The first month of a baby’s life is all about meeting their physical needs. Whether they need to be held, fed, or comforted to sleep — it is important for parents to meet those needs. By the second month, a baby begins to seek their mother’s or father’s presence through smell and touch, the same way that they may seek food, a dry diaper, or a nap. The parent-child relationship is a way through which a child’s framework for understanding interpersonal relationships evolves.
Adopting a Child from Birth to Five Months
Your most important task is to boost bonding by keeping your baby close to you and responding to their needs. Infants can sometimes avoid eye contact, become fussy on a whim, refuse to take a bottle, sleep excessively or not at all. Just remember that this has nothing to do with your parenting ability or whether or not you have birth to this child, try and relax and give your baby and yourself some time to familiarize.
• Appeal to their senses: Maybe don’t wash the outfit your baby come home in right away, keep it near them in the crib because newborns are sensitive to smell and that familiar aroma could be comforting.
• Provide primary care: Help your baby identify you with comfort by providing all of their care (diaper changes, feeding, soothing to sleep, etc.). Tell your friends and family that for at least the first couple weeks, you want to be the only ones to do those tasks.
• Always be there: A good rule of thumb to follow for the first few months would be that no matter what your child’s age at adoption, respond to their cries or calls verbally or physically whenever possible within fifteen seconds. Don’t feel like you have to dash through the house to their side, check the clock, 15 seconds is actually probably longer than you may think. At the beginning, to help bolster bonding, it is important for your child to know that you are there for them, to provide for their needs, and to offer comfort.
• Snuggle up: Your little one won’t be spoiled by too much holding, rocking, or cuddling. Enjoy some skin on skin contact after a bath and even try a front carrier for your baby so they can hear your heartbeat.
Adopting a Child from Five to Ten Months
When adopting a 5-10 month old, they may have already developed a separation anxiety by the time of the adoption and could act sad or fearful. The natural fear of strangers that comes with this stage of a baby’s life is magnified.
• Go back to basics: Even if there is some resistance, try holding your baby in a nursing position, maybe when giving a bottle or before bedtime. The goal of this action is to reinforce the eye contact and relaxation that is usually achieved in earlier months of nurturing.
• Allow your baby to grieve: It might be difficult for you, but stay with your baby when they are grieving and crying — even if they won’t accept consolation.
• Maintain your baby’s routines: Now really isn’t the time to change feeding or nap times, the routine will reassure your baby.
• Keep it playful: Play games like peek-a-boo, smile, and sing songs to help your baby associate those positive feelings with you.
Adopting a Child from Nine to Eighteen Months
A child adopted at this age needs to transfer the trust they developed with previous caregivers to their new family. If you are able, observe your baby with their pre-adoption caregivers, see if they move away to play and return for reassurance or move away without checking back, meaning they may have concluded that there’s no one to watch over them.
• Revisit earlier stages of development: Offer comfort, even if they don’t seek it. Your child may not have developed a strong sense of security or attachment during earlier stages of their life, so they may want to stay near you and explore.
• Teach your child to check in with you: You want to make sure your child knows you are a source of their safety, have them check in with you. Have them check in with you before playing with toys or leaving the room to play in another room, and express joy in their accomplishments.
Adopting a Child from Fifteen to Twenty-Two Months
Moving a child in the toddler stage is difficult because they have already built attachment to a caregiver. Their greatest fear of losing that person has come true and they are not developed enough to understand adoption.
• Prepare your child: Visit your child in the presence of their caregiver before placement and together talk about the move. If a pre-adoption visit isn’t possible, send your child an album of family photos or a voice recording so they will be familiar by your first meeting.
• Help your child identify feelings: Your child’s verbal abilities aren’t developed enough to really express their feelings about this life change, so help him label emotions such as sadness, anger and fear.
• Record the circumstances: Write down everything about placement day in detail and take photos. Details will help them understand what happened and why.
• Get good advice: Sometimes children adopted as toddlers struggle with balancing dependence and autonomy, seeking professional advice may be helpful.
The blessing that your child brings will out weigh any obstacles you may face. Just as all new parents discover, some days are just harder than others. The most important thing is to reassure your child that you love them and you are there for all their needs. Keep in mind some of these techniques when bonding after placement and share any of your tips with us so we can spread the love!