Promoting healthy attachment

A peaceful atmosphere and your calm, soothing presence will help you and your child bond

By Debi A. Grebenik, PHD

Knowing the prenatal and early history of any child that you adopt is important; this information helps guide the parents' responses to the hurting child. Many interventions mitigate the effects of early trauma.

When a baby is placed in your arms for adoption, it is important that the parents give their baby the time needed to bond with them. If the child is older, some modification of these suggestions can be implemented. For babies, suggestions for an effective bonding experience include:

  • Skin-to-skin time (make sure that the baby is against both parents' chests without clothes on to allow for maximum closeness). Remember that skin is our largest organ and both parents need to have skin-to-skin contact with their new baby.
  • Minimize stress or chaos in the home.
  • Provide a calm and nurturing environment for the baby.
  • Be vigilant to follow through with promises or stated intentions as you build a relationship of trust and hope.
  • Incorporate soft music, soft lights and muted sounds in the home.
  • Minimize the number of visitors coming to the home; while everyone is excited about your new baby, you need time to bond and too many adults in the child's life makes that process confusing.
  • Keep the child at home as much as possible, to make the schedule predictable and calm.
  • Quantity of time does matter — it is important to spend a lot of time with your new baby or child. He or she needs you to be established as the primary caretaker in his or her life.
  • Begin to take on the role of protector and keep your child safe. Compare this to a child who has a disease with a suppressed immune system and you are trying to guard him from infection. You can do this by keeping him safe and protected, similar to protecting the emotional health of your new child. Be diligent in your efforts and you will reap the benefits of the attachment process.
  • Pray and trust God to equip you with the wisdom you need to do what is best for your particular child.
  • Realize that you are building the template for future relationships that the child will have.

Parenting children of all ages is dependent on the developmental age of the child. If you adopt an older child, the preceding principles are still relevant. Remember that your child may be at a much younger age emotionally.

For toddlers, it is imperative to remember that toddlers' verbal skills can be limited, inhibiting their ability to express their feelings. With this limitation, parents need to allow toddlers to vent their emotions while continually being present in the moment. For example, if a toddler begins to cry, scream or act out, the parent can sit down next to the child and calmly say that she is right there and she's not leaving. This statement needs to be repeated in a quiet voice until the child calms down.

For older children, it is important to work toward building a strong relationship with them. In addition, when working with youth, it is imperative to focus on their stressors, not their behaviours, and to respond in love, not react out of our own fears and emotions. Older children also need a contained, stress-free environment with calm, loving parents. One family that I worked with adopted an adolescent girl. I encouraged both parents to spend one-on-one time with her daily, particularly during times of transition such as waking up in the morning, coming home after school, and at bedtime. These times were to calm her fears and build her trust in their presence and care for her.

Other soothing options include quiet music, soft lights and calming scents. Touch also provides a venue for soothing. Touch, rocking and massage are tools that parents use to provide relaxing and comforting opportunities for children. It is within the loving relationship between parents and their child that a child is healed.

You may want to seek therapy if you are overwhelmed and stressed and feel as though your child is struggling. If possible, seek out a Christian therapist with experience in working with adoptions or attachment. Ask other parents which therapist they used. Call the adoption agency and seek referrals, or call Focus on the Family Canada (1.800.661.9800) for a recommendation. You might consider joining a support group – online or near your home. Don't walk this road alone. Remember to seek a therapist who will work with the family, not just the child; one who will not shame or blame your child and who will see God's plan for you and your family.

Hope for parents

As Christian parents, we have a significant, life-changing resource in the presence of the Holy Spirit. As promised by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit brings peace – He is the one who provides a defence against the current stressors of life and the power of past trauma events. As parents, you can learn and invest all that you can for your child to be healthy and whole. But the Lord alone can reach into the depths of your child's heart and psyche where no one else can reach and bring healing.

Remember the wise words of James 1:4, "Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." That verse encapsulates the parenting process: Endure. Trust. Relate. Grow. Enjoy.

Sow the seeds of attachment and you will reap the harvest of a meaningful and peaceful relationship with your child.

First article in series: Attachment and Bonding