So how can we combat a disrupted attachment? First, it's important to remember that the emotional age of our children could be much younger than their chronological age. If we adopt a two year old it would not be in his best interest to parent him the way one would parent an attached two year old.
If a newborn baby screams and cries, you don't put him in a time out. You give him loving touch, respond to his needs and he learns how to regulate his own emotions over time.
Unattached children need to be "re-parented" by their new parents to form a healthy attachment. In order for the child to later become attached to extended family members, they need to form a real, healthy attachment to their parents first. For many children this means that only their parents should hold them for the first couple of months. If a child tries to go to another friend or family member, they should re-direct that child to their mummy or daddy.
These are just a few strategies that have worked very well in helping children form secure attachments:
-Holding Time/Close Time - This is therapeutic touch and cuddle time. Children as old as 18 years (and possibly even adults) have found that being rocked like a baby after a difficult situation (such as a temper tantrum) and/or intermittently throughout the day will help them learn how to regulate their emotions.
-Bottles - It may seem strange to bottle feed a toddler or older child but if this child has never experienced having been cared for by just one mummy, taking them back to an infantile stage and teaching them that mummy will take care of them and nurture them might be just the ticket.
-Eye contact - An unattached child will avoid eye contact with their new mummy and daddy. Playing games like peek-a-boo (even with older children) will help them learn to trust eye contact in a non-threatening way.
-Carrying - Yes, that child is old enough to walk but she might need to be carried in a carrier while she learns to attach to her parents.
-Time-in - Children who are already feeling separated from the world should not be given a time-out. Being sent away from the family (even if it's just the next room for just a few minutes) could be very traumatizing. Instead the child can sit with a parent for the duration of the punishment. They can then discuss the behaviour and end with a hug and a kiss. This helps teach a child that even though they have misbehaved, they are still loved.
For more information on attachment in adopted children, check out the website A4everFamily.org
The AEP touches briefly on these things but does not have time to give a lot of information. This website has a lot of stories from real parents and advice from professionals who specialize in post-adoption attachment.
Just reading about all this is exhausting. Sometimes, everything that we need to learn and be aware of seems unimaginable. But the more prepared we are now, the less likely we are to be surprised in the future. I'm sure that we will still make plenty of mistakes but hopefully we'll make a few less because we've done our homework.