Adoption 101: 4 Keys to Healthy Attachment

By December 1, 2012 Adoption 15 Comments

What is attachment and why is it so important? Simple definition: Attachment is a relationship.

July 7, 2008, Zoie was so sick when we first met her that she immediately attached to us for survival.  All her needs were being taken care of and by the time we left Ethiopia, she was thriving.  We are a very affectionate family and Zoie fit right in with hugs, kisses and joy.  The only thing missing for me was the special time I remember having when I fed and rocked my babies at night.  It’s an intense bonding experience.   From the beginning, Zoie would allow me hold her, rock her, and feed her, but there was something missing.  I would hold her tight to me and she would slightly push me away.

  She would respond to me, cry for me and allow me to soothe her, but I knew I needed to keep working on our special bond.  I will never forget the night when we linked hearts… daughter and mommy.  I did my regular routine and fed Zoie her bottle and rocked and sang to her.  All of a sudden, she looked in my eyes and wrapped her arms tightly around me.  Her tiny arm went behind my back and she snuggled her head on my heart.  One year after adopting my sweet girl, I felt an intense bonding.  Now, every nap and night time I tuck her in bed, we have our special snuggle time.

“Bonding and attachment are two terms used to describe the process of an adopted child feeling secure in her new family. Often used interchangeably, the concepts are actually differentiated by adoption experts.”

4 Keys to Healthy Attachment:  Why is it important?

  1. Parent equals satisfaction.
  2. The world is a good place.
  3. You can trust people to meet your needs
  4. Your needs make sense.

The attachment cycle has been called the Season of the Soul.  Children who miss this cycle seem to others to be robotic or just plain angry.  They have a desperate sadness.  A boy from an orphanage explained, “I feel like I’ll get lost in my sad.  I think that I am going to die when I get sad.”

According to Deborah Gray, author of Attaching in Adoption, attachment is a relationship formed primarily with members of the family and requires more time and interaction to be created. Attachment is what most adoptive parents are referring to when they talk about bonding with their child. Adopted children of all ages may have an attachment to their birth family, even if the relationship was neglectful or abusive. Many adoption experts agree that if a child can form an attachment to birth and foster parents, she will have the skills to attach to her adoptive family as well.

The Attachment Cycle

Gray outlines in her book the attachment cycle that needs to occur in order for children to form positive attachments with their caregivers.

When a child is distressed, she may show signs such as increased pulse, increased respiration, helplessness, hopelessness and enrage. When the adoptive parents enter the situation with food, physical contact and other help, the child learns her parents can meet her needs. The child is then more active and able to respond to stimulation such as playing. When the child is content, she is able to sleep and feel comfortable in her surroundings.

Attachment versus Bonding

As described in Raising Adopted Children, bonding is a “process that begins with the biological parent during pregnancy and continues through birth and the first few days of life.” This definition shows why an adopted child can feel a bond to her birth mother, but possibly not feel any attachment to her. Bond can also describe the close relationship kids have with teachers and friends with which they have shared important experiences and emotions.

Signs of Secure Attachment

The attachment process can take weeks or years to develop, and in some cases there maybe attachment disorders for which therapy will be required. A good indicator of whether attachment is taking place is the comfort with which the adoptive parents can recognize the child’s needs.

Melina writes in Raising Adopted Children, “Another sign of secure attachment is the child’s willingness to move away from the parent, returning to his parent during times of stress to regain the confidence he needs to be on his own again.” The parent’s ability to let the child go and explore is also an indication of secure attachment.

Attachment is a never-ending process that begins with the arrival of the child and will continue to strengthen throughout the child’s life. Valuable resources are available on-line including discussion boards for attachment issues in adoption and information for fostering attachment with children adopted internationally.”

Related Articles:

Attaching to Adopted Infants and Toddlers

Attaching to Adopted School Age Kids

Attaching to Adopted Preteens and Teens

Please leave your own stories on attaching, issues or problems so we can all learn together.

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