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Room for one more: How to modify your child’s room to include a new foster or adoptive child

Making room in your heart for a newly-fostered or adopted child is easy. Creating a special space where your new family member will feel secure and comfortable is slightly more complicated, especially when he or she will be moving into a bedroom a sibling already inhabits. You must maintain a sense of consistency and familiarity for your first child while still including your new child in a meaningful way.

This guide will help you make the necessary changes, accounting for the varied and complicated emotions that often accompany the process. You’ll likely face a few speed bumps along the way, and that’s OK. With time, patience, and open communication, the entire family will adapt to their new life together and wonder how things were ever different.

Assessing and Dividing the Space

Whether the bedroom in question is large or small, you may have never even considered what it would be like to add another person until recently. In some rooms, it might be easy to “draw” a line right down the middle and give each child his or her own half. Other spaces will require more strategizing. Begin planning as early as possible; you don’t want your foster or adopted child to feel like he or she was squeezed in without a second thought, and you also don’t want to blindside your first child with a last minute bedroom makeover.

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Each child will need to have his or her own space within the room for sleeping and decompressing, and depending on the ages, areas for playing and/or studying. Of course you’ll want to make things as even as possible, but there are going to be some compromises. For instance, your first child may love having his or her bed right under the window and hate the idea of shifting over to make better use of the space. If he or she takes a lot of bathroom breaks during the night, it might end up being a plus to be closer to the bathroom door — but you may have to help him or her find that silver lining. Still, make sure you’re truly listening to concerns from both children and taking them to heart. It might even help to have both kids compile (realistic) wish lists about their bedroom arrangements. You probably won’t be able to accommodate every request, but it will help to have a tangible list to refer to while planning.

If your first child is old enough, find out if he or she has any ideas about how the space can be divided up. Even if you end up taking things in a different direction, this consultation can make him or her feel heard at a time when much is beyond his or her own control. Some children may be excited at the idea of having a new brother or sister, but feel jolted when it comes to sharing a room. It is still the first child’s room, so he or she should be a part of the process.

A Safe Sleeping Space

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Our beds are our unofficial safe spaces, and for a child who’s been recently displaced — even in a positive way — this is an especially important idea to keep in mind. Your new child is moving into a completely foreign home with people who, for now, feel like strangers. His or her bedroom should be an escape when it all feels too overwhelming, and a secure place to relax and recharge.

If possible, talk to your new child about any secure comforts he or she might like at home. It might be:

  • A nightlight
  • A familiar photo on his or her nightstand
  • A special pillow, blanket, or stuffed animal
  • Bed siding or safety rails, especially if you’ll be using bunk beds
  • A fan or other source of ambient noise that will drown out unfamiliar sounds throughout the night

Your foster or adopted child may also appreciate some added privacy in a shared bedroom, particularly if he or she is a teen. Curtains can be added to bunk beds and lofts, while screens and room dividers can be used to close off two grounded beds. You may even be able to place dressers and shelving strategically to create a better sense of privacy throughout the room, but you’ll want to ensure nothing is at risk of toppling over, especially if you live in an earthquake-vulnerable region.

Finally, don’t forget to account for your pets. If you have a dog that usually sleeps in your first child’s bed, don’t assume that your foster or adopted child will feel comfortable with Fido in his or her sleeping space. Some kids will be fearful of dogs, particularly strange dogs, even if the pooch in question is friendly and loving. The same can be said of cats, which are often unconcerned with the personal space of their human counterparts. Make sure the pets understand the rules around the new bed in the house, and leave it to your new child to reestablish boundaries as he or she feels comfortable. Be prepared to step in and pull Fluffy away — your newest family member might not know how to effectively “shoo” a pet, or could even worry that you’ll be mad if he or she does so.

Storage

As with all other aspects of the shared bedroom, you’ll want storage space to be as equal as you can get it. Take the opportunity to purge your first child’s outgrown, overworn, never-worn, and excess clothing.  Bear in mind that some seasonal items can be set aside for next year, but might be better off moved to the hall closet, ttic, basement, or somewhere else out of the bedroom. Let your child help you, and make sure to frame the process in a positive light: you’re not “getting rid” of everything, you’re making space for your new family member. It’s an exciting step toward bringing him or her home!

