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How to Introduce Adopted Children to Unknown Siblings

There are two occasions when you might have to introduce your adopted child to siblings who are total strangers to her. In one case, you're bringing home a toddler or older child to meet your current children, who will be her new siblings. In the other, you're introducing an adopted child to her biological siblings, who are strangers to her because they were adopted into different families or otherwise separated. They may be blood, but they're still strangers in her eyes. In both cases, the same rules apply: Go slowly and don't expect instant love on either side.

Tension at Arrival Time

Introducing your new kid -- who you might barely know yourself, having just met her recently -- to your "old" kids can be a joyous occasion, but it can also be a stressful one. If you went overseas to get your new child, she might have developed a budding but tenuous relationship with you; seeing you greeted warmly by her new siblings may put them more in the position of a threat than an ally in her eyes. Her new siblings, who may have envisioned her more as a doll than a human being, expect instant love and instead get immediate rebuff. Even worse, their mother comforts the clinging interloper and leaves them standing there, upset. Make sure all your kids know that it's okay if they need time to get to know each other.

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Preparing Your Current Children

Depending on their ages, you can prepare your current children by telling them that their new sister will probably be very shy and that she might not want to play with them right away. Then, if she does take to them right away -- kids often do like other kids, especially kids that are making a big fuss over them -- it's a bonus. Bringing gifts from overseas "from your new sister" can help cushion the blow with younger children. Your biological kids can return the favor by showering your new addition with a few gifts. Don't overdo it, though; newly adopted kids can feel overwhelmed by the sudden largess and will withdraw further, which could bewilder your biological kids.

Needing More Time

Biological siblings don't always love each other at first sight, either, but at least the biological infant doesn't realize that his sibling wants him to go back to the hospital. Because both your newly adopted child and your biological kids are only too aware of the other's feelings, you house might take on the aura of a war zone at times -- sometimes for more time than you ever thought it would take. A therapist who specializes in adoption and a mom of 14, Dr. Brenda McCreight has this advice: "Be sure to let the kids have time to work out their new relationship -- don't set expectations on whether they should like or love each other, or even if they should be happy about it. Time and lots of opportunities for family discussions will let the kids work it out in their way."

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Introducing Biological Siblings

Biological siblings that have been separated for a long time or who never knew each other can mirror the introduction of an adopted child in many ways. If they're old enough, they may be very curious about each other, but may also have idealized versions about a "real" big brother or baby sister. Kids younger than age 4 can't really understand the relationship and its implications. The reality that they have little in common and no feeling of relationship may be very difficult for an older child to handle, if it happens. Make the introductions simply and straightforwardly and let the kids move at their own speed. Meeting on a neutral ground, such as a park or zoo, where the two can do activities together without the intensity of a private meeting, can take some of the initial pressure off and allow them to go at their own pace.

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