I am not an expert and I don’t pretend to be. I have, however, learned a few things about attachment since we started this journey last fall. Here are my top 7 practical ways to foster attachment in older adopted children:
- Implement chat time.
Each night before bed, Daffy and I head to her room for “chat time.” This allows her time to unwind and process her day. Initially we talked about simple things like “What was the best part of your day?” as we got to know each other, but as our relationship has progressed, we have talked about far more serious issues like the abuse she suffered while living with her biological family and her fears of her biological brother. This is a time that she and I both look forward to. She’s been telling me recently that she can’t sleep without having our chat time and I kid with her that I will have to come to her house when she is married so we can still have our nightly chats! (She assures me her husband will do it, LOL)
- Read books together.
The books don’t always need to be about foster care or adoption, but if you are looking for adoption or foster care related books, here are a few I highly recommend. Reading these books has been incredibly helpful to Daffy. I can see her connect through the stories, gaining a sense that she is not alone in her experiences and learning to trust that we will finally be her forever family.
- Cook together.
Give them the chance to succeed. Daffy and the family support specialist baked muffins together during one visit and for the next week that followed, Daffy wanted to bake every single day. She was so proud of her new found ability! Spending time together in the kitchen allows for low intensity conversations. These are the moments that, one at a time, build attachments.
Touch adopted children as often and in as many ways as is appropriate based on their history- hugs, hand holding, foot massages, a pat on the back… just keep touching! Daffy & I have created our very own handshake-style good night kiss involving kisses, hugs, funny faces and handshakes! It’s something that she and I share that connects us exclusively to each other. She beams when other people see us do it, knowing that its unique just to her and me.
Get down to their level and interact. This was really uncomfortable for me at first, but I learned some amazing things about how Daffy’s mind was working when I joined her in playing with her Little Pet Shop and other toys. I could see her hopes, dreams, and even fears play out through the way she played.
- Enjoy family meals together.
Our family never sat around the table together for meals before Daffy came to live with us. We were busy people with busy lives. We felt connected and this didn’t seem important to us. Once Daffy moved in, we saw this as a critical time together- a time when we weren’t meeting with a therapist or social worker, a time when there was no battle over homework and a time where the tv was OFF. This was (and is) time that we could spend all together sharing and getting to know each other.
- Have realistic expectations.
Above all, know the battle you are facing. Read books on attachment. Surf the internet for blogs of people that have gone before you in similar situations. Accept that adopted children will have attachment issues (whether it’s full blown Reactive Attachment Disorder or somewhere else on the spectrum). Understand that your adopted child will not attach to you in the same way that you will attach to them. Give them space when they need it, but don’t be afraid to push sometimes, too. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees when it comes to attachment, but know that the work you are doing with your adopted child WILL pay off. You will see miraculous gains if you give it time.