Explaining discipline differences to children

Helping kids understand why their adopted sibling has different "consequences"

By Sandra Lundberg

Keep in mind that your other children are likely to feel stress and loss when a new child enters the home. This is true even if they have talked about wanting to adopt. The children are the barometers in the home. They will live out for you the increased stress level. Additionally, if you choose to use different methods of discipline, you may have to explain to the children already in the home why you have to discipline this child differently.

Let's take a look at how Karen might handle this with her other son John:

"Mom," John says, "do you still love me?"

Karen says, "Of course I love you, John. I'll always love you."

"But Mom, Russell gets away with all sorts of stuff, and then he still gets dessert."

"I know, John. It's not that he is getting away with stuff; it's that we have to correct him differently."

"But that's just it. You always send me to my room and you're always holding him in your lap. I want to sit in your lap. You don't love me the same."

"Oh, John, I'm sorry, I do love you. And I know it doesn't feel fair. Let's you and I have some snuggle time right now while Russell is sleeping. Would you like to do that?"


"And I'll talk with Dad about us making sure we have special time with you alone while Russell is getting adjusted to our home."


"And during those special times we spend with you, we can talk about ways we are treating you and Russell differently. We are still going to have to treat you differently, but maybe we can help you better understand why we are doing what we are doing."

Some parents may decide to completely revise their methods of discipline for children already in the home. That's okay, too. Other parents may decide to explain to the children that "Johnny gets spankings for disobeying Mommy and Daddy. Russell does not get spankings for disobedience because his birthparent hurt him and so he does not learn well when people correct him physically." Again, these decisions have to be specific to each family and to each child. And remember to use careful discretion when sharing personal information regarding your adopted child with others, including siblings.

Conversations similar to the one we saw between Karen and John foster increased understanding and sensitivity to what a child who has already been living in the home may feel. Parents must not deny that there is a difference in how the children are being treated. Don't dismiss the fact that the difference doesn't feel fair. If you deny it, your children will learn not to believe what you say. Always allow for further discussion later.

In the end, your other children may not need to understand and may not be capable of understanding why the new child gets treated differently. However, all of your children need your love, time and attention. You may feel like you have nothing more to give. On some days that may be true. Much more often, you must give more than you think you have on reserve so all the children are assured you treasure them. Remember, this will only last for a season. You do not want to regret having one child feel you sacrificed your relationship with him for your relationship with another child.

Next article in series: Being on the same page as adoptive parents
First article in series:
Disciplining adopted children