Common Questions and Concerns: Transition and Attachment
In our ongoing series, Common Questions & Concerns, we address the challenges that parents often face as they help their children transition to their “new world,” learn to trust and develop secure attachment:
Question: We returned home with our child (adopted internationally) about 3 weeks ago. We are finding the adjustment much more difficult than we expected. For example, she is nearly 10 months old and is still not sleeping through the night. In addition, she cries what seems like all the time and is very irritable and unhappy in general. Frankly, it is making it very difficult for us to feel bonded with her and we are growing frustrated and tired. What are we doing wrong and what should we consider in order to get things back to normal?
Empowered to Connect Team Responds: The question about your daughter is very familiar. We understand your frustration and can only imagine how tired – physically and emotionally – you must be, not only from that past three weeks, but the recent international travel and even from the adoption process you were involved in for what is likely many months.
In dealing with this, however, it is helpful for parents to think in terms of the grief process that occurs for children when they leave all that is familiar and all that they know to come home to families in the US. That is most certainly what your daughter has recently experienced. Thinking in terms of her experience, there have been drastic changes in everything that was comforting and familiar to her – language, voices, faces, foods, smells, sounds – virtually everything! In addition we know from research that moving a child between 8 and 12 months of age, the period of time when their first attachment is forming, is one of the most critical periods of time in all of child development. As a result, she will need lots of nurturing, loving care in order to bridge the shocking change that happened “overnight” for her (although you and your wife have been planning it for a long time).
In order to help her make this transition during this critical time, we encourage families to stay at home for a minimum of 30 to 40 days with a new child, but prefer three months when possible. During this time, your daughter’s needs should be the primary focus. In meeting those needs consistently and lovingly, you are helping her settle in for a lifetime and giving her a foundation and a practical understanding of what it means to be part of loving, forever family!
So our encouragement to you is to hold her when she cries, take time with her in the night … because these next three months offer the best opportunity for teaching her trust and for helping her develop a secure and healthy attachment with you as parents. Developmentally, this is when she will learn trust (“my parents will meet my needs”), self-worth (“my needs are met – I must be precious!”) and self-efficacy (“my cries matter – someone comes when I cry!”). These months are without a doubt the most important days you will ever spend with her.
With that in mind, we hope that you are encouraged that the “return” on your investment is not all that far away – and you and your daughter will certainly be the better for you having made it.