Tuesday Topic: Helping Son Attach to Mom

It’s been ages since we’ve done a Tuesday Topic!  This morning I have an early appointment in Spokane with an ENT for the chronic sinus infections that have been making my life somewhat miserable.  It’s been months and months of feeling crummy; I’m ready to feel better.

This question was sent to me via my One Thankful Mom Facebook page, which you can “Like” by clicking on the button in my sidebar.  I love it when people “Like” my page and I actually try to post things on it in addition to my blog posts.

This is the question:

 My husband and I have been foster parents for 3 yrs and are adopting a 3 yr old boy who we have had for 4 months. He was homeless the first 2 yrs of his life, with his father. No mom. My husband and I both work part-time, but he is home more than me. Our son has latched onto him but has really rejected me for the most part. I am seeing little glimpses of hope but for the most part he avoids me and dismisses me or angrily says “I not talk to you” or “I not look at you!” We have had many different children with different disabilities/backgrounds/ages, but never this situation. Any tips? Thank you!

 

Let’s offer some suggestions to help this mom with her son.  You may think that your idea isn’t good enough, but trust me, it could be just what she needs to hear.  Leave a comment – it will encourage her.  I don’t have  time to share my thoughts right now, but I will later when I’m home.

Encourage one another,

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

24 Comments

  1. sleighs79
    May 29, 2012

    I want to echo the thoughts about years as opposed to months. I recommend a skilled early childhood therapist. We just (TODAY! in fact) left our therapist's office after 2 years and a few months (from ages 2 to 4) with no scheduled return appointment. Just call as needed….yay!

    Ours has done wonders for us – both my son and for my husband and I (he never attends a session without one of us there). She affirmed what we were doing well, gave us suggestions on what to do better – empowered us to be the healing agents in our little guys' life.

    A couple things we use that you can look up online for a more in-depth explanation are Theraplay (www.theraplay.org) and PCIT (parent-child interaction therapy – http://www.pcit.org). One technique we used frequently at the beginning that really worked for us was for my son to sit in a bean bag or something similar, I would sit on the floor, and I would feed him a fruit snack. Affirming that I know he can take care of himself, but this is our special time for me to take care of him. Encouraging eye contact so he could have another snack or candy, and just placing the snack directly in his mouth. It seemed strange at first, but it really, really worked for us. Another thing I recommend is rocking. Especially since your little guy was homeless, it is really unlikely that he was rocked. (Lisa did a Rockin Mama Challenge last year I think – there are some great posts about it)

    Just another piece of our experience: we really went into this whole thing thinking that love would be enough, but we quickly learned it was not. We needed new skills, new ways of parenting, and better knowledge about traumatized children. It was very rough for us. It is so hard to parent a child that doesn't return your affections. I came to the end of myself pretty quickly, and I don't know your faith, but I had to learn to rely on God in a whole new way. He picked up where my strength gave out.

    Reply
    1. Our Faith Walk
      May 29, 2012

      I agree. Lisa's rockin' challenge not only helped my daughter bond with me, but it greatly changed my heart toward her. I literally prayed through the entire 10 minute session. God met me every time.

      Reply
    2. Julie P.
      May 29, 2012

      Oh my goodness..we were in the SAME BOAT!! We still struggle at times…especially when you have to retrain your thinking. I also learned more about God than ever before when it all started with our son, who was 13 months old when we brought him home. He is 7 years old now, and started exhibiting the attachment behaviors–at least that we had seen. Before that, we thought it was "just who he was"…it's a long road we travel to teach these kids how much we love them.

      Reply
  2. Abbey
    May 29, 2012

    Figure out his favorite treat and stock a ready supply, to be given out by only you. In our house, I think Dum-Dum suckers are awesome- sweet, small, affordable, and soothing too. Maybe you could make a ritual that every time you come home, you give him that special something that he loves, and perhaps over time he'll warm up enough to sit WITH you as he enjoys it. I would not make him "earn" it (ex. I'll give you a sucker if….) but just give it, regardless of his response. You may eventually be viewed by him as a giver of good things, which builds trust.

    Reply
    1. Our Faith Walk
      May 29, 2012

      I just read this in "The Hurt Child" today. I would add, have him look at you in the eyes for a count of five.

