Ways to deal with attachment issues: Helping your child build trust

Pointers for helping a child manage their feelings, behaviours and how to build trust.

Everyday activities

  • Start making mealtimes, getting up and going to bed part of a predictable routine
  • Say clear ‘goodbyes’ and ‘hellos’, and talk openly to your child about why you have to go away sometimes and how long it will be for
  • Use a calendar or a diary chart to help your child predict and anticipate events
  • Make sure your child feels specially cared for and nurtured when ill, hurt or sad
  • Be discreetly available if your child is anxious but inds it hard to talk or accept comfort; for example, suggest a ride in the car
  • Give your child both your spoken and unspoken support to safely explore the world around them

Building trust when apart

Image of black girl on grass

  • Let your child take a small item or photo from home to school
  • Phone or text your child to let them know you are thinking of them
  • Show you have thought about your child during the day by placing a small surprise on their bed when they are at school

Games and activities that help to build trust

  • Reading stories with your child sitting on your lap or close to you
  • Face painting
  • Throwing a ball or a beanbag to each other
  • Rocking, singing, and gently holding your child
  • Brushing and plaiting hair
  • Teaching a new skill or learning one together

Helping your child to manage their feelings and behaviours

  • Anticipate what will cause confusion and distress in your child and avoid if possible
  • Express interest, at a level that is comfortable for your child, in their thoughts and feelings
  • Help your child make things better after losing control of their feelings, and praise them for doing this
  • Use stories or puppets to develop empathy in your child (e.g. “Poor baby owl, how does he feel now his mummy has flown away to get food?”)
  • Observe your child carefully – perhaps keep a diary, note patterns, etc – and try to stand in your child’s shoes
  • Collect tickets, pictures, leaflets, stickers, etc and make an ‘experiences book’ to help a child to remember and reflect on positive events
  • Use play, television programmes and real examples to make sense of the world, how things work, cause and effect

Promoting attachment

There are many things you can do to reparent your child and help them form a secure attachment with you, their new carer:

  • Use your child’s tantrums to encourage attachment
  • Help your child express, and cope with, feelings of anger and frustration, feelings about moving, or ambivalent feelings about their birth family
  • Respond to your child when they are ill, hurt or injured
  • Make affectionate overtures: hugs, kisses and physical closeness
  • Teach your child about extended family members through pictures and talk, and to participate in family activities such as camping or outings
  • Teach your child to cook or bake
  • Say “I love you”
  • Encourage your child to call you Mum and/or Dad
  • Hang pictures of your child on the wall
  • Involve your child in extended family reunions or visits
  • Make statements such as “in our family we do it this way” in a supportive manner
  • Include the child in family rituals

Taken from Preparing to adopt: The applicant’s workbook. (BAAF)

Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in May 2006.

Have you seen our answers to questions such as 'What is life-story work and why is it important?'

This article is published with the kind permission of the people involved. You may download it for your own reference but if you wish to use it for any other purpose, please contact Be My Parent for authorisation: Be My Parent, BAAF, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS. Telephone: 020 7421 2666/5/4.

Last updated: 11 December 07

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