Helping children form attachments

Suggestions for helping children of all ages build healthy relationships

“How do I bond with a child we adopt?” 

It’s a question that we frequently hear from parents who are considering adoption from foster care. And while it is true that many children may be reluctant to trust—because they have been hurt before—it is also true that you can help a child overcome past experiences and form healthy relationships.

Reading the list of suggestions below, you’ll see that helping a child learn to trust and develop attachments is not much different from parenting any child. Being patient, structured, and responsive to their needs will go a long way toward enabling them to form rich, nurturing relationships with you and other people who care about them.

Tips from parents and professionals

  • Create routines. Having a routine helps give children a sense of control they have lacked in the past. Bedtime rituals, set mealtimes, and weekly family movie nights are great ways to build trust with your child.
  • Encourage eye contact—but do not demand it! Smiling and looking into your child’s eyes before speaking to them can be a good start. You may not be able to hold a child’s gaze for long at first, but you can gradually increase the length of time you maintain eye contact as they become more comfortable.
  • Commit to one-to-one parent/child time every day. Talk, and play—often! Board games, catch, or other activities not only build skills, they encourage eye contact and communication with your child.
  • Find ways to have routine physical contact. This can take many forms—hugs, combing hair, kneading dough together, cuddling while watching TV, or reading.
  • Help them be a helper. To build your child’s capacity to care, give them jobs around the house—and recognize their contributions. Show them how helping others can make them feel good about themselves.
  • Take a family photo and display it in the house. A framed photo for them to see every day will help reaffirm for your child that they are part of your family now.
  • Leave surprise messages. Notes in their lunch, backpack, and other places around the house will remind them that they are loved and belong.
  • Involve them in planning future activities, to show them that their place in your family is permanent.
  • Reach out to professionals and other families for guidance and help when you need it.

Looking for advice about talking with teens? Read “7 Tips for Talking with Teens You Are Fostering or Adopting,” a guest post on our blog.


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