When children come into foster care, we learn that many of them have had limited opportunities to develop healthy bonds and attachments to their primary caregivers. Many of our children in care have experienced unhealthy relationships in which their feelings were not properly mirrored by their caregivers; or have experienced relationships with their caregivers where reparative interactions did not occur when they were in distress. Developing healthy bonds and attachments to caregivers in the first few years of a child’s life is the key to forming healthy relationships and healthy emotional development later on. There are many different ways that you can help your adoptive/foster/biological child form healthy bonds and attachments at any age.
1. Mirroring Activities
Sit with your child across from one another. As you and your child make eye contact, copy the movements of your child. The idea is to be the “mirror” for your child. For example, if your child smiles, and then waves her hand, you will smile and wave your hand at the same time as your child. This is a fun way to encourage closeness, trust, and bonding. You and your child can take turns being the “mirror” after a few minutes.
2. Brushing Hair
A great way to develop closeness and encourage nurturing for younger children is to set aside time during the day or week to brush, comb, or style your child’s hair. Allow your child to gently brush or comb your hair as well. For teenagers, turning it into something fun or silly is a great way to use this technique, like styling your daughter’s hair in an 80’s style on Friday night.
3. Board Games
Break away from the tablets, cell phones, and televisions, and have a family board game night. Whether it’s cards or monopoly, this is a sure way to get your family connecting and having conversations with one another. Games like Pictionary or Charades are great for building bonding and encouraging teamwork. Just make sure the competition stays friendly and light-hearted!
4. Bedtime Routines
An easy way to bond with your child is through bedtime routines. Tuck your child into bed at night, sing a song together, or read a bedtime story. A simple hug or kiss on the forehead works well for older children.
Listen to music with your teenager. Let them pick out songs they like and play them for you. Keep an open mind about it and let them teach you about their favorite music. You can share your favorite music from when you were a teenager with them too!
6. Makeup, Masks, and Pampering
Find a makeup tutorial on YouTube (most teenagers will have something in mind already) and try it out on each other! Painting each other’s finger/toe nails, or applying a facial mask with each other is a great way to bond with your teen.
7. Do Something Active
A great way to get kids talking and connecting is through light physical activity. Take a walk together through the neighborhood, ride bikes, throw a Frisbee or ball back and forth, or play a quick game of basketball. Get moving with your child to help them release their defenses; loosening up the muscles helps to loosen up the mood!
8. Cook Together
Getting in the kitchen and cooking a meal together is a great way to engage the senses and bond with your child or teen. It can be a wonderful way to develop a new family tradition with your child or pass down an old one. Teach your child how to make a special family recipe or let them pick out something they are interested in making.
These are just a few ideas to encourage bonding and attachment, but you can be as creative as you’d like!