      Reply
  3. MRK
    May 29, 2012

    Super simple suggestion that I've used from Empowered to Connect. Be the Queen of Bubble Gum. Make it a role that only mom has. Get a huge bucket of Double Bubble from a warehouse club if you can (any gum will do if you don't have access to the giant bucket)! Teach your son that if he asks you (with respect and in the right level and tone of voice) for a piece of bubble gum, you will often give it to him, because you are the Queen of Bubble Gum. Bubble gum loading is good sensory input. If he is old enough (we didn't do gum when our oldest was 3, but our youngest could chew it and spit it out just fine at age 3), you can let him have 2 or 3 pieces. He has to make eye contact with you and ask every so nicely. And you get to say yes. That's a connection. We do it daily. And now I sometimes use "Ask for that in your bubble gum voice" when my kids are demanding something not quite so nicely, and they know just what I mean.

    Reply
    1. Julie P
      May 29, 2012

      We do gum, too, only we use Extra bubble gum because it's sugar free. I love the "ask in your Bubble gum voice". Excellent advice! 🙂

      Reply
  4. nancy moore
    May 29, 2012

    From what I have read on various "adoptive parenting" sights, I think it is completely normal for a child to attach to one parent first. Because he has only been home with you for 4 months, you are still in the very early stages of his life with you. A few things you may do to promote attachment to you: cuddle/read books together while letting him have a sweet drink from a sippy cup, share a favorite snack together (maybe even hand feed him), and, if you have access to a swimming pool, take him and hold him a lot in the water, making eye contact, singing, cuddling etc. I have found time in the pool to be such sweet time bonding with our kids. Best wishes to you. I think that attachment will come! The fact that he is attaching well with your husband is a good sign.

    Nancy

    Reply
  5. afamilieslove
    May 29, 2012

    Oh, this is hard, and I have been on the receiving end of this rejection before, and will pray for you to find peace and comfort though this time.
    The ideas that come to mind first are to make the things that mommy does fun, play ball with your husband, and invite your little guy to join in, or have your hubby suggest that they play ball with you,, showing that you are fun, and then make it big and bold, ,over the top, if he walks away or refuses en you and your hubby play, having hubby say how much fun you are, etc. also pick some fun toys, sit down in the same room as your son,, but away from him, maybe even turned away a bit, so you don't intrude on his space, and play, by yourself, blocks, trains, etc, but really sound funny and upbeat, it will likely draw him in, and he will creep closer to see, then join, it takes time, but this is what therapists do with uncooperative little ones.
    Also be the one to feed him, bathe him etc, not your hubby, amke it fun, and relaxed, but hubby cannot do those things, also sit and sing to him as he falls asleep, he will be less likely to fight you then, or just after he falls asleep, scoop him up and rock him, sing etc, he will get used to you that way to, and you an build from that.
    These are alla things we did with our son when he came home, and now he is a mama's boy, in a good way:-)
    Best wishes to your newest little one, and to you to have grace and faith, he needs to learn to trust you, and moms are not to be trusted in his mind right now.

    Reply
  6. Lori
    May 29, 2012

    One piece of advice that was given to me and that I have passed along to other adoptive parents is that you need to think in terms of years, not months, weeks or days. If you are seeing some glimpses of hope that is very good! We have had our son from India (in an orphanage his entire life) for over a year and have finally seen some glimpses of hope. It all takes time and patience.

    Now to some practical advice. One of our son's major issues is attachment. It has been difficult because that was not an issue we faced with our adopted girls. We have seen a psychologist and I will pass on to you some of what we were told because it might help you to understand this child's issues. We were told that our son had learned coping techniques in order to survive. He acts in ways that he feels will ensure his safety and getting what he needs. She said that his brain is making these decisions, it is not conscious on his part. When kids have issues with attachment, often when they actually start to feel attached to a person they may panic. What if this person leaves them? Their instinct goes back to protection and they do things that push that person away. It is easier for them to push you away than for you to reject them. Knowing these things helped me to understand our son and to have compassion for him.

    Just keep loving this little guy. Meet his needs, show him that you care about him. Just keep doing it over and over. Eventually, it will pay off. It may take a long time to see a great improvement, but that is okay.

