“Count to 40,” my daughter hollered to her older brother. Then she turned her attention to me.
“Mommy. Mommy. Where should I hide?”
“Right here,” I said. Her eyes lit up and she squeezed her skinny 9-year-old body into the kitchen cupboard.
Footsteps came thumping down the stairs. “I’m going to find you,” her brother teased.
Giggles emerged from the kitchen cupboard.
“Aha. Got you,” he declared.
My daughter grinned from ear to ear. “My turn to count,” she squealed, and the game continued.
Whether it’s my 13 or 14-year-old son playing this game with their sister, it always delights. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing my children happy and getting along. I’ve worked tirelessly to achieve moments of harmony between my biological sons and my adopted daughter. It’s been a struggle, but I’ve learned some lessons along the way. They include:
- Set Behaviour Boundaries. My boys’ sense of loss over our family of four, embarrassment over having an adopted sister, and intense jealousy over the attention their sister received gripped them. The first year was especially difficult. They’d scream: “I hate you,” “you don’t belong here,” and “you’re so annoying.” Despite their pain which broke my heart, my husband and I set behaviour boundaries. We expected respectful behaviour. Boundaries help our daughter to feel safe, secure, and loved.
- Become a Feelings Family. My husband and I reflect on our children’s feelings. We label them. For example, we might say “I can see you’re really angry because….” This calms their emotions. They feel understood, valued, and respected. Once their emotions are calmed, problem solving can occur.
According to a workshop by my local Learning Disabilities association, an effective communication approach is to say “I feel___when___.” My daughter likes to use this phrase and it works.
- Say Sorry First. “Be the FIRST to say sorry” is a helpful mantra I use following conflict. It speeds up the apology process and corresponding forgiveness. I reference the Bible for the importance of forgiveness which catches my children’s attention.
- Be Fun and Silly. Who doesn’t like to have fun? Games such as hide and go seek, rolling around in blankets, squirting virtual ketchup on a child who’s pretending to be a hot dog, feeding each other Jelly Bellies, having wheelbarrow races, or doing dance-a-thons strengthens relationships. The book I Love You Rituals by Becky A. Bailey provides bonding ideas for young children and can be adapted to use between siblings.
- Educate Biological Children. Our daughter looks like a typical girl so it’s easy for her brothers to get frustrated over her “hidden” disabilities. They expect her to act in a way that she can’t. They expect her to respond to situations in a way that she doesn’t. They expect us to discipline her in a way that we don’t. Educating them about her brain and the effects of trauma, disorganized attachment, and fetal alcohol helps them understand her better. It’s a slow journey but we are seeing gains.