bonding and attachment
Refers to the mutual affectionate connection that is cemented between a child and a parent, whether the child is a biological child or an adopted child. The process of establishing this connection includes a growing feeling of ENTITLEMENT to family life, love, responsibility and a variety of other emotions normally experienced by a parent and child. "Bonding" is the process and "attachment" is the result.
Some people extend the "bonding and attachment" concept to apply to any two individuals who fit certain parameters. For example, psychologist Tiffany Field defines attachment as "a relationship between two beings which integrates their physiological and behavioral systems."
Some experts believe the terms "bonding" and "attachment" are far too loosely used. Said Jean Nelson-Erichsen, LSW, M.A., codirector of adoption at Los Ninos International Adoption Center in The Woodlands, Texas, in Is Adoption For You? The Information You Need to Make the Right Choice (John Wiley & Sons, 1998) "this overused word 'bonding' sometimes drives me wild. You don't usually just fall in love with people and become all warm and cuddly in days! And a lot of people whose babies are born to them don't immediately love their babies. The way you bond with children is to hold them and play with them and read to them. All the holding and caring things are important."
Most adoptive parents and adoption experts are concerned about the timing of bonding in relation to the age of the child who is adopted, whether the child is six months old or six years old.
Psychiatrist Michael Rutter provides some information on this point. Rutter found that the idea that there are "sensitive periods" when environmental factors are critical does have some validity although the upper age limits of the sensitive periods may be at an older age than originally postulated by scientists. His study showed that children who were adopted before the age of four bonded well with their parents while children who were over age four experienced many of the same problems as children who remained in an institution.
Yet Rutter also supported the idea that even children adopted after the age of four years could bond with adoptive parents. He concluded that the "sensitive period" was either wrong or the timing occurred at a later age than previously thought.
The First Meeting
The first meeting with the child is a very dramatic moment for most parents, be they biological parents or adoptive parents. If they are adopting an older child, the parents usually will have seen photographs or a VIDEOTAPE of the child and will also have received information about the child as well.
Many adoptive parents have reported that they bonded to the child based on his or her picture alone, especially in the case of an INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION, when the decision to adopt was based solely on the photo, a sketchy description or a videotape or Internet web site introduction. In fact, when such an adoption has fallen through for some reason, adoptive parents actually experience a grieving process, even though they have never met the child.
If the child is an infant, the adoptive parents will have virtually no idea what the child will look like until they first see her or him, although they will know his or her racial and ethnic background and have general information about the birthparents' appearance.
The time when they first view the baby or older child is very important and unforgettable to most adoptive parents, as if it were imprinted in their brains along with other important scenes of their lives. Both adopting parents should be present at the first meeting along with older children and, if possible, the rest of the family.
The Bonding Process
Part of bonding is physical touch, and because infants require much touching in the course of their care, most adoptive parents bond more rapidly to infants than to older children. Some research indicates that when parents are adopting siblings, they appear to bond more rapidly with the younger child, probably because of the greater amount of care needed by that child.
Parents bond to older children by teaching them how to cook, taking them shopping and performing other similar activities with them as a parent and a child.
Some older children do not respond to affection at first and, if they have been abused, may shrink from hugs and kisses. Adopting parents learn to "go slow" until the child is ready to accept love.
Studies indicate that parents seem to bond the most quickly and with the most lasting bond when they perceive the adopted child is similar to them in physical appearance, intelligence, temperament or some other aspect. As a result, adoptive parents will see "Uncle Bob's nose" and "Mom's smile" in an infant, even though they realize the child is genetically or even ethnically unrelated to them.
Strangers may point out apparent similarities, and the adoptive parent may respond with embarrassment, confusion, pride or a mix of all of these emotions.
Bonding is not always instantaneous, even when the child is a newborn baby (nor is bonding always instantaneous between a biological mother and her child) and rarely occurs immediately when a child is an older child.
Asked by Anonymous at 3:30 AM on Jun. 3, 2011 in Adoption