I’m thrilled you’ve returned for my blog series Key Connections for Adoptive and Foster Parents. This week we will focus on the importance of connecting with our children.
Because of Covid-19, we’re home with our kids more than ever. But being in the same room with our child does not guarantee a secure connection. We must be intentional about plugging in. This is especially so for adoptive and foster parents.
In her book The Connected Child, Dr. Purvis said, “Adopted and foster children need lots of individualized, focused time with their parents in order to catch up developmentally and to form close and loyal family bonds.”
Obstacles to Connection
Raising children with trauma histories is often challenging. Tantrums, hyperactivity, aggressiveness, dysmaturity, lying, and stealing are just some of the behaviors adoptive and foster parents navigate—behaviors that we can allow to hinder connection.
When our oldest adopted daughter came to live with us in 1999, we didn’t understand childhood trauma. Since she was a relative, and social services was not involved, there were no trauma-informed parenting classes. We parented her the same way we raised our three biological kids—and expected to live happily-ever-after.
Without the proper training, we were not prepared to parent. Because our daughter appeared rebellious, disobedient, and defiant, most of my time was spent attempting to correct her behavior. I often felt frustrated and didn’t have the energy or desire for connection.
After adopting our youngest son in 2010, we immersed ourselves in Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) the therapeutic model outlined in The Connected Child. The new connection-focused parenting tools we learned helped not only our son, but all eight of our kids—including our oldest daughter.
We learned challenging behaviors can indicate a need which our child does not know how to express appropriately. Often, they are symptoms of a brain-based condition such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). And fear is usually the driving force behind behaviors exhibited by children with trauma histories.
Why Connection is Important
Connecting with our children promotes close, safe relationships which helps disarm fear and even decreases the frequency and duration of some difficult behaviors. Whether we are parenting neuro-typical children or kids from hard places—playful connections promote healing and healthy attachment.
Attachment refers to the interpersonal bond between a child and his or her caregiver or parent—and play facilitates attachment.
How To Connect With Our Kids
No matter how young or old our kids are, play is the key to connection.
• Let your child take the lead
When our youngest son was five, my husband often invited him to play Playdough after dinner. He always resisted. Eventually we learned our son had sensory processing disorder and didn’t like the feel soft, squishy stuff. Slava preferred stacking blocks and knocking them over. For successful connection, let your kids choose the game or activity.
• Age Doesn’t Matter
Connecting through play works no matter our child’s age. Sing to your baby, blow bubbles with your toddler, stack blocks with your preschooler, bake with your school-age kids, shoot hoops with your teens. My young adult kids enjoy playing Yahtzee and drinking coffee with me. Whatever age your kids are, make play dates a priority.
• Play Inside
Indoor activities can include board games, crafts, baking, and dancing (beware of teens making TikTok videos of your awkward dance moves). Cleaning bedrooms does not count as play and can cause more tears than laughter. Remember—play should be fun for everyone.
• Play Outside
Outdoor activities usually involve exercise which decreases stress. Throw a football, bounce on a trampoline, ride bikes, jump in the pool, or go for a walk. Our family likes sitting by a campfire and roasting marshmallows in the back yard. Whatever your family enjoys doing—do it together.
• Play Often
Play should be a routine part of family life. But it doesn’t happen unless we’re intentional. During the week, our family eats dinner together. Then, depending on the season, we play a game inside or enjoy an activity outside. On Friday nights our adult kids join us for pizza and Nerf wars or 4-wheeler fun. Weekends allow for more opportunities to connect. Whatever works for your family, make play a regularly scheduled part of your week.
God created his kids for connection. Playful interactions and focused time with our children are avenues to their healing. Family fun helps disarm fear and build trust regardless of age. Whether we’re parenting tinies or teens connection is key.