Tuesday Topic: Helping Siblings Understand

This week’s Tuesday Topic comes from Sandee who wrote:

I have 4 children, all 12 and under.   Two daughters adopted, one from China (7) and one from Ethiopia (11) and I have two sons homegrown, 12 and 10.     With my children being youngish, how do you explain to the others when one child in particular has some issues (ADHD and some attachment issues)…in a way that they would:

a)understand and yet

b) keep it confidential.

Or do you just work with your child with challenges and not try to explain why she is how she is to the other kids.

I find the others getting quite angry and exasperated with her behavior…. and expecting her to respond and act like everyone else would to correction, or even themselves rebutting correction, because she does.

How do you handle this in your family?  This is a great question for so many of us.  Remember my angst over special foods for Dimples — beef jerky anyone?

Please take a moment to send your thoughts my way by leaving a comment.  I know that Sandee will appreciate hearing from you and your words will reach many other moms who share this same problem.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Encourage one another,


This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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. dorothy
    November 9, 2010

    For us the issue of individual privacy vs. disclosure has become an interesting question – we discovered through error that by protecting our childrens privacy on behaviorial issues we were setting them up for serious and unfair social criticism. A good example is my 9 year old – if he is in a class and goes total nasty oppositional defiant he is treated much differently when everyone (teachers and students) understand that he has brain damage and isn't exactly able to behave like other people. We have found that in many situations knowledge brings grace – both inside and outside of our home.

  2. coffeemom
    November 9, 2010

    I deal with this EVERY day. With three kids out of eight who have different issues, it comes up daily. But, I am not sure there is a perfect answer. My base line is that I am honest. With the ones who have it and the ones who don't. I tell them that we are as fair as we can be but fair does not mean totally equal in how we deal with each of them. We tailor to the kid. Meaning, sometimes we pick our battles w/ the defiant/adhd or other issue kids and the others need to be reminded that their circumstances mean different standards. Ack. It's very complicated. And really, all kids have stuff of one form or another, even if it's just teen hormones! W/ our daughter that has developmental delays, we do explain to the other kids that the way she acts IS different, despite her age, and that is how we address it, considering that to some degree.

    It's an extremely complicated thing….but I would say, having to WHISPER that they have "issues" stigmatizes them, IMHO, than just saying, "hey, they are wired differently or process things differently. So yup, things are different for them and you. What works for you might be different than them. My expectations for you are tailored to you. " And that is just a learning curve that has to be um, learned.

    Sorry, wish my answer was simpler, for you AND for us! Best of luck!

  3. charity betts
    November 10, 2010

    wow, we are still at the beginning of the process to adopt an older child from overseas, but this issue came up years ago among the seven we already have…i think it is an inherent issue anytime there is more than one child in the family:) we teach ours the idea that "Fair is not Equal". The idea that all things must be equal is so common in children, even if they have not been in an institutional setting. It is easier to explain to siblings when the one needing attention is a newborn, all agree their needs must be met even though it often means others must wait, or receive nurturing from elsewhere in the family. The trick is to help children overcome their expectations regarding what is appropriate to need at a different age, or level of development. If the lesson is "our family provides love to each member and fills their needs", it provides an easier context in which to teach empathy, and sacrifice, to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.

  4. Karen
    November 11, 2010

    I don't have a lengthy experience with this issue, but I'll give my two cents (ok, maybe it's just one cent). I have two daughters home and one more due to come home within the next month (Praise the Lord!). My youngest in home, HM, has sensory issues and is rather quirky. My oldest, HV, knows this, even from a young age (3.5 year age difference). HV will/would often tell us, "HM cannot do that, Mom. It will scare her." Now, our yet daughter to come home, HG, has even more issues than HM! Both HV and HM know this after visits with her and living with her last summer. One of the ways that we explain this to them is that HG has to learn to be a family girl. When she does something that isn't appropriate or age appropriate (HG is almost 6 but is developmentally about 2), I typically only have to say once, "Remember, we have to teach HG to do XXX." They get it. They will often say, "When HG lived in the nursery, she didn't have a mommy to teach her XXX."
    It isn't easy, but my kids know that investing in HG is what we have been called to do.

  5. carla
    November 11, 2010

    I was concerned about how to keep "fairness" in our family before we brought our children home from Ethiopia almost two years ago. BUT, once we brought them home, I realized very quickly that this was not even a possibility. I felt I had to keep our youngest bio child's life the same as it was before we brought them home as much as possible, especially at the beginning. I didn't want him to feel like he was losing all he had because of these children. He is older than they are and has earned the privileges he has now. It has been almost two years and we are still trying to help our adopted children adapt to our family and culture. It has been one of the most challenging times in my life. I put up with a lot of grief, especially from family members, because they thought I was being "unfair". I had to just not let it bother me, even though it did and I felt so horrible most of the time. But now after all this time, they see why we had to handle it the way we did and still do to a certain point. It was interesting to me that when we brought these children home that they were quite demanding and expected everything that everybody was getting, even adults. It took me by surprise really. They are still learning their place and we are still learning how to help them understand their place. I have had to tell them at one point that they were like babies when they first came here and they have had to learn a lot in a short time. Whereas, our bio children have been here since they were babies and have learned as they have grown. It is no doubt a complicated issue. But trying to make everything fair, I believe is only going to cause them to expect everything in life to be fair, and it's not. I tried this with our other children when they were younger and it caused more strife and selfishness than if I didn't try to make it all fair and even. I try to explain at times, if needed, but we do not allow pouting. Our kids from Ethiopia were VERY GOOD at pouting. We have learned to deal with each child as an individual and meets their specific needs even if it doesn't seem fair.

  6. learningpatience
    November 11, 2010

    I think it's completely normal for siblings to want to test the waters when "new" kids come and are not acting in a way that was not commonly seen around the home before. It's sort of a, "Hey! Why don't I try that!"

    I also think that kids perceive differences long before we adults are usually comfortable talking about them. My kids are usually a better judge of each other's strengths and weaknesses than I am; they may not understand why, but I'm not sure they need to. They simply need to know that each of them has things to work on and things they excel at!

    So. . . I think it is important to just deal truthfully and fairly with each child as he/she needs. Notice I said, fairly – not evenly. Each child is going to mature at a different rate in different things; some may never "master" some facets of life, but that doesn't mean that we as parents should allow the others to lag behind in those areas too. Challenge each child to be the best he or she can be at whatever it is that you are working on . . . and remind him that he can only control himself. The other children are not his to control, and if he has questions about why the other child gets "this" or "that," you can answer with a confident, "because we try to give every child what he/she needs."

    As far as how they are treating each other, I think that if we can confidently give each child what he or she needs, then we can ask them to give each other what is needed – be it extra patience, time, or even forgiveness.

  7. Amber
    November 11, 2010

    My kiddos are preschool age and I like to explain to my almost 5 year old (bio) that my almost 4 year old (adopted) is "still learning" how to do XYZ. For example "She is still learning how to calm down". I think this also helps my older child see himself in the "big brother" role and how to help her and help teach her how to do some skills that he already knows how to do.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy