The illustration my friend used is that of a mobile. Delicately balanced, stable and moving in kind of a free flowing way, the mobile balances itself. With change, it’s like someone has wapped at one side of the mobile causing it to kareen wildly out of control. But with each motion and the pass- ing of time, it becomes settled and balanced again. We just need to be patient.
Adding the first child to our family caused us to reevaluate work obligations and family structure. We needed to learn to become the parents our first child needed us to be. We had to learn how to balance well-meaning relatives and friends as we learned to make the child who came to us comfortable in her new world. It was work! It wasn’t her job to learn to fit with us, but ours to reach to where her comfort zones were.
When we added a second child to the mix, it was about not only the new child, but the change in dynamics with the first child and where they still fit in the family. Talking about a new sibling is easy but the reality of a child who can crawl and grab is a totally different animal. We were very lucky that our youngest was the most flexible child at placement which allowed us to work on our madly moving mobile a step at a time.
So, how do you jump-start fit?
The fit (or attunement) that children and parents have with one another starts early. It’s the eye contact, response to verbal and non-verbal cues, facial expressions and touch. It’s the give and take, a dance between the parent and child who are getting to know one another and building trust in one another. The dance takes time to learn and it helps the child to feel safe that their parent will respond to and meet their needs. If a child feels unsafe or fearful and has a tantrum, they learn that this person will help them become calm and regulated and will keep them safe.
When this dance has been interrupted or not ever even started (which happens in institutional situations or with many changes in placements) a parent needs to work to foster this connection. Lots of “floor time” which is getting down on your child’s level, regressing to activities you would do with a younger child or baby (think Peek-a-Boo, feeding each other, things that require lap sitting and lots of cuddles.) Reading stories together that show connection and a parent’s unconditional love for a child is another way to connect. Some favorite claiming books in our library are in the sidebar. My favorite times with my children have been when they pull a book off the shelf, climb onto my lap and ask for a story.
Carrie Kitze is the author of two children’s books: I Don’t Have Your Eyes and We See the Moon. She is also the publisher at EMK Press and an advocate for adoptive families of all makes and models.
This article was reprinted with permission from EMK Press.