A few weeks ago we read this post on Lauren’s blog and thought it would be an excellent resource to share here. Lauren was gracious enough to allow us to use it. There is so much good stuff, we broke it down into two posts, this being post one, with post two to follow shortly. Thank you, Lauren, for sharing what you’ve learned in your adoptive attachment journey.
I was naive as a first time mother and assumed that once my daughter saw me as mom – *bam* – we were done with attachment and could go to parenting like I had planned. Boy, was I wrong. Our kids from hard and broken places come with these tender hearts that need years and years of nurture and focus. I personally know it is extremely easy for them to slip right back in that fragile place very quickly if we are not constantly proactive and in tune with our kids and how their attachment is at every phase of development. I think the main thing I have learned about attachment is that it not just something you do the first few weeks home and that your kids is then attached and you can go to “life as normal”.
Below is a list of attachment activities I have learned from different books, websites, conferences, attachment parenting friends, and months of Theraplay.
When first starting the attachment process it is important to understand it is all about the child. We are not trying to shape and form them to our mold. At first it is all about meeting the needs were they are at that exact moment. This was a hard concept for me to get with my very Type A personality because this did not fit in my parenting plan I had. But when I accepted this and met her where she needed it was like a light bulb moment for both of us. I am not saying to be child centered for forever, and as your attachment develops you can change things to accommodate you as a parent better, but I personally believe in focusing on the child especially the first weeks at home. I remember having to mentally tell myself over and over “I am not the one ripped from everything I know and feel very scared and confused… I am in my house with everything I know that is safe and secure… I am adult and I can give in and meet her where she needs at this moment… this is just a moment and it will indeed pass.”
Tips before starting:
Ok, so now you know my heart behind the why. Here is how I practically did it. I have learned what was easiest for me was breaking it out by room. I actually printed and laminated different attachment activities for each room and placed it in each specific room. That way, when I was in that room, at quick glance I could look and see what attachment activities I could be doing at that moment.
I even go as far as placing a notecard on my bathroom mirror to remind me to do the “Mirror Game” so every time I look at it I am prompted to scoop child up and do it. Same with the fridge… I have a list of attachment songs on the fridge so every time I go there I am reminded to scoop child up in my arms for 1-2 minutes and sing a song before grabbing whatever I need. Having those reminders all over my house served as a constant reminder and helped me form good attachment habits with my child.
I have an “attachment box or bag” in every room (stickers, lotion, balloons, bubbles etc.). That way all of my supplies for attachment are there and ready to go, I do not have to go searching when the moment is right. Most things can be purchased at the dollar store and stockpiled before you travel, that way when you are tired and jet-lagged it’s way easier. You have the notes that remind you and then the supplies right at your fingertips.
I remember reading in a book that an infant gets 4 hours of direct eye-to-eye contact a day spread out over 12 feedings. This is what fuels me bringing home a newly adopted child. My goal at the beginning is to somehow in my day work in at minimum 4 hours of eye contact via intentional attachment activities. I realize is a really daunting number but when you think about it and everything else you must do during the day but having the reminders and activities around the house really helped this flow pretty naturally.
In the kitchen:
Pre-Meal Sticker Game – I keep a jar of stickers on my dining room table. After placing child in high chair we would play the sticker game for 2-5 minutes. For example, placing sticker on your nose then placing on child’s nose, repeat with forehead, etc. I always leave my stickers on while feeding the child and say “Do you see the star sticker?” and hope they look on my face for it, promoting eye contact the entire meal.
Feeding Child – Always sit to the left of the child and try to feed them even if they can feed themselves. I typically at least see if they will let me get in a few bites of each item before they take control. And when they do feed themselves I eat and say things like “We are both eating eggs. We are just alike both eating eggs. Are you eating eggs like mommy?” It was super silly and redundant, especially at first, but I try to make as many connections as I can to how mommy and child are alike.
Go Fishing Together! – Get some goldfish crackers, pretzel sticks and peanut butter. Put all in three separate dishes. Tell the child he has to do some work and “go fishing” for Mommy. He has to take a pretzel stick, dip it in peanut butter and stick a goldfish on it. Then he puts what he “caught” on a separate plate and/or feeds the fish to Mommy. (And, of course, Mommy can “go fishing” and feed him!)
