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Creating Healthy Attachment in Adopted Toddlers

Adopting a toddler is a profoundly rewarding experience. But it’s also one that can be gravely misunderstood. Even though toddlers may still seem as though they are too young to have been affected by the world around them, the truth is that by the time they’re toddlers they’ve already developed some of the personality and mental health issues that could hurt their development. This issue is exacerbated by the language barrier, as language alone may not be enough to help form attachments.

You may or may not know what their attachment styles were like in the past, but if they suffered from any type of neglect or hardships, there is a high likelihood that building attachment can be difficult. Consider the following strategies to boost healthy attachment.

Be Incredibly Responsive
You’ll have time to develop independence later. In the beginning, you need to make sure the child knows that their needs will be met. When they’re hungry they get food. When they’re scared, they get protection. When they need attention, they get attention. These activities show the child that they can depend on you, and that you’re there to help provide for them.

Develop Healthy Routines
Routines have been given a bad reputation of late, because spontaneity is considered the key to excitement. But routines also represent comfort – a level of comfort that these children need to adapt. They should wake up at a set time, go to bed at a set time, get dinner at a set time, and have regular activities with their new family.

Focus on Your Own Mental Health
Another crucial part of developing healthy attachment is to make sure that you are as emotionally healthy as possible. Your own fears and anxiety that may push you away from your situation a bit can reflect back on your child. Many experts recommend play therapy and other interactive therapies for children that have attachment issues, but ensuring your own personal mental health is intact, you’ll also improve the emotional outlook of your child.

Consider Motherly Touching
A child’s previous upbringing can cause parents to be a bit careful about touching their new child. But at the toddler stage is development, touch is one of the ways that children develop better attachment. Make sure that you’re not giving your toddler too much space, and touch them as you would any child to create that connection. However, be careful, go slow, and be understanding. Touch is important, but depending on the upbringing of the child and their past history with touch, it is possible that how you touch can push the child further away. Touch is very important, but be careful and watch how the child responds.

Find Enjoyable Punishments
The goal is to create a bond with your toddler without the use of language. Punishments, in general, are going to be less effective with this group of adopted children. Not only will the child be less likely to understand the purpose of the punishment (since it may not be adequately communicated through the language barrier), but the punishment itself can increase feelings of abandonment that hurt the bonding process. Of course, you need to make sure that the toddler doesn’t learn bad behaviors. So you may need to develop a system where the child is first removed from the negative behavior, but then placed in a situation that is more fun and enjoyable. For example, if a child was playing with a knife, you would calmly and happily take the knife away, replace it with a toy instead, and play with the toy with your child.

Developing a Strong Connection with Your Adopted Toddler
When you adopt a toddler, some attachment issues should be expected, and it is going to be an uphill process. It can take as long as a few years to develop a healthy amount of attachment, especially if the child was previously living in an institution. But with the right mindset, patience, and the ability to overcome your own anxiety causes, you will be able to effectively bond with your child and improve their ability to adapt to their new environment.

~Guest blogger Ryan Rivera strongly supports adoption and toddler care.
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