Maybe it would have been better for me to be matched with a different kid? Was this a mistake?
It's been a couple months and we just aren't bonding.
I'm doing everything for them but they just don't seem to care.
We have a good, safe, loving home, so why is he so anxious all the time?
We just got back from vacation, but she is still so depressed!
I'm losing my mind. I'm not sure I can do this anymore. Why can't he just calm down!
Maybe you have said these things out loud, or maybe they are just rumbling around in your head. But for most foster and adoptive parents, we wonder.
We were trying to create this happy loving family... are we failures? I have laid in bed awake at night wondering the same thing.
But the truth is, for most of these kids from hard places, they experienced some tough stuff way before they met us, that have impacted their little brains in ways that have caused them to be more stressed out, more anxious, more depressed, and less able to develop healthy attachments. So as their parents, either for a little while as fosters or for the long haul in adoption, it is our job to help heal those attachment disorders and help them to become more capable of loving, trusting relationships.
In utero the baby is aware of their world. That's why some parents talk to their babies, they play music, and they do their best to ensure the pregnant mom is comfortable and relaxed. However, if the mother is considering adoption or at risk of having her child removed, you can imagine they are stressed. Do you know the situations your child was in during their mother's pregnancy? Those factors will impact their stress hormone levels even as children.
How stressful was the delivery? Were their complications? Did the baby bond with a parent quickly after birth? Or were they moved from care giver to care giver over the first few hours or weeks of their young life? Research demonstrates that babies that are immediately offered skin to skin contact with a parent, babies that are snuggled and loved and connected to a loving caregiver during those first few hours and days, grow up to be more relaxed and healthy children. Babies that are connected to the same caregiver during the first few years of their life are more able to connect and trust others as they become teens and young adults. So if you know that your child was bounced around from caregivers in an orphanage or through social workers and foster homes, you can expect that they will struggle to regulate and rest in your home. If you know that your child spent extended periods of time in car seats or cribs because the parent or care giver was unable to give them attention, you can expect they will struggle with socialization and attachment in your home.
Attachment is considered to be on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum would be those people able to develop and maintain healthy attachments to others, and then some would be only able to have insecure attachments, and then others who would struggle with disorganized attachments that don't seem to make sense.
When a child is more stressed in utero and doesn't learn how to connect and trust and socialize as an infant they are more likely to struggle with you. When they have a history of being abandoned, neglected, abused and bounced around, they just don't know how to love and trust you. Or anyone!
So, this isn't about you. This isn't about how good you are as a parent. This is about stuff that they went through, what they have seen and heard, that they may not even remember! But, those events have changed their brain.
And now what is about you... what will you do about it?
Medically there are two diagnosis that we can give to children struggle with healthy attachments, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) & Disinhibited Social Engagment Disorder (DSED). These two specifications refer to the specific symptoms we are seeing in the child. Essentially the difference is, in the RAD child we see someone who is less likely to interact with others. They appear more apathetic or cautious due to their history. You may even feel they are anti-social at times! In the DSED child, we see someone who is overly interactive with others and no "stranger danger". A DSED child is often seen as adorable as they will walk up and talk and snuggle with anyone, but this can present obvious dangers not only as a child, but when they become an adult. Both of these disorders require attention from parents and these children will benefit from coping & social skills training and family therapy.
The most important thing to remember is that these behaviors should be expected in anyone coming out of the foster care or adoption system. Be prepared for it, and when you experience it, consult a professional on how best to treat the behaviors.
If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'm happy to schedule a consultation session with you, firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Fetal Trauma & Adoption click here.
For more information on these disorders from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry click here.