Managing Relationship Expectations Between Siblings

siblings often have unrealistic relationship expectations about their new
brother or sister. A common expectation when getting a new foster or adoptive
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.

There are a
number of reasons why there might be compatibility issues between siblings, and
the more your child understand these reasons, the better prepared they will be.
You can support your resident child when you explain to them what could hinder

When siblings
grow up in the same family, they all know the rules, and for the most part, they
fit in together personality wise. Additionally, they have shared experiences,
resulting in similar belief systems about how the world works. But foster or
adopted children will often not share the same belief systems as their new
family and this can cause issues in compatibility.

Also, 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. With temperaments
too different from one another, personality clashes can occur.

Goodness Of Fit is a term that refers to the compatibility of
a person’s temperament with his surrounding environment, including the people
living in the environment.

Fit with Environment

When there is a match between the demands and
expectations of the environment and the child’s temperament and abilities, that
is a good fit.  When there is not a good fit, there may be a
greater risk for difficulties getting along.

For example:

a highly irregular child who
is hungry at different times each day now living in a family where dinner is a
structured and predictable event, served promptly at 6:00 P.M. every evening.
The family members may become frustrated when the child snacks before dinner or
isn’t wanting to eat with the rest of the family.

a very active child who lives in a very
traditional and more restrictive family setting might run into trouble abiding
by the rules of conduct that the other children all follow.

a child who was not read to in their birth home will not be comfortable with
the new family’s emphasis on books and reading.

you think of examples in your family?

Fit with People

Of Fit

also describes how well the child’s
temperament ‘fits’ with the people in his environment and how likable the
people in the environment consider the child to be.

In biological families or families where a child was added as an
infant, there's been more time to develop a cohesion of beliefs among family
members. When a new child enters a family, they will have to learn the unspoken
rules. While they are learning, there will be some missteps they will make, which
can be alarming for the resident sibling who expects that all siblings should
follow the same rules.

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 a temperament or behaviors they don’t understand.

When your resident child understands the concept of Goodness Of Fit, 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

Tips for creating a "Goodness of Fit."

  • Know each of your children’s temperaments.
    Understand their usual way of reacting in situations and explain to the
    resident child that it takes time for the new sibling to learn the rules of the
  • Know your temperament. Consider how your reactions to your
    children affect their behavior
    What is your response when your children’s temperament clashes with your
    expectations? How do your reactions impact the outcome of your interactions?

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.

Gail Heaton,

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