Snack Game – For snack time I will sit on the floor close to child and place the snack like goldfish or cracker between my lips. I have child walk to me and get the treat out of my mouth. As they start to understand the game more, and go further and further away, the time it takes them to walk to you in between bites gains more and more eye contact time. You can change this game up by having them crawl, wiggle walk, walk super slow, big steps, little steps, etc to you as long as they are making eye contact the entire time they are approaching you.
Knock on the Door – “Knock on the door” (tap on the child’s forehead), “Peep in” (peek at the child’s eyes), “Lift up the latch” (gently push the child’s nose up), “Walk in” (pretend to walk fingers into a child’s open mouth or pop a piece of food in).
Straight Face Challenge – When the child is eating, they have to keep a straight face while you try to make him/her laugh.
In the living room:
Where is Mommy? – Playing a variety of peek-a-boo and hide and seek games is fun and focuses the child’s attention on his mommy. During the games I frequently say, “Where is Mommy?” or “Look at Mommy!” reinforcing who Mommy is. This is also helpful outside of game time when I need child to look at me.
Zoom Game – Hold the child’s head gently and zoom your face into hers to the point of touching noses. A mom writes, “We’d say “Zoooooooooom,” her eyes would cross, and we’d all giggle.”
Blinking Games – Shut your eyes tight and open one or both, etc…
Mommy/Baby Monkey – Look at some pictures of mommy monkeys with their babies. Tell the child that the baby monkey holds tight to the mommy and the mommy keeps the baby safe. When a tiger comes close, the baby runs to the mommy and holds on tight. Show the child how to wrap his arms and legs tightly around you. Ask someone to pretend to be a tiger. When the tiger growls* the child should run to you and cling to you tightly, like a monkey. The tiger checks to see if the monkey is holding tight. If any limbs aren’t tight, the tiger can give the limb a gentle tug.
(*Note: the intent is not to terrify the child! The tiger can very gently growl – just enough to help the child understand that it’s time to grab hold of Mom. This helps the child learn reciprocal holding.)
Cotton Ball Hockey – Lie on the floor on your stomachs (or sit with a pillow between you). Blow cotton balls back and forth, trying to get the cotton ball past your partner’s defense. You may increase the complexity by saying how many blows can be used to get the ball across the pillow, or by trying to blow at the same time to keep the ball in the middle.
Measuring – Measure the child’s height, length of arms, legs, feet, hands, etc. Keep a record for later comparisons. Measure a child’s smile, length of ears and nose, etc. You can use fruit tape, or roll-up snack for measuring and make a game out of feeding it to your child.
Decorate the Child – Make rings, necklaces, bracelets with play-doh, crazy foam, pipe cleaners, etc. and place on child and have child place on you.
Copy Cat – The parent mirrors what the child is doing or vice versa.
Beanie Baby Game – Have the child place a beanie baby or another soft toy that is fairly easy to balance on top of his head. Have the parent sit in front of the child and place her hands in front of her. The child is then directed to tip his head forward to try to get the beanie baby in the parent’s hands. The child should tip his head when the parent blinks her eyes. (This will promote eye contact.) Have the parent use as much eye contact as possible.
“Don’t You Look at Me” Game – At intermittent times during the day I get down to her level, initiate close direct eye contact (even holding her head gently if I had to) and say “Don’t you look at me!” in a very playful tone then turn my head away. She’d run around me trying to get eye contact; when she did, the tickle bugs came out!
Silly Faces – We sit on the floor next to each other or in my lap in front of the closet mirror and we make silly faces.
Pop Cheeks – Puff up cheeks and have child pop them and make a funny noise. Once a child learns how to do this it is a good way to shift a child’s focus if you can tell they are about to lose it or stuck on something. You can just puff up cheeks and it typically breaks the ice.
Slinky Game – Parent and child hold ends of slinky practice walking apart and saying “away” then walking back together and saying “together”. This helps the child visually learn this concept as well as teaches them the language away and together.
Balancing Activities – Have the child balance pillows, books or hats on head or on their feet when lying on their back on the floor with feet in the air. Do this at the same time as them. It’s another good mirroring game.
Bench Press – Child lays on parent facing them and parent pushes up and down like bench pressing. Or airplane on knees or feet.
Mommies and Babies – Talk about mommies/babies/families at various opportunities in developmentally appropriate way. So when you see a mommy and baby animals or humans on tv or in books, “Awe, the baby puppy is cuddling his mommy. You are my baby and mommy cuddles you.” or “Mommies always take care of their babies!”
