We get many questions from our families about the process of forming attachment and a secure bond with their adopted child. Many times, children who have been adopted will have some issues with attachment. This can either manifest in being overly clingy to everyone they meet, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, they may become distant and withdrawn. Some children may become even test boundaries with behavior, to ensure that you will still be there even if they act defiantly.
These are all very normal and expected behaviors. Children who have been adopted have often experienced some sort of trauma. It is important to acknowledge this and be prepared to work with your child on securely attaching to your family.
There are many helpful ways a parent can enforce and build secure attachment with their child, no matter their age.
1. Be consistent! Consistency yields trust, and trust helps form attachment. When your child can expect what is going to happen next, they will begin to feel a sense of stability and safety in your home. Many of these children are used to a constantly changing environment. Do not be surprised if keeping a consistent schedule is difficult at first, but keep at it! It will be worth it in the long run.
2. Give choices! Allow your child the opportunity to find their voice. Many times an adopted child will come from an environment where they have not had much say in anything, even being adopted! Letting your child have the freedom to make choices about their every day life can help produce self-confidence and enhance self-esteem. Even little choices like what color of shirt to wear can go a long way!
3. Empathize! Sometimes we forget how complex a child’s emotions can be, especially a child who has been through some sort of trauma. Kids often times do not have the words to communicate how they are feeling, so they will use undesirable behaviors such as whining, crying, yelling, lying, and aggression to display these emotions. When these things come up, it is important to process how the child is feeling with them. Let them feel your calm and unwavering presence. When you can be sit with your child with their emotions, attachment builds and strengthens.
Above all, make sure you are taking care of yourself. Many times through the adoption process parents will put self-care as their lowest priority. Who has time with all the things happening? Though it is easy to do this, it can have devastating effects. Transitioning into life with your adopted child can be extremely difficult, demanding, and straining. Making sure you have time to recharge and recenter yourself will ensure you will be the best parent possible for your kiddos.
-Bethany McWilliams, Marriage and Family Therapy, MS