Family matters: Siblings


Geoff Ayi-Bonte
Focus on Adoption magazine

Question: How should I handle a child who is polarizing our family? The child has a great deal of influence with his siblings and constantly highlights the fact that they (he and his sibs) are not birth children.

Answer: This type of behaviour can be due to your son not "knowing" his place in the family, feeling insecure as an adopted child, or even feeling the need to push against you for something completely unrelated because he knows that this is one of your triggers. It's important for you to understand that there are two separate issues at play: adoption and parenting.


The common mistake is to downplay differences with the aim to feel more like a homogeneous family. Trust is, your family is full of differences. Every family has unique differences between family members. So acknowledge that openly. Difference does not mean less closeness. It means that we have more to celebrate and learn about. You may consider highlighting and celebrating differences (aka "things that make you special") as often as you can, so that the topic no longer stings--instead, it becomes a fact of life and a strength.

The child that is "polarizing the family" may need some individual attention. You can talk to your son one-on-one during a mundane activity like putting away dishes. Recognize his ability to connect with his siblings. Foster that strength by encouraging the child's sense of closeness to one part of the family. Now you have turned something negative into a positive trait.

You can also bring the obvious into the room by talking to him about how tough it is to feel different. We can all relate to that. I recommend you ask short questions and allow him to answer in his own way. Some things may be tough for him to say because he may think that his honesty is undermining his loyalty to you. In time, as you remain open, he become more open. If it persist for too long, however, you to your community for someone whom he may feel comfortable talking to in the meantime.


It is important to untangle yourself form the tug-of-war. This is simply about a child trying to cope with a challenging situation in a way that brings about an undesirable result. It makes sense that you may feel uncomfortable because you have tried very hard to create unity and closeness. Your children's behaviour need not confirm family closeness. You know where you stand in your heart and actions. Instead, open a discussion about their challenges in a family meeting. It models to them that family, in the presence of difficulties, can talk things out. That being said, you are still a parent. As such, the rules about behaviour still apply. All you are adding is a forum to discuss their challenges. Yet, rather than focusing on correcting one behaviour, you are now focusing on a resolution for your family.

As will all parenting challenges, things tend to get seemingly worse before they improve. In the meantime, know that nothing bad will happen. They will be alright; your family will so be back on track.

Geoff Ayi-Bonte is a senior counselling therapist with BSC Ins Counselling Services in Burnaby.

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