Cocooning is Critical: Metamorphosis of the Adopted Child

July 29, 2017 Attachment, attachment activities, baby-wearing, cocooning, discipline, first weeks home, first year home, July 2017 Feature - All About Attachment, Newly Home, parent-to-child attachment, Sharon, Trust Based Parenting 2 Comments

“Where are they taking me today? It’s a long way. I’ve never seen all these places. First a car, then a train, plane, but where am I going? I miss my friends. I miss my Ayi.”

I’ve often wondered what my children thought when they left the orphanage the day we met them. Could the thoughts above have been some that swirled around in their head? It was one of the most excruciating experiences of their lives but cocooning would lead to recovery.


Think about a little caterpillar coming to a place of complete exhaustion needing a place of rest where a huge transformation began. Such is the journey of our adopted children. They begin in biological families then abandoned and finally adopted. Such great trauma to go through with no understanding of process, the why, or even a willingness to do so.

Our children were all under five at adoption, but behaved a couple of years younger. There was no foundation to build their understanding upon… the orphanage official pointing to us saying, “Mama. Baba.” What in the world did that mean to them? Another nanny? More new people? No desire to be taken by these strange adults.

Crying ensued, a blank stare, even shaking. “This ‘mama’ wants to hold me tight and kiss my cheek but no one has touched me in so long. I don’t like how this feels. I need to get away. Let me down! I don’t understand what you’re saying. You smell different. Oh but I like the lollipop you popped in my mouth.” So much had to have been reeling in their little minds and hearts. Their world turned upside down in a matter of minutes.

Are you feeling their terror?

The First Weeks Home

Fast forward through the couple of weeks in China to the first days and weeks at home. For our family and our child, it was often excruciating. Everyone jet lagged, tired, sick, and needing a new normal. There was no magic formula for those first days and weeks. It was a time of making it to the next moment. The next meal, nap time, the next tantrum, bedtime, morning. The days were so long and the nights even longer. It was basically survival.

With each passing day we began to adjust, feel rested, and feel stronger but our child struggled to feel secure. The first thing they needed other than food and sleep was to feel safe. It took about a million hugs, smiles, and soft answers to even start this process. They needed to be picked up constantly, offered unending patience, and consistency of routine.

We second guessed ourselves, cried with our child, and wondered if we would ever have calm days or a good night’s sleep. We sought counsel from others who had walked our path. We prayed and prayed and prayed some more.

We’ve been home over a year with our seventh child from China. There is good perspective once things have settled into a pretty good routine. In the midst of it, not so much. You really can’t see past the moment you’re living in – but that’s almost a gift.

There is no good in wishing away the now or waining for the future. The work we do in the beginning, during the really hard days, will be the best work in the long run. It will be a deciding factor in how long it takes our children to adjust and how healthy they emerge from their cocoon.

I want to share some of the ways we have helped our children recover from the trauma of abandonment and adoption.

1. Cocoon.

Think for a moment how the little caterpillar curls up on a branch wrapping himself in layers of silk to protect himself from the rest of the world. A way of giving him time to rest from his journey while readying himself for a beautiful metamorphosis into the future. Doesn’t it remind you of a baby inside his mother’s belly, all safe and secure from the world?

Cocooning our child has been a way of taking them back to infancy and allowing time to grow, mature, and begin understanding their new world.

It began as soon as they came into our care. Even in the civil affairs building or hotel lobby, we began the cocooning process so the healing could begin immediately. China was not where our children felt the most benefit of cocooning, but there were lots of things we did begin right away: feeding them, taking care of bathroom needs, holding them, offering snacks and toys as distractions, hand over hand experiences like coloring, stickers, and play dough. We used a carrier facing me the whole time when we were outside our hotel so I could shield them from the people and places while finalizing the adoption. They didn’t always like it at first but by the end of the first week, they were pretty sure it was the place to be!

Our adopted children yearned for cocooning but they had no words to express it. It was our responsibility as the adoptive parents to know it was critical and follow through with it.

Our children did not choose any of this…

To be abandoned.
To be raised in an orphanage or foster family.
To be adopted into our family.

We chose to adopt them knowing full well the trauma they had suffered, and we had the great responsibility to give them every opportunity for healing through cocooning.

