rocking: a simple first step to bonding, and it doesn’t just apply to infants

Have you found that discipline and having consequences for negative behavior doesn’t work with your hurting child? As one mom phrased it, “They don’t care.” So, our first goal is to focus on creating a bond. As you work on making connections with your child, be sure to keep in mind that this is a process. Our children’s previous circumstances have played a major role in re-wiring their brains, and it will take time and consistency to help them see us as safe adults, who they can trust.

Before we can implement directional techniques with our children, we have to begin working on the bonding process. Reason being, if our children are not attached to anyone, they will not change their behavior. This is why, until a certain point in the bonding continuum, consequences and discipline mean nothing. Simply put, our children who have attachment issues don’t care.

I will be encouraging you to begin using different approaches to help change your child’s behavior before they have bonded, but understand that it won’t be a long lasting effect until they have attached to someone.

It is also extremely important to remember that bonding will take time, so will your child’s awareness that their negative behavior isn’t acceptable. Your child will take steps forward, and steps back. At first the steps forward will be much smaller than those going in reverse, but always look at those advances because those are what will keep you going.

Part of the reason our children are so difficult is because they are strong, and they’re extremely intelligent. I read another part in Chris Cleave’s book Little Bee that sums it up so simply. “You are not dumb, Yevette. All of us who have got this far, all of us who have survived – how can we be dumb? Dumb could not come this far.”

Our children don’t want to change, and how well does it work to manipulate someones behavior when they are against it? It’s a no go. Their brain has literally been wired to distrust, and to protect themselves at all costs. We will have to change the patterns in their brain so they can bond with us, then we can help them with their negative behaviors. Bruce Perry has done some research that has scientifically proven that when a child is neglected, or has been through trauma, connections are not made in their developing brain. The neurotransmitters are not connected. A neglected/traumatized child’s brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and accepted. This brain connectivity begins in-utero!

Rocking (rhythmic movement) has been proven to connect these neurotransmitters. Brain scans were taken of children prior to rocking and afterwards, and the results were visible. Physical healing takes place when a child is rocked.

When we implemented rocking with our daughter we were surprised by the results. Prior to rocking, Payton had major sleep issues, not all of them were solved by rocking, but many were. It was a tremendous first step. You can see a previous post about how rocking helped us here. Before we began rocking, Payton would yell at me without thinking. She had a temper and was unable to control herself. After only a couple days of rocking, she yelled at me, caught herself, and began talking to me nicely.   This was a tremendous turn around, one that I had never witnessed with her. We still had behavior issues to work through, but many were taken care of with rocking.

You might be thinking, “Rock your child and they’ll begin to bond? But what if my child isn’t an infant, I have a seven-year-old.” The answer to the first question is, yes! The answer to the second is found in an amazing story I heard about a nine-year-old by who was not attached to either of his adoptive parents. He had been in their home for more than four years, and he had a disdain for his adoptive mother, and could barely tolerate his adoptive father. A therapist recommend the dad begin rocking the boy daily for a minimum of fifteen minutes per day. He did this, and the boy allowed him to do so. After rocking for a while, the young child began to make eye contact with his mom, which had never happened before. He finally allowed his mom to rock him and he bonded with both of them.

Try rocking your child by holding them facing you, it is recommended that they be rocked a minimum of fifteen minutes per day. You want rocking to be a positive time together, remember the goal is attachment. If you have a child that throws tantrums and fights you on everything, you can try Paradoxical Parenting to get them to rock. If you can tell that your child is completely uncomfortable rocking, you can begin with Floortime and Parallel Play which I lay out in my post let’s bond already – creating attachment with an adopted child and move to rocking as your child feels more comfortable with you.

rocking chairsYou can also begin by rocking your child for two minutes, then add a minute every day. If you have an older child that understands rewards, you can tell them they will get a small reward for rocking. I wouldn’t recommend candy, as I try to stay away from connecting food to behavior, whether removing it because of negative behavior, or rewarding with it because of positive behavior. I say small reward because you will have to continue it every time you rock for a while. Maybe they can play an educational iPad game when they’re done, or they can pick out a stuffed animal to sleep with. Also remember that for some of our children even rewards don’t matter. I can’t tell you how many “special” things our daughter has lost over the years. Until our daughter made a connection with us, rewards and consequences didn’t have the outcome we were looking for.

