rocking: a simple first step to bonding, and it doesn’t just apply to infants (review – adoption/foster care)

Rocking_ a simple first step to bonding
(This post originally appeared on Lovin’ Adoptin’ in May 2013. I feel with all the new visitors I’d share again, plus a little reminder never hurt any of us, right?)

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.

It’s 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. In Chris Cleave’s book, Little Bee, he 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, Tips on Bonding with an Adopted or Foster 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 aboy 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 and foster children: the first things we need to know

tips on bonding with an adopted or foster child

– play = bonding time

You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, you can do this on the web version. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links.

what’s next? a look at life after bonding takes place

What's next? a look at life after bonding takes placeAs a parent of adopted kids I found myself wondering far too much, why? Why did my kids have to endure so much so early in life? Why do they have to overcome so much? I’ve realized these aren’t the questions that will bring about healing and restoration. The question I began asking is, what will my family and I do with the journey that we’re traveling together? What lessons and strengths will we develop together? Throughout this post we will look at the effects of trauma and what we can do about it.

Last fall I wrote a post called, Detecting Attachment Issues, in it I gave examples of what children with attachment issues do and how they act. An adoptive mom I’ve worked with commented on that post, saying she was discouraged, she thought her little guy was doing so much better, but she saw many things on the list that she didn’t realize were attachment issues. I could hear the dejection through her words that were typed, not spoken.

(It might be a good idea for you to read that post I linked to in the above paragraph, as it will help you understand what I’m referring to here.)

Here is my response to the adoptive mom who felt her child was doing so much better:

So sorry this left you discouraged, so not my intentions. First, I want to say that the list is a reference, and you are the deciding factor of whether or not your son is doing well. No list, therapist, or book can tell you anything other than what you see in your child.

Some of these behaviors exist in children [with typical upbringings], whether they have attachment issues or not. Also, remember that your child has ingrained attributes that stem from his biological parents, their personality types, their behaviors. Say, if a child’s biological parent is a law-breaker extraordinaire, a mom or dad may see signs of their child trying to wiggle her way around rules and lying.

Most importantly, our child’s early lives formed their brains to some extent. Some of that can be changed, and I feel you’re seeing that, but they will have some defined attributes that continue with them. For example, although my daughter has bonded very well at this point, she’s still hyper-vigilant and tries to control some situations (more so around her friends), and wants to be in charge.

We take those characteristics and give her opportunities for taking responsibility. We don’t want to crush the abilities that will serve our children well in the future, they can be intelligent leaders, teachers, and do great things with what they learned at the beginning of their lives, but we direct them in positive ways.

I hope this helps some and doesn’t leave you feeling so dispirited. If you think your son is doing well, then he is! 🙂

Adding to the list of negatives that can be looked at differently or turned to positives are a child’s need to manipulate. How can this later develop into an acceptable characteristic? Problem-solving skills. A child who wants to manipulate will do whatever they can to solve or change a situation they don’t like, hence you will later have a problem-solver.

A section of the book, Unbroken, stood out to me as relating to our traumatized children. Unbroken is about the true story of Louie Zamperini. When he was young he caused calamity wherever he went, he had a strong will, strong body, and strong mind. Without giving away too much of the book, he faced hell when he was just out of college, what befell him seems like the horrors that only exist in fiction. One intense struggle after another chased Louie, and the author says,

“The same attributes that had made him the boy terror of Torrance were keeping him alive in the greatest struggle of his life.”

If Louie had been a different person, he likely wouldn’t have made it through a sixteenth of his journey. He would’ve died, that’s how bad it was. He survived because of who he was before catastrophe struck. He was an optimistic, intelligent fighter, and this carried him through years of trials.

This is also so true of our children.

