Managing Relationship Expectations Between Siblings

It is very common for resident siblings to have unrealistic relationship expectations about their new brother or sister. A common expectation when getting a new foster or adopted sibling close in age to them is that they’ll become instant best friends. If there is an age gap and the resident child is older, the expectation might be that the new sibling will automatically respect them as the older, wiser sibling.

When these expectations don’t pan out, it can be anywhere from discouraging to downright alarming for the resident child. Here’s what you need to know to help them manage their expectations about getting along together.

Know that there are a number of reasons why there might be compatibility issues between birth and foster or adopted siblings.

* When siblings grow up in the same family, they all know the rules, and for the most part, they fit in together personality-wise.

*Siblings who grow up in the same family have shared experiences,
resulting in similar belief systems about how the world works.

*Foster or adopted children can not possibly know all the rules in a new family, often they will not share the same belief systems as their new
family; these can cause compatibility issues.

*Foster and adoptive children’s histories can impact their beliefs and behaviors in profound ways, which might mean that their temperaments are very different from the other children already in your home.

It may be hard for your resident child to understand some behaviors their new sibling has when the behaviors are because of differences in belief systems. Our worldview influences our values, which in turn affect behaviors.

Many foster or adopted children have had to lie, steal, or use violence to survive. These habits won’t be broken easily, and the behaviors can be alarming to the resident sibling who’s been taught it is wrong to lie, steal, or hit. Your resident child may have less patience to deal with temperament or behaviors they don’t understand.

When your resident child understands why there may be compatibility issues between them and their new brother or sister, they can:

  • Approach a situation with more empathy.
  • Manage their reactions to certain things.
  • Build a more trusting, respectful relationship with their
  • Know that it is OK to not mesh immediately with their new

Everyone wants their children to get along, and for everyone in the family to feel comfortable with their place in the family. When this doesn’t happen as quickly as your resident child expects, this can be alarming to them. The more your resident child knows about their new brother or sister’s history, the better prepared they will be for the inevitable clashes in worldview that happen as the family learns to adapt and grow together.

Sometimes just knowing they have a sibling who is more challenging temperamentally can help them to understand that it is not their fault when there are personality clashes between them.

For more on how to help siblings get along when there are personality, temperament, behavioral, and worldview clashes, be sure to check out our newest book, In their Best Interest: Preventing Secondary Trauma in Siblings of Foster and Adopted Children, which will be released in summer 2020.

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