In the bedroom:
Bottles – Keep bottles as an attachment tool for as long as possible. If they are no longer on a bottle, bring it back as an attachment tool.
Rocking – Preferably while giving bottle like you would an infant. Making as much eye contact as possible. If no bottle, still hold them like an infant and promote eye contact by singing songs or telling stories.
Finger Trace – Trace child’s facial features lightly with finger and say something about each one “pretty eyes”, “I love your sweet nose”, etc. They will probably start doing this back to you after a few times.
Kisses – Make up different types of kisses: butterfly (brushing eyelashes against the cheek while looking into her eyes), whale (same as butterfly but without the fluttering eyelashes), and Eskimo (rubbing noses together.)
Co-Sleeping – I realize not everyone does this but to me this was huge. I know all the researchers say how good it is for the child but I honestly do it for myself. When our kids first come home it is hard and frustrating. But when she would fall asleep she was an angel! Lying there next to her asleep is honestly when I fell in love with her. It gave me the fuel I needed when life felt impossible. Especially when I went back to work this was my bonding time. Coming home to a cranky kid who was struggling and I was exhausted was tough but once we got into bed together I felt connected again. I feel like at first it was good for my type A personality to force me to sleep more when I really needed it.
Not sure how everyone else co-sleeping looks but her is what we do. We do the typical bedtime routine and then I hop into the bed together and discuss our day. What made us sad, mad, or glad? What we are thankful for? As my child has gotten older I have been able to find out SO much about her day in this safe and slow spot that I do not believe I would have found out if we were not doing this. I then pat her back until she falls asleep. We both sleep in little clothes again to promote that skin-to-skin time.
I personally have to set my alarm or I would fall asleep and stay asleep for the night with her but I set an alarm so I can get up and hang out with my husband or do whatever else is needed around the house. I have on average about 3-4 hours before she wakes up again. So this gives me plenty of me time before hopping back into bed with her before she wakes. Once I go back to bed I move her to a mattress on the floor so I do not get kicked all night and can get some good sleep. The best purchase I have ever made was a king-size bed. Now that number 2 is on the way I have seriously asked my husband if we can fit two king size beds in our room. He says no…ha!
But in all seriousness my little one is prone to night terrors so I like to be there to get her back to sleep asap if she starts having a terror before they get full blown escalated out of control. I also want her to know that mommy is always there. She REALLY I mean REALLY grieves at night so this was very instrumental in her grieving too was us co-sleeping. I wanted her to know that I will be there whenever she is scared and that I will meet that need. Having a VERY anxiously attached kid this was super important to us. But again I honestly think that the co-sleeping has done more for my attachment to her than anything!
In the bathroom:
Taking Baths Together – This is something we started when Zoey first came home and it is still one of her favorite activities we do together 4 years later. I personally plug my iPhone up to a speaker we have in the bathroom and tell myself we will stay in there playing together for the entire playlist I have set up. It is a good way to keep me committed to singing and playing together while getting that skin-to-skin time. Again we always sit looking at each other to really ramp up our eye to eye contact time.
On Your Face – This can be done anywhere but we do this while taking baths together and while I am cleaning this part of the body.
On your face you have a nose / And way down here you have 10 toes / 2 eyes that blink / And a head to think / You have a chin and very near/ You have 2 ears to help you hear / (Arms go high and arms go low) / Arms go low and arms go high / A great big hug to say hello / (A great big hug to say goodbye).
On the first verse, touch your child’s nose; touch your child’s arms and touch his toes; touch the child’s temples next to his eyes; cradle the sides of his head; touch his chin; touch both ear lobes and whisper something in their ear like “I love you”; grasp the child’s wrists and hold the arms high over his head and bring them down or visa-versa; extend your arms to give the child a hug.
Baby Massage – We have a little ritual we do and I sing a silly song about massages that I made up. She knows she has to sit still and let me massage her as long as I am singing this song. I wish she was the type of kid that would really let me massage her like Karyn Purvis says to do but nope.. she hates lotions so wants it done asap. But if I make the song really silly she will sit there and look at my eyes and watch me sing it for a minute or two while I rub her.
Stack of Hands – Put your hand palm down in front of the child and guide your child to put his or her hand on top. Alternate hands to make a stack. Take turns moving the bottom hand to the top. Putting lotion on hands before this activity can make it slippery and nurturing at the same time.
