Increasing Attachment in Grandfamilies and Kinship Care
While working as a family therapist with kinship families, also known as grandparents raising their grandchildren, I came across families who were struggling with the ability to rebuild broken trust.
Raising your grandchild (or another relative) brings with it attachment challenges you may not have faced when you raised your biological children. By “attachment” I am referring to the safety and comfort that develops, over time between a child and caregiver. For example, the bond between you and your children probably grew organically, beginning in utero, and continued to develop from the first day of their life. As you met your children’s needs for love, food, and protection on a consistent basis, they learned to feel safe in your care. It eventually evolved into the relationship you have today. But if you are suddenly raising your grandchild, you will not have time to recreate the natural bonding experience.
In addition to this, your grandchild/relative, most likely, experienced several Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s), and this can be an obstacle when trying to create a healthy bond with a child. If your grandchild was abused or neglected, he/she will have difficulty feeling safe with any adult, including you. You may also be going through your own feelings of loss and grief, as life as you knew it has drastically changed. But there is good news, you can increase trust and attachment between you and the child with the following bonding activities. It helps to remember that this is a long process, be patient with yourself and the child, don’t expect for bonding to happen quickly.
Because you are family members, you might assume you know the child better than you do. You might expect the child to be warm and friendly towards you automatically. However, removing a child from their immediate family causes a break in the attachment to their primary caregivers and can be experienced as a traumatic event. This loss of attachment is compounded by the loss of the child’s home, neighborhood, school, and friends. These multiple losses can make it difficult to bond to new caretakers, including family members to which they are already familiar. From here, behavioral problems can escalate.
To solve this problem, we need to get to the source of the pain — the loss of significant attachment figures and ACE’s. Biological parents are typically the primary attachment figures for children. If Mom and Dad are in and out of their lives, unreliable, unstable, or unavailable, a child can experience considerable symptoms of trauma, grief and longing for their biological parents. Because of this, it is helpful to participate in bonding activities with your grandchild or relative in your care so they can recreate the attachment process with a healthy adult. Even though raising your grandchild may be temporary, it is still beneficial to participate in bonding activities to increase trust.
Six Types of Bonding to Increase Attachment:
Emotional – Provide empathy; put yourself in their shoes. Validate their feelings and experiences; tell them it is okay to be sad/scared/angry. Acknowledge their pain, don’t shy away from it. Let them cry as much as they need to.
Talk with them about their feelings and explain coping techniques. Learn how to help the children cope. Be curious about their inner world. Provide empathy for their experiences.
Prepare the child for every day transitions such as going to school, going to the doctor, visiting with birth family. Pay attention and prepare them for anything they may perceive as a loss, such as moving from one teacher to a new teacher or changing babysitters/daycare facilities. The child may be attached to these professionals and others. You may see an increase in negative behavior during this time, and this is reasonable.