so ready to be the older child since he was born!). We purposely asked for certain ages to avoid this, but when you are dealing with an underdeveloped country with no birth records, it's a bit challenging. We have tried to not make our son feel like he has to give up things he has already earned just to try and make everything "fair". I completely agree with the one comment above that he would have grown resentful for sure. Our adopted daughter may be older physically, but she is really a couple years below her true age emotionally and how far she has come in her adjusting and bonding. We realize she doesn't like the way things are at times, but we have to remind her that she needs to earn our trust before we can give her more privileges just like the other children had to. Just gives me confirmation that we are on the right track. It's hard when you have people accusing you of "not being fair", especially when it's family. I''ve learned to try and give people grace because they don't have a clue when they are not living in your house and have never adopted older children before. It will be two years in December and we have come a LONG way, but still have a ways to go.

  3. Teresa
    September 10, 2010


    We didn't adopt out of birth order as this is not allowed in our country.
    Anyway the book that really helped us stop most of the disputes between our children was:
    "Siblings without rivalry".
    It seems a simple book, but very worth while reading and applying many tips.

    Good luck!

  4. One Thankful Mom
    September 11, 2010

    Teresa, thanks for the book recommendation. Here's a link:

  5. sandee
    September 11, 2010

    Another good book is Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends. (It may have a How To at the beginning of the title)

    1. One Thankful Mom
      September 11, 2010

      Thank you for another good recommendation. Here is a link:

  6. ibdawnk
    September 18, 2010

    We balance it out in our family by listing kids by order they were added to our family sometimes. Instead of listing the kids by birth we go by entrance to our family. Our bio-son loves that. Most often people choose to hang the stockings in age order and list their kids to others in birth order or play games oldest to youngest or vice versa. WE do things in order they entered the house. That confirms to our previous oldest that he still has a unique and special place in our home.


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