Welcoming a new child into your home means investing your focused time and attention to help them feel safe and welcome. Whether this child comes to you for kinship care, fostering, or adoption, you cannot assume they will automatically trust you or your intentions. Their fear or mistrust might result in challenging behaviors that make it hard for you to feel connected to them. Your new foster, kinship, or adopted child might also struggle with attachment because of previous experiences with other adults. They might not feel like they can trust anyone right now, and that’s scary for kids of any age.
6 Practical Tips for Encouraging Attachment
Your child’s difficulty in attaching to you does not reflect on you. Instead, it’s a sign of the trauma or loss they have experienced. They’ve had a lot of uncertainty and change on their way to you. It’s up to you to initiate rebuilding trust and establishing their sense of safety in your care.
Many years ago, the late Dr. Karyn Purvis shared these practical tips with us. She well-understood that many kids struggle to feel safe. She also understood that busy parents need practical strategies to implement today to get the ball rolling for healthy attachment and felt safety.
1. Meet Their Needs.
It sounds simplistic and obvious. But your #1 goal in the earliest days together is to find out what this child needs and do your best to meet these needs. The best way to find out what they need is to ask. As Dr. Purvis said sweetly, “I’m a sure thing. Tell me what you need.”
2. Say Yes to Build Attachment.
Every “yes” you can offer this child deposits trust in their trust bank. It might feel difficult to understand how this works but try to say “yes” to your child more than you say no. You may have to get creative and figure out how to turn a “no” into a “yes,” but the investment into their trust bank will be worth the effort! Your goal should be to say 7 “yeses” to every 1 “no” you must say.
3. Make Eye Contact.
Every chance you get, look your precious child in the eyes and gently encourage them to make eye contact with you as they can. Your eyes speak louder than your voices and can express so much love and warmth to your child. You can make this tip even more effective by getting down on your child’s level when you talk to them. We get it – your knees might creak, and you may groan when you stand up. But it’s worth it!
Be patient with your child if they cannot return eye contact – especially in your home’s earliest days and weeks. Continue lovingly offering your eyes in gentle and soft expressions as the model and a message of acceptance.
Introduction to Attachment, an online course from CreatingaFamilyEd.org
4. Offer Physical Touch.
Touch your child affectionately and as often as you sense them allowing it. Try various ways to touch your child while getting to know them, like side hugs, high fives, pats on the back, and so on. You’ll figure out what type of touch they welcome or respond to well. Pay attention to their cues or reactions to recognize if they don’t appreciate or feel safe being touched.
If your child resists your touch, you can practice using “symbolic touch.” This is reaching out to the child but stopping short of touching them. Some kids will feel empowered if you ask permission before you touch them.
5. Mirror Their Behavior.
It’s natural for parents and kids in healthy homes to match each other’s behaviors. For example, when an infant coos, the parent coos back. When a toddler laughs, the parent laughs too. These matching behaviors build trust and attachment between them. Your foster, kinship, or adopted child may have missed out on those matching moments in their earliest days.
Once you have your child in your daily care, you can consistently and intentionally create these opportunities that boost security for the child. For example, when your child is playing on the floor with cars and trucks, match their behavior by playing in the same manner alongside your child. Another example would be to join your child on the couch while they watch funny reels on their phone. Ask them to show you a few and laugh with them.
6. Follow The Child’s Lead.
Allow your child to be the play leader for a specific period. Let them decide what you play and then match their attitude, posture, and type of play. Teach them how to use a timer and have them set it for 15 minutes. During that time, they get your undivided attention without laundry, the TV, or other distractions.
For example, join them if they are on the floor making racetracks for their cars and trucks. Ask what shape they make the track and what pieces they need next. For an older foster or adopted child, consider asking them to teach you how to use their favorite social media platform or video game. Offering space for your child to lead gives them a feeling of power and control, both crucial for forming trust and attachment.
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Small Investments for Big Payoffs
When you make these small changes in your behavior toward your child, you invest in their trust bank. Your “deposits” say you value their voice and participation in this relationship. The life skills of giving and receiving connection will set them up for success in adulthood. The payoff of increased trust and attachment between you can set the stage for future healthy attachments in other meaningful relationships.
When you welcomed your child to your home, did you do any of these tips? Tell us how it went for you and the child!
Image Credits: Pixabay; Lisa Fotios; cottonbro studio