Bonding with the Adopted Child

Carol and the Princess

Attachment is used to describe the long-term relationships between humans, particularly within families and between life-long friends. Bonding typically refers to the process of attachment that develops between parents and children. Bonding results through the child’s affection and trust of their parents. It is important that an infant develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally.

An adoptive child who experienced inconsistent care or multiple caregivers may initially be distrustful of his new parents. After all, the child’s new home is filled with faces, language, food, music, and smells that are all strange and different. A child who experienced consistent and loving foster care or who had one consistent caregiver at an orphanage – a child who is attached to his caregivers – may go through a period of grief and anger over the separation from the only life he has known. He may feel abandoned by those he loved and kidnapped by these new people – his parents.

When you receive your child:

1. Have a list of questions prepared for your child’s caregiver. You want to know not only when the child naps but what the caregivers do to help the child drift off to sleep. If possible, have someone else write down the answers.

2. Don’t worry about the toys – make eye contact, as tolerated by the child, and talk, sing or coo. Play with the child at his level – sit next to the child on the floor, or have the child sit on your lap while you sing, listen to music, read, and play.

3. The child may initially reject food. As long as the child drinks (is having wet diapers), just keep offering familiar foods.

4. For infants and young children, use a sling or backpack to keep your child close to you at all times.

5. Remember skin to skin: massage, bathe together, and rub his back, head, foot or fingers if full body massage is not accepted at first. For children that are walking, hold their hand.

6. If you have older children who will not be traveling to meet their sibling or if only one parent is traveling, bring along a soft lovey. Wash the lovey at home and then have the other children or non-traveling parent sleep with the lovey. Keep the lovey close to the new child; young children have a very keen sense of smell.

7. Bring a child-friendly photo album, one that your child can hold and manipulate. Include photos of yourselves, extended family, your home, the child’s bedroom, and household pets. For older children, also include photos of the car, bus, school, and church.

When you finally arrive back home:

1. Go easy; let the child set the pace.

2. Go to your child each time they awaken in the night. Co-sleep or put a mattress for yourself in the child’s room.

3. Make the child’s medical appointment. If possible, ask for immunizations and blood work to be delayed a week or so until the child feels more comfortable. Use programs in your area such as Early Intervention. Remember that many adopted children have some developmental delays.

4. Before you leave to receive your child, explain to family, friends and co-workers that initially you will be keeping visitors to a minimum and that only the parents will be attending to feeding, comfort, bathing, and sleep tasks. This child (no matter what age) is your “new baby” and needs to look to and expect you, the parent, to carry out these tasks.

5. Take your child with you wherever you go. Don’t leave him in the church nursery if he is not ready. Reschedule a dinner at a child-friendly place or entertain at home.

6. There is plenty for extended family to do to help you. Ask them to help out with meals and household chores (oh, that laundry!), shop, entertain and transport older children, and answer the phone.

7. When you must return to work, start the transition early. Gradually ease your child into daycare while you can stay with them and ask that one caregiver be primarily responsible for the child.

8. Keep your sense of humor!

At times, adopting (and parenting) is an emotional and exhausting task, so monitor your own physical and emotional health. If you are feeling prolonged blues or depression, please contact your health professional.

If, over time, you feel your child is having trouble with attachment and bonding, be proactive and seek professional help.

For more information:

The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis and David Cross

Labor of the Heart by Kathleen Whitten

The Post-Adoption Blues by Karen Foli and John Thompson

Photo credit: Laura


Carol has been an adoption worker for over 15 years and helped over 200 children find their forever families. She and her husband are the parents of three grown children and are expecting their sixth grandchild this summer.

About The Author: Laura

Walden Mommy: Life Behind the Red Front Door My NPN Posts

Laura is the mother to a herd of four small children, wife to her Engineer Husband, and owner of a pesky dog. She blogs about her life in the Midwest at Walden Mommy: Life Behind the Red Front Door.

One Response to Bonding with the Adopted Child

  1. Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip

    What a wonderful list! When my aunt and mom went to China to get my cousin, I sent a photobook with them to give her. It had pictures of all her family, her room, and her house. She loved it, and it became a touchstone in her daily life as she adjusted.