Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children

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Lesson 4: What can I do to help?
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Listen to and play with these children: 

One of the most enjoyable ways to help is just stop, sit, listen, and play with these children.  When you are quiet and interactive with them, you find that they will begin to show you and tell you about what is really inside them.  Yet, as simple as this sounds, it is one of the most difficult things for adults to do--to stop, quit worrying about the time, your next task, the “right words,” and really relax into the moment with a child.  Practice this.  You will be amazed at the results.  These children will sense that you are there just for them--they will feel how you care.


It is during these quiet moments that you can best reach and coach these children.  This is a great time to begin teaching children about their different "feelings."  Regardless of the activity, the following principles are important to include:


1. All feelings are okay to feel: sad, glad, or mad (more emotions for older children).

2. Teach the child healthy ways to act when sad, glad, or mad.

3. Begin to explore how other people may feel and how they show their feeling -- e.g.., “How do you think Bobby feels when you push him?”

4. When you sense that the child is clearly happy, sad, or mad, ask him how he is feeling-- let him tell you.


Help them begin to put words and labels to feelings; help them prepare alternate, healthy ways to respond to these feelings.



Have realistic expectations of these children: 

Abused and neglected children have so much to overcome.  And, for some, they will not overcome all of their problems.  For a Romanian orphan adopted at age five, after spending her early years without any emotional nurturing, the expectations should be limited.  She was robbed of some, but not all, of her potential.  We do not know how to predict potential in a vacuum, but we do know how to measure the emotional, behavioral, social and physical strengths and weaknesses of a child.  A comprehensive evaluation by skilled clinicians can be very helpful in beginning to define the skill areas of a child and the areas where progress will be slower.



Be patient with the child's progress and with yourself: 

Progress will be slow. The slow progress can be frustrating. Many adoptive parents will feel inadequate because all of the love, time, and effort they offer their child may not seem to be having any effect.  But it does.  Don't be hard on yourself.  Many loving, skilled, and competent parents have been swamped by the needs of a neglected and abused child that they have taken in.



Take care of yourself:  

Caring for maltreated children can be exhausting and demoralizing.  You cannot provide the consistent, predictable, enriching, and nurturing care these children need if you are depleted.  Make sure you get rest and support.  Respite care can be crucial.  Enlist help from friends, family and community resources.  You will not be able to help your child if you are exhausted, depressed, angry, overwhelmed, and resentful.



Take advantage of other resources:

Many communities have support groups for adoptive or foster families.  Professionals with experience in attachment problems or maltreated children can be very helpful.  You will need help.  Remember, the earlier and more aggressive the interventions, the better.  Children are most malleable early in life and as they get older change is more difficult.


Remember that what you are doing is enormously important.  You may not feel as though you have made a difference.  However, it is critical to remember that every positive experience a child has with a kind, attentive, respectful, adult--even when brief--can help refute what they have known in the past.



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