What Are the Best Ways to Bond in a New Adoptive Family?

Ways to bond in an adoptive family can help in the transitions of the lives of hopeful adoptive parents. Before we brought home our daughter, I remember doing hours and hours of online training about how to bond with her once we brought her home. It all felt very overwhelming. I had a huge fear of what would happen if she didn’t bond with us. Was bonding something that would just come naturally or would it be something that we had to consciously do every single day? I remember bringing these fears up to my counselor, and she said, “Remember that biological parents have nine months before their child is born to bond with the baby in the womb, and even then, most fathers don’t truly bond until the baby is born. It will take a little time to bond but your child will bond with you and love you. As with any child, adoptive or not, bonding is a continual thing in life. There will always be opportunities to strengthen your bonds as your child grows. It’s not something you just do once and you’re set for life.”

Hearing that made it click. There are many opportunities to bond and build trust between my adoptive child and my family. I continued my research on this topic, though, to get an idea of how and what type of ways would strengthen our bond and create ways to grow together. Below is a list of things you can put into your routine to bond as a new adoptive family.

Minimize Visitors Once You Bring Your Child Home.
This is going to be so hard. I know. We were so excited for our community and the people who loved us during our wait, to come and meet her. But when you’re creating that initial bond, it is very important for you to establish who the caretakers are. In the first few months, make sure you aren’t letting other people hold for long periods, feed, and change your child. As a newborn, this is how babies identify who the caretakers are, and a key factor in how the child bonds with you.

Now, hear me out, because I don’t want some angry grandma or auntie coming at me—let your family come and see the baby. Let family members hold your baby and kiss on those little toes. Just limit how often friends and family come over and how long someone may hold your child.

Limit Feedings and Diaper Changes to You the Parents.
When you bring a newborn home, time shifts, and just runs together. You’re up all night, and you forget things like when the last time you ate or showered if you brushed your teeth that day, and what food really tastes like. It’s so easy to rely on family to come over and help with the baby. But when you are creating that initial bond with your child, your focus should be kept on that. Diaper changes and feeding your child are prime and constant opportunities to have the eye to eye contact, physical touch, and take care of the basic needs of your baby.

You may be wondering why eye contact is so important. Well, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, eye contact between a baby and adult causes both parties’ brain waves to fall into sync. Researchers also believe this mental sync may be the first step towards improved communication between parent and child in adulthood.

So, while your family and friends may want to come over and help take care of your new child so you can rest and shower and eat, thank these people and suggest that maybe he or she could instead help with house cleaning, bring or make a hot meal for you, walk the dog, and or throw some laundry in for you.

Get Skin to Skin.
In this article by Sanford Health, it lists benefits of skin to skin like this statement, which says, “Cortisol, or stress hormones, is measurably lower after only 20 minutes of skin-to-skin contact. When cortisol and somatostatin are reduced, gastrointestinal problems lessen because it allows for better absorption and digestion of nutrients. When these hormones are reduced, your baby’s body can better preserve healthy fat that helps to maintain birth weight and keep body temperature warm…Brain development begins with positive sensory stimulation at birth. Sensations that tell the baby’s brain that the outside world is safe to include mother’s smell, movements, and skin-to-skin contact. If the brain does not receive those assurances, brain development does not progress as efficiently. Brain maturation effects are long-term. A study of premature infants showed they had better brain functioning as teenagers compared to adolescents who had been placed in incubators. Researchers attributed it to stabilizing heart rate, oxygenation, and improving sleep, which supports the brain to better develop. Another study showed that children who grew up lacking attachment to their parents did more poorly in school and were more likely to be depressed than children who had secure parental attachments. Skin-to-skin contact is one of the earliest steps in forming attachment to parents.”

It’s amazing that those are just a few benefits of skin to skin. Research also goes to show that skin to skin is most beneficial during the first six months of an infant’s life, and is best at feedings or after a bath.

If you’re like me and you can’t imagine spending a great amount of time skin to skin, remember that babywearing is a wonderful way to achieve skin to skin. You can do it while you are cleaning, folding laundry, cooking, and even out in public. Dads, don’t forget that you can babywear also. It’s just as important for dads to have skin to skin with the new baby. There are tons of neutral and masculine baby carriers out there.

As mentioned in the research article, nap time is a great opportunity to get skin to skin. You don’t have to go topless either if you’re worried about that. A low cut shirt works well. You can get that baby’s chubby little cheek right there on your chest and let your breathing and heart rhythms sync up and enjoy that new baby smell.

Create Rituals.
When bonding with your child, create rituals and traditions. You will also find that it will help your child fall asleep much faster when you have a predictable nighttime ritual. Do you eat dinner together as a family? Do you eat at the kitchen island or dinner table? After dinner, do you start getting ready for bed, or do you wind down with family time? For some, bath time is every night, and for others, it’s less frequently. Whatever works for your family is wonderful and it is a great place for play to come into your night. Bonds are formed through smiles and laughter. So, don’t be afraid to get silly and have fun during bath time. This is also a great place, once your child is old enough to speak, for conversation.