What they faced in their early years will transform them, hopefully making them stronger for what they’ll face in the future. If we can help them shape their tendencies to the positive side, there’s abounding hope for them.
love with our help

I’m not saying parents should celebrate all the negative behaviors in their kids. I’m encouraging you not to get discouraged when you think your child is healing, but then see a negative attitude or behavior spring forward. Sometimes it’s a kid thing, some behaviors are age appropriate like lying, it could be that your child is strong-willed (really good chance), it could be something biological, and it could be how your child’s brain was wired for self-preservation while being neglected or abused. There are so many factors.

Like I told the woman who felt so distraught over my list for detecting attachment issues, if YOU feel YOUR child is doing GOOD, then no worries, you keep plugging along. Your positive attitude is going to take you farther than a negative one that gets overwhelmed at how long you’ve been working on healing. Therapeutic parenting is tiring, and you want there to be a point at which you can sit back and relax. You can, it just might look different than how your neighbor does it.

In the end, it’s going to be okay, because you’re changing a life.

Do you feel your child has bonded? Are their residual behaviors that pop up and make you wonder what’s going on? Can you see how any of them can serve your child well in life?


You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on the web version. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links.

attachment in adoption – the first things we need to know

attachment in adoption- the first things we need to know
In Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee, he writes Little Bee’s thoughts, “Take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means I survived.” This makes me think of our adopted children who struggle with attachment issues because they have scars.

A scar also means they’ve been through a traumatic experience. Our child may not have wounds that mark their skin, but they have scars, usually many, that are revealed in various ways. One of the ways our children deal with their hurt, or scar, is by not attaching to us.

Trust has been catastrophically broken and they are extremely afraid to rely on anyone.

To help our children with attachment issues, we need to first understand the basics of what it is, and why our children are not forming a bond with us.

The website childtrauma.org says, “The attachment bond has several key elements: 1) an attachment bond is an enduring emotional relationship with a specific person; 2) the relationship brings safety, comfort, soothing, and pleasure; 3) loss or threat of loss of the person evokes intense distress.”

I believe that attachment issues are on a spectrum. Here’s a graph that explains:
attachment issues spectrum

No two people are alike, and the same goes for adopted children. Some may not exhibit any signs of an attachment disorder, yet it’s very important to be aware of your child and look for signs that they are struggling in an area. Behaviors that you think are positive; Johan eats everything on his plate at every meal, or Lily is a leader, in charge and always trying to help everyone around her, may be indicative of a much larger problem.

Now to address Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The ever helpful Wikipedia says, “RAD is one of the least researched and most poorly understood disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).” I agree. When we hear the word RAD, a bit, or a whole boat load of fear settles in our heart. Often the stories we’ve heard about RAD are the scariest. We hear about children with RAD setting fires in their home, chasing their parents with a knife, or hurting their siblings. These scenarios are extremely rare, yet so many children are being diagnosed with RAD. (Note that my daughter was diagnosed with RAD.)

The Mayo Clinic lists the following scenarios as increasing the chances of a child developing Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD):

  • Living in an orphanage
  • Inexperienced parents
  • Extreme poverty
  • Postpartum depression in the baby’s mother
  • Parents who have a mental illness, anger management problems, or drug or alcohol abuse
  • Forced removal from a neglectful or abusive home
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Prolonged hospitalization
  • Extreme neglect
  • Frequent changes in foster care or caregivers
  • Institutional care

www.attachmentdisorder.com adds a few more to this already lengthy list of causes:

  • Traumatic experience
  • Maternal depression
  • Undiagnosed, painful illness such as colic, ear infections, etc.
  • Lack of attunement between mother and child

Attachment issues are difficult, both for the one suffering, and for the parent who is pouring their life into their child. But, let’s remember how Chris Cleave so eloquently phrased it,

they have scars because they survived.

So, let’s treat our children as survivors, remembering their suffering, but gently guiding them to wholeness and out of pain. Let’s help them heal their scars and bond.

Here are some links to simple strategies that will help get your family on the track to healthy attachment.

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

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

play = bonding time

You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on the web version. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.