    Reply
  7. Dana
    May 29, 2012

    When we went to China to adopt our son who was seven at the time, he initially liked my husband better. We did a couple of things. 1) I did all the feeding. We were eating in a hotel that had a breakfast buffet, so I always filled his plate from the buffet and handed it to him. Even when it would be just as easy for my husband to give him a meal or a snack, we made sure I brought it to him. We also brought a bottle of lavender baby lotion and after dad helped him take a bath, I put the lotion on him each night. We didn't fight the fact that he liked Dad better, but instituted these two routines where pleasant things (yummy food and sweet smelling lotion) were associated with mom. The last thing I can think of is I found easy silly ways to play with him. The thing that comes to mind is that we brought bubble gum and let him chew it often. I'd chew some too and challenge him to a bubble blowing contest which resulted in lots of giggles. Seemed like a non-threatening way to get him to look at me and make eye contact.

    Reply
  8. foster2forever
    May 29, 2012

    We had the same issue with a foster girl who was fearful of my husband (and other men). However, when I wasn't around, she would sit in his lap, etc.

    Perhaps, when the husband is away, do Mommy & son activities that he enjoys. And rock, if possible.
    Don't know if it would work or not….

    Reply
  9. mamitaj
    May 29, 2012

    I have some simple suggestions. I think they are all from Theraplay.

    1. Play "Mirror" with him. Allow him to be the person. You play the mirror. Then switch.
    2. Play "Find the Sticker". Hide a sticker somewhere on your body (armpit, bottom of foot, tummy, neck under your hair, etc). Then let him find it. Now it's his turn.
    3. Play "Bubble Turns". Take turns blowing bubbles while the other one pops them. But you can't blow until the other person makes eye contact and nods.
    4. Make up a song about your little boy that only you sing to him.
    5. Paint a picture together. He draws something, then you draw something, but it you're going to alter his drwing, you have to ask permission. (If he draws a flower, you can draw a butterfly in the air, but if you want the butterfly on the flower, you have to ask.)

    Reply
    1. Our Faith Walk
      May 29, 2012

      Again, in "The Hurt Child" I read today…Place a large sticker on your nose. Say nothing about it to your child. When he notices, laugh/smile, remove the sticker and place it on your child's hand.

      =Connection. Eye contact. Silliness.

      Reply
    2. Abbey
      May 30, 2012

      This makes me remember something I've done with our son. I hold him in front of the mirror and say, "Wow! Look how cute we are! Don't we look great together?!" He loves it!

      Reply
  10. mamitaj
    May 29, 2012

    6. Swim together. Great for safe skin on skin contact and laughter.
    7. Take him on special dates once a week.
    8. Hold him in your arms, baby style and feed him ten M&M's, one at a time as you tell him ten reasons you love him, or ten wonderful things about him.

    That's all I can think of for now. May God bless you as you pour into his life.

    Reply
  11. Julie P.
    May 29, 2012

    I give him lots of hugs. I touch his head, knee, arm, shoulder, etc when I pass him so he feels his mama's touch. I also get to his level and look him in the eye when I speak to him and when he speaks to me. I try to be as accesible as possible. I don't do baths (my husband does), but I cook the meals, get his clothes ready, and go to every single soccer game he has. I am also coaching baseball this year (I have done that before). He loves that. It's something we can do together. Also–I look for reasons to praise him (not false praise–real praise). I look for reasons to give him the benefit of the doubt. I do all I can to show him he CAN trust me, even when he tells me he can't/doesn't/won't. He says things to see if he can hurt me. I do not let him see the hurt. I do not let him see the pain. I save it. I have not ALWAYS been good at that last one!! I am trying to keep the pain to myself and have a poker face…just never been good at that! 😉 Mostly–I pray. I pray with him and over him. I love him. I will do all I can to be the best mother I can be. May God bless you and keep you…

    Reply
  12. kristine
    May 29, 2012

    My little guy was 3 1/2 when he came home and he did not like to be held, rocked or cuddled. It was so difficult as I had imagined being able to do all of those things and he was so small, only 18 pounds when he came home, all I wanted to do was hold him. He's been home 15 months now and now we cuddle. What started the connection was singing a song where I put his name into it every night. He didn't speak english but he heard his name. Also acting very silly. I noticed fathers tend to act much sillier than moms. Both my boys love whoopie cushions and nothing is better to them than when I hide one on my chair and then sit down on it and pretend to be surprised. Also getting a fake mustache and wearing it while I'm making breakfast or a clown nose or funny hat. Making him laugh is what began our connection. Gradually he began to come to me for comfort. Best wishes as you all learn what works for you.