The study done on bonding wasn’t specific to rocking, but to rhythmic movement. Although, it is my opinion and the opinion of others that rocking makes a quicker connection between a parent and child – you are holding them close, you have bodily contact, you can make eye contact if your child will let you, and you are doing it together. There are other ways to get rhythmic movement into your child’s daily routine. You can use a trampoline, they even have smaller indoor ones (both of our kids LOVE the trampoline), swinging (you can even use a boy swinginghammock and rock together), or swimming. Friends of ours adopted their daughter from foster care when she was twelve-months-old and once they started her with horseback riding lessons, she never stopped.  Her family believes this is the rhythmic movement she craves and has helped her deal with issues that arise in her life.

I hope you can try rocking, and until your child is able to rock with you, or is far too large to rock, try rhythmic movement of any kind (can be combined with rocking). Let me know how it works, I would love to hear about it!

*Note: I shared the link about our children’s hurting brains looking different. This does not mean our children aren’t intelligent. It can actually mean that our children do possess a great intelligence, you can read more about it in, The Intelligence Behind a Hurting Child.

Following are some more posts related to attachment:
attachment in adoption: the first things we need to know

let’s bond alreay: creating attachment with an adopted child

play = bonding time

10 thoughts on “rocking: a simple first step to bonding, and it doesn’t just apply to infants

  1. While reading this, i just remembered our talk with our biological twins the other day. They have a foster sibling, a 3 year old brother and it is still taking time to build that bonding. They were not happy cause the little one yet rejects them to swing him in the park. He only allows me and the dad. And that took some time cause he was afraid to get on the swing for a while… I was explaining my children that the little one still needs that time to build a full bond with them.
    What do you suggest, will my rocking also help him to build the bond with his siblings as well?

    1. Wow, great question! Yes it will. 😊 The great thing about it is that the rocking AND swinging heals the hurting child’s brain and enables them to build other relationships (including siblings).
      I would encourage your biological children to do things with your little guy that don’t include touch or something he was afraid of. Start with sitting close to him, but not touching, then moving to sitting across from him. I have information on this in my posts on attachment.
      I hope all continues to go well. You’re doing an excellent job!!

  2. Hi. Just stumbled on your site today. My daughter has adopted 3 boys 2,3 and 4. I help her as much as I can. My question is while I love this approach it seems there is never enough time to rock, hold or play with all of them. And all three desperately need it. If and while taking time with one the other two go berserk. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks

    1. Hi Laurie,
      I’m so glad you found Lovin’ Adoptin’. Is there any activity the other two boys can engage in while your daughter rocks one? First I’m thinking something calming like reading, or even playing quietly. Maybe she can give them a project, for example, have them build a zoo with legos.
      If something calming won’t work, will a movie work? Like a Baby Einstein music video?
      If they won’t do something calming or sit to watch a video, can she have them dance? Get some energy out? Or maybe as a reward they get to dance after they’re quiet and have rocked.
      What about rocking two at once? It’s ideal to rock one at a time, but sometimes it doesn’t work. I would also incorporate at much rhythmic movement into their day as possible, it sounds like they’re busy little guys and may have sensory needs and this will help. Swinging, jumping, running, riding bikes, etc. may help.
      If she’s married, can her spouse help out? You may want to suggest he read this post to see the great benefit it will have on the boys.
      I really hope this helps answer some questions. If you have more, please feel free to ask.

  3. Hi Tracy,
    Do you mean rocking in a rocking chair, or just rocking back and forth-side-to-side in any way possible while holding your child? (eg. on the floor crosslegged, or on a regular chair or couch)…
    is it the rhythm of your own body or the motion of the chair?
    I am about to adopt two children and would like to incorporate this into our daily routine 🙂
    Thank you
    Ali Jayne

    1. Hi Ali, So glad you’re here! So, it’s the rocking, rhythmic movement, but it needs to be paired with human touch as much as possible. Yeah, so a rocking motion anywhere would benefit. Also adding in rhythmic movement throughout the day will help: trampoline, riding a bike, hula hoop, jumping rope etc. Hope that helps.

      1. Thanks Tracy,
        I will add all of these ideas into my toolbox.
        The adoption of the two girls I mentioned above has fallen through, but I am still hopeful that another match will be made soon.
        Ali 🙂

  4. Our little guy LOVES the swing and it’s one of the only times he will look into our eyes for any length of time…I now see this “need” in a whole new light! I’m going to try rocking him tomorrow night. 🙂

    1. I literally have tears of joy knowing that this information has helped your family! So excited for you and your family. If you have other questions, please feel free to ask, and I can try to help. Your sons situation sounds VERY similar to our daughters.

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