Making the effort to build attachment with your foster children is one of the greatest gifts you can offer them. A secure attachment to a caregiver allows for healthy, normal development to take place. Of course, building a strong attachment is sometimes easier said than done. So, where should you start? Try following these tips gathered from my time and training as a foster parent.
If you are consistent, then you are predictable. If you are predictable, your foster child will be able to trust you sooner. Routine is an important part of the equation but don’t limit your consistency to schedules. Steady behavior from foster parents is another key component. Stay even-keeled in your responses to the child, no matter the circumstance. This shows the child you are safe. It does not always come easily to me, but I have experienced that consistency is worth fighting for in order to give your child a quicker road to attachment.
Be the “Yes Man”
More often than not, one caregiver builds attachment with a new placement more quickly and easily than the other. In this case, allow the foster parent with the slower connection to be the “yes man” whenever it’s an option. This advice was given to me to help develop attachment with my stepson as I was about to become a stepmom. I have found this applies very well to foster children, too. Meeting the needs of the child is a foundational way to build trust, which leads to attachment. Meeting the child’s desires (within reason) is the cherry on top.
If the child is comfortable spending one-on-one time with the caregiver who has the weaker attachment, carve out time for dates. Grab a sweet treat, go to the park, go swimming, or play a fun game together. When appropriate, bath time and bedtime can be great for building attachment. Every chance you have to spend time with the child is an opportunity to build trust. The more focused and intentional foster parents are about together time, the more effective that time will be.
When the child is not comfortable with one-on-one time, meet him or her in a place that is comfortable. Allow the primary caregiver to meet more intimate needs. Keep an open and inviting environment that would welcome the child to join you. Sit with a children’s book or play with toys on the floor near the child. Push those boundaries very slowly and watch how the child responds. Instead of just sitting on the floor with an inviting demeanor, ask the child to join you.
Lastly, be prepared for a marathon and not a sprint. Sometimes the child struggles with attachment, sometimes it’s the caregiver, and sometimes it is both. Use the above-mentioned strategies for an extended time. Give them time to work. The length of time it takes to develop attachment varies. Plan on this process taking longer than seems reasonable to you. And if the attachment doesn’t come before the child leaves your home, that’s okay. It can take years for a child to develop a secure attachment, and we don’t always get that much time with them.