Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thoughts about attachment

In our foster training classes, (which were really good and so much more helpful than I expected) we spent one session talking about how children form attachments. I had looked forward to that topic since the beginning of our training, because truthfully, I felt lost when it came to connecting with James and forming a bond with him. To start out, our trainers asked us to name some of the ways we thought children formed attachments. I don't remember what answers were given, but I do remember the answers I was thinking of: plan activities together, talk with them, have fun together, try to understand their perspective...simple things, but things I was having a hard time figuring out how to do. Andy and James were already great at these things - they could enjoy similar activities, talk about topics I couldn't really join in on (I think we all know I'm alluding to sports here!) and I'm pretty sure Andy understands the mind of a teenage boy better than I do. After a few guesses as to how children form attachment to their caregiver, our trainers prompted us to think about how babies form bonds with their parents. Immediately my thoughts (and everyone else's) clarified: a child forms an attachment when you consistently meet their needs. This realization felt like a gift, like I could suddenly breathe again. It seemed stunningly simple, and in some ways so much easier than what I had been trying to do.

That evening of trainging was several months ago, but it comes back to me often these days. In many ways, the contrast between taking care of Hazel and taking care of James is significant, but in others, I find myself amazed (and often amused) at how similar their needs are.

One of the things we tolerate and even enjoy about babies and very young children is that they are completely uninhibited - they will tell you in plain words that they want you to watch them, adore them, give them every bit of attention and love you possibly can. But as they grow into older children and adults, we expect them to become less demanding, and to monitor their needs and express them in acceptable ways. But that need really doesn't change. If we are honest, we are all begging to be seen, known, rejoiced over, loved. We just find socially acceptable ways to express it. Usually. :) I am often amused that James has no qualms about asking me to stop everything and just watch him do something. I don't recall expecting my parents to do this, but I have a pretty strong hunch it's because I didn't question whether I was truly known and loved and cared for - they had built that bond with me since the day I was born. James hasn't had that with us, and truthfully has received it only in bits and pieces before living with us.

So when I'm put off by his overt request for attention and I'm tempted to say I don't have time, or I need to finish cleaning the kitchen first and then I'll come watch him play Bears vs. Packers on theWii, I need to remind myself of this. We're essentially in the "newborn" phase with him right now, and accordingly, I need to be generous with my attention and love.

On a side note, this explains why I'm so tired - we have TWO newborns!! :)

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