Relationships are as unique as the individuals in them. Sometimes bonding is easy, but sometimes only some parts of bonding are easy, while other parts can be extremely difficult. It can depend on your child’s history, your child’s mental health, and your own mental health.
Bonding with my second son was very hard for me. I was terrified of him. Seems silly, right? It was, but I had read too many books, read into every behavior, and did not understand trauma at all. At all. I did some things right, but really there are still times when he has a hard time being with me. And he is always, nearly always, more comfortable with my husband.
There are many, many reasons for this. One of the reasons is because I’m the main disciplinarian. I’m home with them all day; I’m the rule setter, the keeper of the crayons, the privilege giver, and the consequence maker. We have slowly been adding those duties to Daddy’s list of things to do, but I’m just with them more, so I’m it.
We have a family tradition of cuddling in bed at night. We all pile in and watch Veggie Tales and snuggle, giggle, and have bedtime treats. When our daughter first came home, she was completely uncomfortable with this process. She would sit far away from us, straight-backed, and wouldn’t crack a smile. Eventually she scooted backward, then finally she snuggled in, and while she still isn’t as comfortable with me, she will choose to snuggle up with me quite regularly now.
How did we get here? It’s work, lots of fun, fun work. We play. Kids usually can’t communicate their emotional needs, but oh, can they play. If you have play therapy available in your area, get a diagnostic assessment for your child and get playing. We did play therapy for all our kids. It was fantastic. While you wait, play dolls, trucks, or peek-a-boo. Buy a book about play therapy games. Be silly. It can really be that simple. Blow cotton balls across the table, pick up sticks, ring around the rosy.
Also, give yourself grace. Heaps and heaps of grace. This is something that took a long time for me to learn. Once I started to realize that I didn’t have to be perfect, I just needed to be present, things started to change for all of us. What they are feeling has very little to do with you, and everything to do with what happened to them. For children of trauma, sensory activities work wonders. My oldest (adopted but not from foster care) has a diagnosis of SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) so I have learned a LOT about sensory tools, tips, and tricks.
All my kids love the sensory bins we have. Their favorites are kinetic sand and rice bins with bugs and tweezers. Water beads in shaving cream is a very messy and fun activity. Flour to write and draw in has been a great healing tool. In addition, we have body socks, sensory swings, crash pads, and pea pods. There is so much out there to meet their sensory needs. On days that we lack physical exercise, we set up a sensory diet obstacle course and run them until they’re completely worn out. All of this helps them feel comfortable in their bodies and begin to trust you. It may take time, but it will happen.
Karla King is a passionate open adoption advocate, adoptive mom, foster mom, wife, reader, avid creator of food, a stay-at-home mom, and Christian. She loves taking care of her family, supporting others on the adoption journey, and watching the world through her children’s eyes.