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Attachment Methods - Adoptive Families

Advice on attachment for adoptive families.

By Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero, Gloria Russo Wassell and Victor Groza, authors of Adopting Older Children, A Practical Guide to Adopting and Parenting Children Over Age Four

Some ways families can build attachment just by being a family are:

  • Provide positive caregiving and consistency over time. As children change their cognitive models of caregivers and themseles, attachment difficulties become less pronounced.
  • Facilitate attachment cognitively by assisting children in examining and understanding their past,giving children a vision for the future and using appropriate and positive physical contact. Life books are wonderful tools for talking about a child's life and should be read and reviewed often.
  • Model and express feelings; modeling and expressing feelings are essential components to a facilitating attachment between parent and child. They give children the language they eed to talk about their feelings.
  • Provide discipline without resorting to emotionally-laden words and with natural and logical consequences for transgressions. Don't call your child names!
  • Look for opportunities to promote attachment (anxiety, fear, illness and fatigue).
    • When children are anxious, move closer to them and let them knowyou are there to help them feel less nervous.
    • When children are fearful, comfort them in a way they wat to be comforted. Ask them how you can make them feel better and less afraid.
    • When children are ill, make every effort to stay by their sides and care for them. If you work, take time off. every child wants his or her mom or dad nearby when he or she feels badly.
    • Use bedtime as a way to build a connection. Develop a bedtime ritual. Reading a soothing story or developing a routine at bedtime when children are vulnerable can be a positive way to build an attachment, unless bedtime was a time of violence or trauma. In these situations, you may have to work with a professional to help figure out the best bedtime routine.

Any activity that builds a child's social competence - enhances social skills, practices pro-social behavior of helping others or activities that aid moral development - builds attachment. But be careful that you don't over-program children. Children need activities but also need downtime. The danger of too much programming is that children are not with you and then you don't get to build attachment - they are building it with the people with whom they do the activities.

You also need to provide structure and set limits. Children with attachment difficulties do better with predictability - they know meal times bedtimes, bath times, homework times, etc. The schedule must be consistent. Consistent is not unchangeable, but should be more rigid than flexible. it is not unreasonable to have children adhere to a schedule. As children get into and understand the routine, they begin to relax and the hard and rewarding work of becoming a family really begins.

Creating family meetings where values are discussed can be very helpful. Value clarification can help both the parents and the adopted child; it is a forum for education the parent and chid about each other's values to clarify and modify value stances. Also, rituals can be used to mark significant events in the adoption, according to Lois Ruskai Melina. It is important to remember that adoption is a process and not an event. Rituals help the process of parents adopting the child but also the child adopting the parents. There are a number of good books about adoption rituals that could be helpful to parents (See Randolph Severson's Adoption: Rituals for Charm and Healing, or Mary Mason's Designing Rituals of Adoption: For the Religious and Secular Community).

Sometimes, when either everything you have tried has not worked or the relationship is going badly, you have to obtain professional assistance.

Reprinted from the book Adopting Older Children, A Practical Guide to Adopting and Parenting Children Over Age Four, by Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero, Gloria Russo Wassell and Victor Groza, with permission of the authors. Copyright protected, all rights reserved.

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