Strategies for Building Attachment with Your Newly Adopted Child

Strategies for Building Attachment with Your Newly Adopted Child


• Learn what you can about the sort of experiences your child might have had pre-adoption, what this might mean for their emotional development, and what sort of caring strategies might be helpful.

• Educate family and friends about how you might need to care for your child post-adoption and how and why this early attachment work is important.

• Talk with family and friends about how they can support you post-placement.

• Plan your move from the self-focused mental attitude of the adoption process, to the child- focused attitude that you’ll need post-placement in caring for your child.


• Acknowledge the loss and hurt in your child’s past, and that the placement in your family was a stressful (or even traumatic) event for them.

• Evaluate that how you were parented will impact your parenting; be prepared to change your beliefs and parenting style if necessary.

• Accept that your child has special needs as a result of their past and that these special needs may be anything from minor and shortterm, to major and long term.

• Admit that while it is quite normal to be rejected by your child initially, it is also very difficult!

• Affirm that as the parent you are the expert on your child.

• Believe that ‘gut feelings’ you have about your child are significant, and should be treated seriously.

• Be aware that others may not understand what you must do to meet your adopted child’s needs; you may have to act contrary to the advice of family, friends or health / child care professionals whose opinion you value.

• Realize that your child’s emotional age may be much younger than their chronological age, and that it is appropriate to provide nurture that is in line with their emotional needs.

• Value the hard work that may be involved in meeting your child’s needs early on in the rela- tionship, because it will bear fruit in the long- term.


• Because new experiences are hard to cope with during stressful times, minimize the stimulation your child receives in the early days post- placement.

• Keep your child close by frequently carrying them (children up to five or six years of age can be carried with the assistance of a sling).

• Control the contact your new child has with others until your child understands the specialness of family; this is especially important if your child is actively seeking to engage others.

• Provide physical closeness during the night via co-sleeping, or other sleep arrangements that keep you within arm’s reach and line of sight of your child at night.

• Avoid using devices that place physical distance between yourself and your child, including hard baby carriers, baby seats, high chairs, and strollers.

• Breastfed, or otherwise provide the experience of nurture through food via bottle feeding.

• Provide lots of touch and skin-to-skin contact via massage, swimming together, or co-bathing.

• Respect that your child may initially not want to be close to you, or receive nurture from you, and that it may take some gentle persistence and patience before they are able to tolerate the intimacy involved in nurturing.

• Be responsive in your caregiving; in making decisions about caregiving choose options that encourage closeness rather than distance between your child and yourself.

• Do not ignore your child’s cries to avoid ‘spoiling’ them or to teach them ‘good sleep hygiene’; this will be detrimental to their developing trust of you.


• Don’t be too proud to ask for help if you need it, or too polite to reject offers of help that interfere with parent-child attachment.

• Seek contact via online or face-to-face sup- port groups, with others whose children have similar histories and experiences.

• Prioritize, so your time and resources are spent on what is important.

• Don’t expect life to be 'back to normal’ soon after placement.


Forming the bonds of attachment are important to children new to your family. It doesn’t happen overnight and will take some conscious parenting on your part. Some resources and websites to help you get started or online versions to share with family and friends:

Why Grandma Can’t Pick up the Baby (just yet)

A Different Perspective Imagine for a moment.....

Ten Tips for Successful First Year Parenting by Deborah Gray, MSW, MPA

A 4 Ever Family attachment resources ( (attachment information/e-list not just for children from China)

Attachment & Trauma Network (ATN) (

Association for Treatment and Training in the Attachment of Children (

Books to help

Adoption-Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections edited by Sheena Macrae and Jean MacLeod (2006)

Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents by Deborah Gray (2002)

Attachment-Focused Parenting: Effective Strategies to Care for Children
by Daniel A. Hughes, Ph.D. (2009)

Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love by Robert Karen, PhD (1998)

Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience After Neglect and Trauma
by Deborah D. Gray (2007)

Toddler Adoption: The Weaver's Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best (1998)

Article authored by Karleen Gribble, BRurSc, PhD, Adjunct Research Fellow in the School of Nursing, Family and Community Health at the University of Western Sydney, NSW, Australia and adoptive mom. ©2006, EMK Press. Reprinted from the book Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections

Online Learning

Adoption Learning Partners   Online parenting courses for adoptive families on a number of helpful subjects.

National Council for Adoption provides online education programs for adopting parents, adoption professionals, adoption agencies and social workers. They offer interactive seminars with adoption experts and professionals, certification programs and online interactive learning systems.

BGCenter Online School offers courses, CDs, publications, presentations, workshops and group consultations that help to raise awareness and prepare parents and professionals for addressing language, developmental and educational needs of internationally adopted older children. 

Adopting an Older Boy

Older Child Adoption, Family Adoption Stories, Boys