How to Answer Peer Questions about Siblings’ Emotional Special Needs

By Molly Heaton

Back when all my siblings were living together in my parents’ house, I used to get questions from my friends about my adopted brothers. Their behaviors ranged from that’s kind of weird to why on earth would they do that??? Honestly, it was embarrassing. I would shrug my shoulders, mumble an I don’t know and promptly leave the room. Other times, I wouldn’t even need to hear them ask the questions; my brothers’ behaviors did all the speaking. I would attempt to get them to stop whatever it was they were
doing, and when that failed, would give up and hide in shame and embarrassment.
There were times they would act years younger than their actual ages, and I couldn’t understand why.

Of course, before you can answer any peer questions about negative behaviors and emotional special needs, you have to understand them yourself. My parents thought they were protecting me by not sharing the details of my adopted brothers’ background. It was brutal; by the time I finally learned what my brothers had gone through in the first six years of their lives, we were almost out of the house. But everything began to make sense; I finally began to understand their behaviors.

Maybe you’re in a similar situation. Your sibling, adopted or fostered, just isn’t acting the way they should, and you do not know why. Go to your parents first. Explain to them that you’ve noticed some strange and maybe concerning behaviors coming from your sibling. Is there a reason? Perhaps something in their history to explain why they act the way they do.

For example, my brothers would rock in their beds at night. Back and forth, over and over again. It was almost violent, and I worried that they would end up throwing themselves off of their beds. It was very abnormal behavior (neither of my blood-related brothers did that, nor my younger sister, who was only two months younger than the twins. To my recollection, I had never done this either, so it had to be abnormal,
right?). I let it worry me for far too long before I finally went to my parents
for an explanation.

As it turned out, they weren’t rocked to sleep as babies, had no physical contact when they were toddlers. They were self-soothing. It broke my heart to hear, which is what my parents were hoping to avoid (I was a very tender-hearted eleven years old who cried at the drop of a hat), but I was able to stop looking at my brothers, as they flung themselves across their beds, with confusion, frustration, and even a little bit of resentment. Instead, I saw them in a whole new light. They were begging for physical touch and had no idea how to voice it. After that, I let them sit with me when we watched movies, gave them extra piggyback rides, held their hands when they crossed the street. I wasn’t trying to fix them, or trying to make them stop rocking (they’re in their twenties now, and I’m not sure if they’ve officially stopped). I just wanted to show them, and myself, that I cared for and loved them.

Knowing the background of your siblings can help you to understand some of the reasons why they do what they do. Don’t be afraid to ask your parents for some information on what happened to your adopted or foster siblings.

But all of that doesn’t answer the question of what do I tell my friends?

Now that you know more about what happened to your siblings, talk to your parents about what is and isn’t appropriate to share. They will help you navigate those murky waters. But here are some things to keep in mind when you do start explaining to your friends:

  • Don’t share the details.

Even if you’re talking to your best friend, you’re still sharing intimate life history about another person. Your brother or sister might not want you to be telling them that their birth parents put them up for adoption, but kept their sibling. They have issues with abandonment because of some history with their family explains everything an outside person needs to know.

  • Be careful who you’re telling.

Sometimes, friends can’t be trusted to keep a secret. If someone you know has a hard time keeping things to themselves asks you for background information on your adopted or foster sibling, explain that you know it has to do with something in their past, but you don’t know all of the details about it. It’s one thing to explain to someone trying to understand behaviors what’s going on, and it’s another thing to spread gossip.

  • Nosy Nancy

There will always be people out there who only want to know the why behind behaviors to get the juicy details. They don’t care about changing their behaviors to help the adopted or foster child; they just want to know for the sake of knowing. Feel free to tell them that it’s personal family information, and you’d rather not say. Remember, you don’t owe anyone any information, especially if you believe they have less than genuine intentions.

And remember, always discuss what’s appropriate to share and what isn’t with your parents first. They may want to keep any or all information about your adopted or foster sibling in the family, or they may want to explain to your friends themselves.

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