Check for Hurts – Caring for hurts by checking the child for bruises, hurts or “boo-boos.” Put lotion on or around it, kiss it or touch with a cotton ball and really ohh and ahhing over it. This was a really good activity once I started back to work. I would say, “Oh no, Zoey how did you get this scrape?” She would tell me and then I would make a really big deal of it. Kiss it. Love on her and show I cared about her day and her getting hurt even when I am not around. When theraplay first suggested this I was honestly afraid it would make her a whiny baby but actually it did quite the opposite. I think it made her feel secure so she didn’t feel the need to whine over the little accidents when they did happen.
Outside the house:
Ball Hop – Play games with a large plastic ball. I sit my baby on top of the ball and sit on the floor so we are facing each other and looking into each other’s eyes. I sing songs while rocking her back and forth, side to side, or bouncing on top of the ball. She loves the songs and movement but once she stops looking at me the movement stops until she finds my eyes again.
Sidewalk Chalk – Drawing Around Hands, Feet, or Bodies trace the child’s hand or foot on a piece of paper. Full body drawings require that the child remain still (this can be challenging). The parent can make verbal comments regarding progress while drawing—e.g., “I’m coming to your knee…”
Chase – While chasing her I say things like “Mommy loves you so much she just has to run after you to squeeze you” Once I catch her I give her big hugs and again tell her how much mommy loves her and how I will chase her forever for hugs.
Hide and Seek – Every time I would find Zoey I would say things like “Mommy will always find you! No matter where you go you are my special girl for forever and I will always find you!”
Bubbles – Have a child look at you before you blow the bubbles. Count to three then blow and they pop. Repeat each time asking child to look at you getting ready to blow.
Swinging – Every time you put your child in a swing push them from the front while trying to maintain eye contact the entire time. When we first came home it was warm outside and I had one put up right on my back porch close to the house where no neighbors could see. I set up a comfy chair where I was down eye level and all hours of the night when we first came home we were out there swinging. It was the only place that would calm her down. I would go in my pjs and looking a mess and sit there all comfy while pushing her. It was a great way to maintain contact and promote attachment while giving me a much needed rest from holding and carrying her around. I would always say, “Let me see your beautiful brown eyes!” before I would push faster or harder. Zoey has learned this so much now every time we are at a park her little eyes get so wide and big as a way to beg me to push her harder.
Look Into My Eyes – Every time my child speaks to me I sweetly ask them to “look into my eyes”. It takes a while before they will feel comfortable doing it but it is good to set that expectation early on that you want eye contact when talking to each other. Same goes for when I talk to my child. I always try to intentionally stop what I am doing if I can and look directly in the eye to tell them what I need to say. This helps build up the “eye to eye contact attachment bank” up that I have set for each day.
Attachment Book – Take pics of you doing things with your child like feeding bottle, feeding, playing, hugging, etc. Make a little mine photo book and look at the book together often and say things like “Wow, your mommy is always feeding you.” Or “Look at how mommy loves to give you hugs. You know mommy will ALWAYS do that with you.” Or the pic of rocking say things like, “Mommy will always keep you safe.” It feels awkward at first like you are bragging on yourself but it’s a good way for them to start seeing permanency with you.
Chores Together – While completing housework wear child in carrier to promote that skin on skin contact. If it is warm enough I would wear sports bra only and let child go topless. It’s a good way to kill two birds with one stone! This is also a good opportunity to just talk to the child about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Ex: “Mommy is sweeping the floor so you will have a nice place to walk and will not step on any dirt. Mommy will always keep you safe.” or “Mommy is unloading the dishwasher so you will have clean dishes to eat from. Mommy will always make sure you have something to eat.”
Special Handshake – Make up a special handshake together, taking turns adding new gestures. For example, you can do a five high, clasp hands, tickle palms, etc.
Snacks – Have some snack they you can always say yes to at first weeks/months home. Something that’s healthy and if they eat 15 of it won’t stress you. This allows you to give more “yeses” and is something you can always offer if they ask for a snack they can’t have.
Sources: If I accidentally forgot to source somewhere please let me know. These are just notes I have compiled over the years and not sure I remembered every source – only posting to help other moms. In no way am I trying to take someone else’s information without giving them credit!
— photos by Tish Goff
Lauren and her husband Eric live in Birmingham, AL. They have a 4 year old daughter Zoey, home from South Korea in 2011. Currently, the Bush family is in South Korea to bring home their 2 year old son, Atlas.
You can read more about Lauren and her growing family at her blog, How The Bush Grows.