Whether it’s bath night or not, adding a lotion massage is a great ritual. It involves so many great ways to connect. During the lotion massage, you are including so many of the senses—physical touch, eye contact, smell, and talk. Use this to your advantage. Hold the eye contact, sing a song, and rub that sweet baby down.

Once your baby is clean and dressed in those cute jammies, add a storybook into your nighttime ritual. Storytime is a wonderful way to build that bond. One of the best pieces of advice we were given right before we brought our daughter home was to tell her every night about her adoption story. People told us that if we told her every night how she came to be an intricate part of our family when she was old enough to start asking questions, we would already know how to tell her.

If this isn’t for you, that’s okay. Here is a great list of wonderful adoption books for storytime and can open up the conversation when you’re ready to talk about your child’s adoption story.

Game On, Play On.
You may think that engaging in play is just beneficial for your child, that it just helps him or her develop new skills. And while that is true, there are so many more benefits to engaging in playtime with your child. This article by Psychology Today explains it so well, “it is important for both parents to play with the child for the child’s sake, both parents receive benefits from doing so. The hormone oxytocin plays a major role in parent-infant bonding and other social and emotional behaviors. Oxytocin levels increase when mothers engage in affectionate play with their infant and when fathers engage in stimulatory play with their infants. Here are some even greater news: when parents play with children, oxytocin is released in them also. Think of it as a relaxing massage for your mind that you don’t have to pay extra for!”

Some may think that play is just a way to tire your child out or build imagination, but it’s important for both the bonding and developing a process that both parents engage in playtime with your adopted child. Why might you ask? “Fathers tend to participate more in physical play with the child, while mothers and children participate in a more instructive and verbal play. Both forms are important for the child’s development. Parents wouldn’t want their children to be good only at sports, without the ability to express themselves well. Nor do parents want children to be good at talking about things and not have the ability to really ‘get their hands dirty’ with activities. And of course, as their child continues to grow and mature, it is important that both parents make age-appropriate adjustments in their playing.”

For older adoptive children, family game night is a great way to build bonds. Split up into teams and bond with your child over winning or losing. There is comradery, which strengthens the bond between child and parent. Playing games also opens the door for a vast amount of different conversations. Remember, everyone likes to have fun.

Laughter Is the Best Medicine.
I’m sure you’ve heard of endorphins and how those chemicals make you feel good. And endorphins are typically just associated with exercise. But did you know that the physical act of laughing releases endorphins too? Psych Alive explains it best this way, “laughter not only plays an important role in social and non-verbal communication, but it also provides evolutionary qualities that encourage group bonding and protect us from physical and psychological pain.”

Babies recognize smiling and laughing, although the baby may not fully understand why he or she is laughing, the baby can recognize when the parents are happy. Babies also will respond to physical touch to make him or her laugh, so things like blowing raspberries on the tummy or tickling will trigger that new ability to laugh, which will, in turn, release endorphins and will associate that happy feeling with you.

Toddlers love to laugh and seem to enjoy the basic surprise silly humor. Things like peek-a-boo work best with that age group. Toddlers also will start to want to make parents laugh. Young children are wanting to strengthen that bond as well with humor.

As your child grows, you will know what triggers laughs and what the child finds funny. Use this to your advantage. When in doubt, a fart joke never misses.

Cook Up Some Memories.
Whether you adopted your child as an infant or you adopted an older child, food always brings people together. Bonding over your child’s culture and heritage are important, especially if the child is of another race. Using the time to dive deep into what his or her culture is, what types of spices and food are distinctive to that culture, helps your child’s identity, and gives you another occasion to bond over something unique to your child.

Cooking with your child has so many other benefits such as enhancing motor skills, math skills, working on chemistry, and using senses. But even more, it opens the door for conversation and input. When you give your child the possibility to make decisions on his or her own, you are showing your child he or she has input and choice in life, which, in turn, fortifies that bond of trust, love, and respect.

As we’ve mentioned before, bonding is continual. It’s something you will have to work on, and will naturally happen as time goes on. If you feel like you are having trouble bonding with your child though, please reach out to a professional. If you feel like your child is having trouble bonding with you and your family, please reach out to a doctor or a licensed therapist.

Leave us a comment below with your favorite ways to bond as a parent or family. Do you love family walks, dinnertime, storytime, or something else? We at Adoption.org would love to hear it.

Khrystian Hembree is a proud military wife, a momma to an adventure-seeking and spunky little girl, and a freelance copywriter. She enjoys hosting playgroup, reading books, leading worship at her church, and anything that includes donuts and coffee.

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