2. Come home and stay home.

The home stage lasted only as long as each child needed but being home built a stronger family bond. Home resembled the places our children have lived before adoption and staying home helped them know the difference. Keeping their world small with few introductions was critical.

Introducing them to their room was a delicate process. We didn’t want to rush or overstimulate them. We kept a few toys in our living area to sit on the floor and explore together. We encouraged them to sleep in our room or with them in their bed keeping the anxiety level low. They had months ahead of them to explore all the new things in their lives.

We kept in mind our children came from very non-stimulating, sterile environments. Their new one being more like Disney overload. Would we ever leave the hospital with a newborn and stop by the circus on the way home? Never! That was kind of how our children felt getting home from the airport, coming into their new home, and being surrounded by so much.

I remember the night we got home with Calla. She was terrified. She wouldn’t let me put her down. She needed to go potty but screamed when I tried to walk her through the house to the bathroom. Our house didn’t look anything like the hotels we had been in for the last two weeks. It was hours before we were able to bathe her and get her settled down to sleep. This was a glimpse into the next weeks and months of her life.

She was a lot like a newborn: a new language, new people, new food, and new home. Coming home and staying home was so critical in helping her feel secure and safe.

3. Limit who visits.

A community of people had anticipated this beautiful child coming home. They couldn’t wait to meet her and wanted to shower love on our family. One of the most important things our children needed to know was who their family was and who they were not. We had to have a few rules when it came to visitors.

One golden rule in cocooning our child was to hold them and shield them from any situation.

Our family welcomed us home at the airport and visited for short periods understanding they couldn’t hold or meet any needs of our child. We asked them to say “Mama or Baba” if a need arose. Playing on the floor or sitting beside me while I held our child were ways they interacted in a healthy way.

Friends and family brought meals to our home and for that we were grateful! Meals delivered gave me the freedom to continue the bonding process without interruption. We met those sweet people at the door, having a conversation there, and sending them on their way. It was not the time to meet our child, interact with our child, or play with them. That would come way down the road when our bond as a family was secure.

We kept errands away from home to a minimum. Keeping the child cocooned in our own car such as a drive helped our child feel safe. We didn’t even go to church. My husband has always been willing to grocery shop, make Target and Costco runs, or take our other children to doctor visits.

For us, it was important for me to be at home with our new child as much as possible.

We also played in our backyard keeping neighbors and visitors at bay for a while. Our children thrived outside because most of them had never played much in China. Everything they came into contact with was a new experience for them. Things like playing in the sandbox, swinging, jumping on a trampoline, going inside a playhouse, were all opportunities to bond, build trust, and enjoy time together as our children began to feel safe.

4. Make your child your biggest concern.

We have adopted seven times and know how hard it is to bring a new child into a big family while meeting all the needs of each family member. If I had to cook or change the wash, I held my child close. Sitting on the floor and holding them with another was a fun way to help everyone feel loved. I have photos of me holding up to four children at a time, and they remember it! It was so important to help all our children adjust and bond to each other.

One way we found this to be successful was not making them share… what? If someone was playing with something, we didn’t make them give it to the new child. It was their toy first. We used a distraction (usually toys we played with in China). Sometimes we took them away from the toy area and distracted with food. {Food was the great bonder!}

Some Final Thoughts

Give it time. Time makes all the difference. I have often said, “A child has to be home as long as they were not to feel safe and forever in their new family.”

Remember adoption was our choice. Any wounds our children came to us with are now our responsibility. It is hard to watch your eleven month old bang her head on her bed self soothing herself to sleep. Or to witness your four year old so angry he goes into a crazed screaming fit because he didn’t get his way. It is not the child’s responsibility to get over it. It is our eternal privilege to nurture the trauma away replacing it with unconditional love!

We are doing Kingdom work when we bring our children home to our family. It is work and we must be intentional.

There is nothing easy about raising children, especially adopted children. Cocooning them as they grow will have Eternal Significance for generations. Let us all commit to whatever it takes. Our children are more than worth it.

Jesus says in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

2 responses to “Cocooning is Critical: Metamorphosis of the Adopted Child”

  1. Kimberly Schildbach says:

    This is a lovely article!! We cocooned with both of our children we adopted and all our newborns! It’s a time to heal and get to know each other. All the other stuff of life can wait.
    Thank you for writing this!

  2. Shannon Robinson says:

    I loved this article and hung on every word. You lost me at “Kingdom.”

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