If you adopted your little one at birth, you've probably already solidified the bond between you and your baby. Adoption educator and support specialist Judy Miller recommends giving your family six months to initially adjust to one another and the new family dynamic.
Of course, if you participated in an international or other lengthy adoption, your bonding process may be far from over. If your adopted baby's between 6 and 8 months old, he's probably had time to attach to other caregivers—making bonding that much more difficult. Instead of seamlessly slipping into your daily routine, he resists. You can't blame him, though; his life has been virtually turned upside-down with a huge change in his routine, the people he knows and his home. Give him ample time to adjust, or you could both end up frustrated. By resisting the urge to rush the bonding process and following these tips, you'll set the stage for a close relationship with your babe.
- Get the facts. Familiarize yourself with your adopted child's past health issues in advance. Exposure to drugs and alcohol can make your baby more sensitive to certain types of food, stimulation, and care. For instance, if your baby was abandoned by his birth mother, he might be especially clingy to past caregivers. By asking plenty of questions about your baby's health and back story, you'll gain greater insight into his behavior. As an 8 to 10-month-old, he's developed memories and habits that can be hard to break, even in a completely loving environment.
- Make food a ritual. Your adopted baby might seem distrustful of you at first, especially if he's been institutionalized at any point during his life. One of the ways that you can break down emotional barriers is through food, according to Brooke Randolph, a licensed mental health counselor and adoption attachment expert. "As children get older, it is important that they observe you preparing and providing their nourishment because food is one of the most basic ways that we nurture each other."
- Use eye contact. It can be hard to form a bond with a baby who doesn't seem interested in being near you. If your little guy's resistant to physical contact, break down barriers using eye contact. He may shy away from your gaze, so grab a hand mirror. Look into the mirror together as a form of secondary eye contact, until he feels comfortable enough to look you straight in the eye. By then, you'll be thrilled to get a first-hand peek at those baby blues.
- Move slow. Your adopted child has been through some trauma in his short life—the last thing he needs is a forced connection. If he doesn't seem to be adapting right away, give it time. Instead of getting frustrated, show him that you're a constant in his life; sleep in his room, keep him with you as much as you can and avoid overwhelming family gatherings. As your babe realizes that you're there for him, he'll start to warm up with chubby-cheeked smiles and might even try playing with you.
- Keep culturally-based habits. A crib can be scary if your baby's used to catching z's on a mat on the floor. Transition to a more natural arrangement, but be sure to respect your little one's culture and not inundate him with changes. That way, he's more relaxed as you get to know each other and more apt to connect. Ask foster parents or your adoption agency about what to expect culturally, and press for information on his heritage. If your baby has roots in Seoul, educate yourself on Korean customs. By expressing interest in his roots, you'll prove to him that you care about his happiness and respect where he came from.
- Test your bond. Adoptive parents often want to know how they can tell when they've bonded with their baby and vice versa. Your emotions have a lot to do with the process: how do you feel when you're around your babe? Are you serene and happy or stressed and indifferent? Since your little guy can't tell you how he feels, a 2004 study by Dallas Baptist University explains how you can test attachment. Bring your child into a room where a stranger is present. The stranger can be a family member or neighbor—just someone you trust. You then leave the room. A well-attached child will cry or complain for you when you leave the room, while an indifferent baby will show little interest in your absence. It's a good way to test your progress in bonding together.
Lengthy adoptions are tricky because you're not just dealing with attachment, but a slew of other issues, such as cultural norms, institutionalized care and fostering. Adopting your child as an older baby throws a few complications to the mix, but it shouldn't make your experience any less rewarding. Instead, the careful coaxing of your baby can create a bond that is based on mutual trust and attachment. Bring on the snuggles!