    Reply
  13. sara
    May 30, 2012

    My girl loved to be touched for first 2 years, home at 3 years old , but now at 6 she yells yak, everytime I kiss, hug or do the love song or talk with her. I am puzzled.

    Reply
  14. floradino
    May 30, 2012

    The advice that our social worker told me was this, children can only attach to one person at a time. Given what your son has gone through in the last few months, it may be too much for him to attach to multiple caregivers. He needs to first develop one secure bond, before he can branch out.
    Be available to him when he wants you, but don't stress too much about him not attaching to you right now, he may simply be unable to do it at this point.
    When we first came home with our daughter, she was WAY more attached to myself than my husband. At first we were concerned about it, but then we backed of, and around 6-8 months after coming home, she started warming up to him, allowing him to put her to bed, seeking him for comfort, etc. It was pretty clear, that she felt "OK" enough with her and my relationship, that she could move on to her dad.
    All this to say, it's not like my husband didn't make himself available, and give her lots of hugs, and play with her and all that. We just didn't expect anything from her in return, until she was able to give it.
    It's hard though!

    Flora

    Reply
  15. Karen
    May 31, 2012

    We do bear hugs and both of us squeeze each other tight and roar. I've asked my son if he wants a baby bear hug (soft and gentle) or a mama bear hug, but he prefers the daddy bear hug.

    Also, as has been said, rocking and holding is so important. If touch is really hard for him, try rolling him tightly in a blanket like a burrito* and holding him that way. *This is not a re-birthing technique. Make sure his head is sticking out as well as his arms, if he want his arms out. The blanket just acts as an additional barrier while still providing the tight pressure.

    We had 4 very young kids at the time, so in order to get the rocking/ cuddling in, we would get them out of bed after bedtime and hold them (1 each night). They would be bewildered and groggy, but the lights would be dim, the house would be quiet, and we could bond with them 1-1. They still talk about that.

    Reply
  16. Beth Tepmpleton
    June 5, 2012

    What a wonderful collection of advice and wisdom in these comments! I just want to add two things. The first is to place your trust and faith in God through this process. It can be easy when we read all the great ideas to place a burden on ourselves and on the parenting techniques to heal our child. These things are good, very good, and often God-given, but we have found that in the end wholeness and healing come from Father God. It may not sound practical to everyone, but I believe the very most practical thing you can do is to Believe! One thing we did was to go into our child's room and pray over them while they slept, when there was no resistance from them– just singing or speaking words of life over them with the authority God gave us as his parents.
    The second advice is not really about your child, but about your marriage. Be careful during this season to guard your relationship with your husband. Attaching to one and not the other puts a strain on a marriage. The best gift you can give your child is a vibrant and intimate love relationship in his parents. I know this is more of a long-term type response, but it is also very practical, as the issue of attachment will have layers that work itself out over years.
    May you know the powerful love of your Father God for YOU as you go through this process of love with your son.

    Reply
  17. Darla
    June 6, 2012

    Lots of good advice. Might I add – after foster for over 15 years and adopting 7- many of our children have a right to have trust issues. Respect this. Do everything you can in body language, eye contact to communicate RESPECT of his feelings, because through this you are validating where he has been, what he has been through and who he currently is. Live your life out with integrity in everything you do and his watchful, cautious eyes will notice. I understand the value of much of the advice given, but sometimes you can gain much ground by waiting patiently while earning the respect from a safe distance. Watch him start to come closer and respond with honor that he has deemed you worthy.

    Reply
  18. Lindsey
    June 22, 2012

    Thank you friends. I have been so very blessed by these responses, writing down many notes. Blessings to all!

    Reply

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