The Alaska Center for Resource Families Web Based Course

Neglect : The Hole In the Middle



LESSON TWO: The Impact of Neglect on Children, P.5


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Helping Children With Attachment Issues

A sensitive foster or adoptive home can help children begin to develop healthy attachments using three different strategies:




Provide for Basic Needs: Take care of a child's physical and emotional needs. Help anticipate what they might need and know that they may not be able to ask for it. Pay special attention to food, sleep, physical affection, attention, and health related needs. You want to help the child view you as a source of comfort and care, and feel safe with you and protected by you.

Promote Positive Interactions: We like to be around people who like to be around us! So include family activities, one-on-one time and story time in every day interaction. Include a child in all your family activities such as camping, going to a park, going out to eat, taking part in a community activity, board games and family video nights. Make it a point to speak positively with each child every day and use praise often.

Help Child Feel Part of the Family: Include child in regular activities and chores. Have designated space for items and clothing for the child. Take a picture of the child with your family members, and help him get a picture of his birth family to have in his room. Be respectful of his attachments to his birth family but let him know you consider him part of your family, too, while he is living with you.

Other Ideas:

First and foremost, do no harm. Do not repeat abusive or neglectful or negative experiences, even though the child sometimes repeats that for himself. Catch yourself and take a time out before you hurt a child again. Avoid trying to scare a child into good behavior or compliance.

Go lower in the brain. With some children, you need to think "younger" and be more concrete and physically involved as you are with infants and toddlers. Use consistency, structure and repetition. Physically nurture the child through rocking, singing, holding and touching. Bonding and attachment first happens through physical touch and responding to a child's basic needs. Use these same principles with your older children.

Take advantage of The Most Important 8 Minutes of the Day: This idea comes from Gary Benton, a parent trainer in Washington. The first 4 minutes of the day and the last 4 minutes at night are a time to connect right before or after we separate from each other. Make those minutes count by making eye contact, maybe having some skin contact such as patting a hand, a kiss, or reading a story sitting next to each other. View the morning as a time to reconnect, and the evening as a time to let go but still let the child know you will be there.

Keep your expectations realistic. Some children may have trouble enjoying themselves and may not seem appreciative. So keep it simple, keep it small, and keep it frequent as opposed to a big trip or big event with big expectations. Keep your expectations low and don't expect a big show of gratitude. Talk about your feelings to model. "Wow! I looked forward to going to that picnic and I had fun talking with my friends and eating that great pie. What did you like doing best?"

Take Photos: Pictures are a powerful way to say "we belong" and "we care." Take a picture of your family with the child and hang it on the wall. Allow him a picture of his own family members in his room so he can feel good about that connection, too. Take pictures of children as they grow or of special occasions. If children do not stay with you, send a book of photos with them so they don't lose a history of their childhood.

Memory Chains: Realize that attachment is a journey not a single event. Children who are moving toward adoption might have problems as they approach the legal court day. One family moving toward adopting two older children suggested the use of memory chains as a way to help children relive and learn to enjoy good memories.

"Because the boys are older," one mother wrote, " we have started a count down chain. We all got 7 pieces of paper chains, wrote down favorite family memories, and linked them together. Then we decorated the main board where the links are attached with the adoption date and pictures of us. Every night the boys take a link out and we read the attached memory and talk about said memory together. It is a fun way to see everyone’s favorite family memory and share in the excitement of counting down. I thought I would share the idea with families adopting older kiddos."

Make a Lifebook: Build a Lifebook for children whether in adoptive or foster care. Lifebooks keep a memory for children and keeps a picture and a written history of their life, even if the adult putting the book together is not the "forever parent." Lifebooks also give children an understanding and a story of what has happened to them and may also help in the next generation of parenting. One study showed that mothers who grew up in the foster care system who were able to describe and understand what happened to them early in their life, were much better be able to bond with their own children. A Lifebook can help children do that.

Look for Small Opportunities: Check out these Five Minute Bonding Activities for fun, easy to use activities to promote bonding and attachment.



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