Today’s blog comes from Allen Sabey, PhD, LMFT, in recognition of National Adoption Awareness Month.
Parenting adopted children can be uniquely challenging. One such challenge that adopted children often face is forming a secure attachment with their new parent(s). Basically, a secure attachment is a reliable emotional bond or trusting relationship between a child and a parent. For example, securely attached children feel more comfortable going to parents to receive comfort when distressed. As a result of inconsistent caregivers in the past, adopted children may struggle to trust a new parent and turn to them for comfort. Fortunately, adoptive parents can take proven steps to ensure their adopted child will form this important secure attachment relationship with them.
First, adopted children may need extra portions of love and understanding. Parents should frequently show and express their love to their adopted child in ways that are meaningful to their child. For example, parents should regularly play with their younger children. In addition, some adopted children struggle with feeling unwanted or confused about their potentially new culture. It is helpful when parents simply express understanding and acceptance of these feelings.
Second, adoptive parents need to maintain firm expectations for their adopted children. Perhaps because of the prior difficulties faced by the child, parents may feel the need to overcompensate and not enact the same structure and discipline as with other children. However, all children, no matter their backgrounds, need a strong sense of structure and firm expectations to thrive.
Lastly, adoptive parents may need to have an extra measure of patience as their adopted child slowly learns that they can trust them. Adopted children are sometimes more resistant to affection or reluctant to open up to their new parents at first and so time is a necessary ingredient.
In sum, as adoptive parents consistently and frequently show love, express understanding, and firmly provide structure, a secure bond will form over time and their adopted children will come to trust them and feel emotionally safe.
Allen Sabey, PhD, LMFT, is the John J. B. Morgan Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow at The Family Institute. Some of his specialties include adoption, child behavioral problems, couple conflict and communication, and divorce/marital separation. He also maintains an active program of research that is aimed at understanding how and why family members provide care and support for one another, especially in times of distress.
The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our Adoptive Families Program. Visit our website to learn more about our services.