How to Create a Strong Attachment When Adopting an Older Child


When you choose older child adoption (adoption of a child older than 1), through the foster care system or through international adoption, you may dream of the love and affection you and your child will share. However, older children whohave experienced loss and trauma may struggle to form healthy attachments to their adoptive parents. At the same time, many adoptive parents find that feelings of love do not immediately arise upon the finalization of the adoption. Fortunately, most parents and children manage to forge a close, lifelong bond over time. Following are a few of the things you can do to help bring about these bonds for yourself and your own child.

Set realistic expectations.

In order to prepare yourself to handle any attachment challenges that may arise after adopting an older child, you need to set realistic expectations for the attachment process. For instance, many families assume that feelings of love and closeness will appear naturally once they finalize the adoption. The truth, however, is that, as with any relationship, closeness and feelings of love often develop over time.

In addition, older children do not always provide the responses that make bonding after infant adoption a more immediate process. For instance, while a baby may smile when you talk to them, and calm down when you hold them, older children may act out, say hurtful things, or test your boundaries in order to express their feelings and gauge your commitment to them. These behaviors may make it more difficult for you to experience the loving feelings you want to have for your child. However, accepting the fact that the attachment may take time and effort can help you to more successfully handle these negative behaviors and navigate the attachment process.

Spend quality time with your child.

Another step you can take to establish a close bond between you and your child is to spend quality time with them. This time together will reassure your child of your commitment to them, as well as help you and your child get to know each other. There are many forms this time together can take. For instance, if your child enjoys sports, participating in those sports with them can help to demonstrate interest in their hobbies. You can also read to your child, take walks, play with blocks, sing with them, have dance parties, and play games together. Regardless of what you do together, the time should be focused on your child and involve an activity that they enjoy.

One way for you to build quality time into your regular interactions with your child is to establish a weekly “date” during which you spend uninterrupted time with your child. For instance, you can go see a movie, or have a game night at the same time every week. In addition to the other quality time you spend with your child, this time will reassure them of your commitment and love, even if you have had a tough week or they have been acting out more than usual.

Demonstrate empathy and responsiveness.

Children who have experienced trauma and loss may have difficulty understanding and expressing their emotions. They may also have lacked a loving and responsive caregiver in the past. As a result, while empathy and emotional responsiveness are key for raising any child, they are especially critical for assisting the attachment process between you and your older child.

You can create empathy within yourself for your child, even in the face of negative behavior, by asking yourself how you would feel if you were in your child’s shoes. You should also remain alert and attentive to what your child may be communicating in order to gain a clearer understanding of how they are interpreting certain events or reacting to certain situations. Once you are able to be empathetic, you will be better able to demonstrate the patience and responsiveness needed to reassure them of your love.

Emotional responsiveness is the way in which you respond warmly to your child, even in trying circumstances. For instance, using loving words and actions to greet them when they wake up, to respond to them when they express a need, and to help them work through their own feelings all help your child to feel loved and reassured. In addition, emotional responsiveness in the form of speaking their emotions back to them and validating their feelings, can help them identify their feelings and begin to express those feelings appropriately.

 Do not be afraid to seek help.

Finally, you should not be afraid to seek help when seeking to form an attachment with your adopted child. Sometimes, a child’s attachment challenges can be overcome simply by quality time, patience, and responsiveness. However, in some cases, the trauma a child has experienced is severe enough and the challenges they face difficult enough that you will need outside help to successfully navigate the attachment process.

This help is often available through the child adoption services offered by your adoption organization. For instance, their post adoption services may be able to secure an adoption counselor who can help you and your child work through the issues that are hindering a strong attachment. By seeking out help when you need it, you are not being a bad parent, and you are not a failure. Instead, you are demonstrating your love for and commitment to your child by taking the steps necessary to make your relationship as strong as possible. With realistic expectations, patience, quality time, responsiveness, and outside help when needed, you can set yourself and your adopted child up for a lifetime of love and closeness.


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