Many people want to adopt a baby, but there are many toddlers or older children who will be stuck in the system if families aren’t willing to take an older child into their home.
Here are some tips for building a good foundation if you take in an older child.
Work on attachment
With adoption, and especially if you are adopting a toddler or an older child, you need to work on attachment and bonding more consciously. Think of the things that we do instinctively with infants – this is what builds the attachment that exists between a parent and child: Gazing at baby in fascination, tenderly watching and touching them while feeding, cleaning and holding them, rocking them to go to sleep, baby talk from mom (and dad’s gruff voice) all have a part to play in the process that develops specific brain connections that are just waiting for that input to spark into action. The result is a brain that is ‘wired’ to attach and be positive about human interaction.
Each piece of the puzzle that goes into creating the strong bond that is attachment is so wondrous and so normal at the same time. Recognise that your adopted child has missed some of the more natural opportunities where a mom or dad’s actions would spark these neural pathways into life during the first years. How do you deal with this? By creating opportunities for the same actions – touch, loving eye contact, meeting their needs and being close.
Be creative in finding ways to make up for the gaps, for example putting cream on your child’s skin can become a special bonding time if you see it not as a task to be done, but as something significant in building attachment. I used to bundle my toddlers up tight in a towel after bath time and squish, cuddle and rock them. Swimming (in summer) where you are holding them close in the water, provides appropriate skin on skin contact and is a great way to mimic the times that a baby would have been held against your skin to breastfeed, and generally hold and care for them.
Creating little rituals and traditions helps a child feel like they belong. The Barney song is a great one to reinforce love and family: “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family, with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too” This song was a firm favourite during those post bath-time snuggles in our home.
Building trust is a big milestone that is usually established in the first year through daily repetitive cycles of, ‘baby has a need, baby cries, mom/dad/caregiver meets the need appropriately’. This cycle builds into the child a trust in the fact that he is safe and secure, and that his parents will meet his needs.
An older child will need to learn trust too, as they may have been taught the opposite through their needs not being met time and again. ‘I need to be in control, because I can’t trust caregivers’ is wired into their brains instead. Meet their needs as quickly as possible, to try and counteract this message. Regression sometimes happens when children are placed in your care. If so, don’t fight it and hurry them along to ‘grow up’ or ‘act their age’. Instead, take this as a golden opportunity – it is as if the child is unconsciously asking you to ‘redo’ some of the missed parenting stages with them.
Trust exercises can be made into a game such as teaching them to jump into your arms in the pool and trust you to catch them. Be patient if this doesn’t come quickly and start from a step outside the pool and then later progress to steps in the pool and then jumping in completely. Don’t scare the child – the idea is for this to be fun and a positive experience.