Throughout your home study, as you prepare to bring home your child(ren), you will hopefully go through many different educational opportunities that will help you prepare to bring home children who may have experienced trauma. Many social workers and adoption experts will help you navigate attachment issues that may arise from your children, and you will be encouraged to follow trust-based relational intervention (TBRI) to help your children find safety and trust in their relationship with you as new parents. But, have you considered attachment issues that may show up for you as a parent? Attachment issues are common, but they may not be spoken about as often for fear of embarrassment or judgment from others. Finding solidarity with other adoptive parents who struggle to attach to their child can help you feel less lonely if you face these challenges. There are some strategies you can use to improve your own attachment.
1. Go to therapy
Therapy is something that everyone should have access to; no one should be embarrassed to seek help. Seeking out a professional in your area that specializes in attachment, or even better, in adoption attachment, can be invaluable to your growth as a parent. We want to attach properly to our children–even if we are choosing love every day–sometimes that attachment is difficult to come by. A professional therapist can help walk you through dealing with your own childhood and how that affects how you parent. They can help you navigate recent parenting choices and how you could have responded in a more relational way. A therapist can definitely be a key component to helping adoptive parents attach better and more appropriately to their adopted children. They can help; you just have to be willing to show up.
2. Set a timer to give positive physical touch
Though it may seem silly to schedule in positive physical touch, if you are struggling with attaching to your child, something super structured may help you get over that plateau of difficulty. If physical touch is something your child is comfortable with, setting multiple timers on your phone to go and give your child a hug, a kiss, a high five, or a tickle may really help you build that relational bond you are missing. Start with setting it every three hours, then work up to every hour. Not only will this help build up your attachment to your child, but it may also increase his or her trust and safety with you. You may be the one needing to schedule positive touch to help increase your positive attachment, but these types of touch, especially for our children from hard places, will help strengthen a child’s bond to you and teach trust with his or her family.
3. Set a timer to have playtime guided by your child
Again, setting a timer can help keep you accountable for seeking out those positive moments with the child you are struggling to attach to. It may seem counterintuitive, but it really can help alleviate the pressure of performing when you don’t have to stress about when to reach out relationally. Young children learn through play, so playing with your child can be a wonderful way to build a relationship based in trust. To start: once a day, set a timer for five minutes to get down on the floor and play with whatever your child is playing with. Whether that is functional play or not, play is the way to their heart. Spin the top, drive the car, read the book—for five minutes play in the way that they want to play. Then, once that becomes a regular positive activity for the two of you, either increase the time that you set, or increase how often you play per day. This will help your attachment immensely.
4. Use a sing-song voice & nicknames
This particular suggestion may feel super silly at first to the point where you may start doing it and want to stop immediately. But it may be a quick and easy way to see your attachment increase. Use a playful tone when speaking to your child, and include a sing-song type of voice when you’re asking them to do things. This will make the experience of communication relaxed for both of you. Also, give your child some nicknames. That is something many people do to the ones they are closest to; many people give pet names to their spouse, their parents, or their children. Give your child a nickname (if they are developmentally ready to hear something beyond their given name). This nickname could really open a softer side of your relationship and help bring in the opportunities for more trust-based moments.
5. Trust-building activities
When you are trying to build a positive attachment between parent and child, doing trust-building activities can be crucial to your success (and the speed of your success). One simple trust-based activity could be sharing food. Making yourself available during mealtimes to share food is a great way to open up a potential wound of your child’s (in relation to food) and rebuild a relationship based on positive interaction with food. Sharing food is a great way for your child to learn to trust you and a great way for you to have a positive interaction with them. Another trust-building activity for you and your child to do together is to play tickle games, where your child says one word for you to “stop” and another for you to “go.” This gives them control of the game, and it gives you reinforcement of positive touch. There are many other trust-building activities that would be great to help build your attachment with your child – there will be many opportunities throughout the day.
Realizing that you need help attaching to your own child may be a difficult pill to swallow. It may cause a lot of feelings of guilt, grief, and embarrassment. But, please know that you are not alone. There are many parents who struggle, or have struggled, with attachment to their children. There are many who have overcome the rough beginning and gone on to have a healthy relationship. There is absolutely hope for those who struggle, and you should never feel like it is a lost cause. You will just need to put yourself out there, do some things that may feel out of the norm, and make the leap. Your child is worth it.