Another reason it’s important to go through your first child’s clothing and shoes is because you’ll probably need to do the same with your foster or adopted child. He or she may not have many items of clothing, but chances are, there will be at least a few items that are well-past their prime. Give it at least a week before you even bring up the issue, and do not under any circumstances go through his or her belongings without his or her knowledge, consent, or presence. Those items may have been the only things he or she has had for years, the only real sense of consistency, and parting with even the most ill-fitting of clothing can be painful. Still, it’s important that each child re-home some items: that way, both have had to make some sacrifices to create their shared space.

You should be prepared to pick your battles with both children throughout the purging process. Remember: everything is changing, and they have little control over any of it. True, your child might not like the idea of letting go of any of his or her items, but there are going to be some objects that are nonnegotiable, and those are the ones you should be willing to hold onto. Perhaps you can’t understand the significance of keeping an old pair of rain boots that don’t even fit your daughter anymore, but if she becomes frantic at the notion of parting with them, let them survive this round of downsizing. Compromising on the little things can often go a long way, so learn to distinguish when your child needs a gentle push to let go and when to cut him or her some slack.

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Each child should have his or her own section of the closet, ideally corresponding with their “side” of the room. Both should have the same amount of rack space, shelving, and floor space, as well as equal dresser space. When your foster or adopted child arrives, you might want to have a few extra clothing items in their drawers or closet space already — don’t go overboard, but consider purchasing a few tee shirts, new socks, and fresh undergarments. Eventually, you’ll want to go shopping together so your new child can pick out his or her own clothing, but giving a bit of a head start can help nurture a sense of home and security.

If you have two young children to consider, give each their own separate storage space for toys. In time, they may decide they want to combine their items, but it’s better to ease in to sharing everything. Your first child has already seen part of his or her bedroom go to someone else, and your new child will have strong emotional bonds to any belongings they bring into your home. Let each child stay in clear control of these possessions, but do encourage a shared space when it comes to books, movies, or games that can be enjoyed together.

Décor

Rethinking the bedroom’s décor isn’t mandatory, but it’s worth considering in some instances. A teenager might feel out of place in a jungle-themed room, for example, and a younger child may feel intimidated if their older sibling has the room lined with posters of unfamiliar faces or learning material far beyond their reach. Plus, there’s something to be said for having a fresh start: the room might be easier for your foster or adopted child to settle into if it doesn’t look like his or her sibling simply “scooted over,” and your first child might even be ready for something new.

Let your first child help pick out and even set up some of the new accents: perhaps he or she can work on repainting a bedside table while you and your partner paint the walls. It can be meaningful for the first child to have a creative outlet at this time. Not only does it help him or her regain a sense of control, it’s something positive to focus on and a cool way to say “welcome” to a new sibling.

If you’re drawing a total blank on how to redecorate and neither child has a preference, opt for soothing tones and simple accents. Even from an aesthetic standpoint, clutter can create a stressful environment, particularly for children with ADHD, anxiety, or depression. The room will likely already have a lot going on with two people’s belongings, so don’t overthink decoration. Focus on creating an atmosphere that will make both children feel calm and comfortable whether they’re studying, playing, sleeping, or simply sitting and talking to each other.

Make it a point to offer some familiarity to your new child with the décor: buy some picture frames so he or she can easily see familiar faces, add knickknacks that remind him or her of their home state, or incorporate a few souvenirs from his or her favorite sports team. Find out how he or she feels about the décor as it stands, and see if he or she is interested in making any changes. Just as the first child gets a say in the end result, the new child should have some input, too.

Some families won’t have much time to prepare before the arrival of their foster or adopted child, and in that case, all you can do is your best. Prioritize creating a comfortable space to sleep first, and then tackle the other items as you can. Don’t push either child into purging or redecorating before they’re ready — chip away at the process gradually, and make sure both are on board for each step. Your efforts will be well worth it, but you must go in with patience, compassion, and lots of love.