Building Attachment with Adopted Children: A Narrative Approach

November 19, 2014

Connecting with kidsAdoptive parents rely on a well-stocked parenting tool box. Connecting with Kids Through Stories: offers a novel technique based on sharing stories drawn from the actual experiences of a family. How can stories make a difference? How can they help children heal , learn, and draw families closer together?

Story telling has been a human tradition for thousands of years. A well told tale entertains, joins us in a common experience and builds a shared memory. Tales handed down through the generations transmit  important values and cultural beliefs. They help to weave the fabric of family history and become a permanent part of family lore.  Most of us hold warm memories of bedtime rituals that included a good book read by a loving and patient parent  as we snuggled close. Many of us probably requested a mind-numbing number of repetitions of our childhood favorite. This shared experience strengthened relationships, exchanged a great deal of knowledge, imparted family values. We learned that our parents enjoyed spending time with us and we internalized a sense that we mattered.

Many children adopted after abuse and neglect, never experienced this gentle process of  family bond-building, education and acculturation through story time. Instead a void exists in their skills, their knowledge base and in their people-reading skills. Adoptive parents face a substantial task as they assist a child in discovering how they can learn to trust, to love, to be a friend and to heal their deficits. One excellent and practical method that families can use is telling therapeutic narratives. You may wonder how reading books differs from sharing a therapeutic narrative. Denise B. Lacher wrote a terrific book on the subject: Connecting with Kids Through Stories: Using Narratives to Facilitate Attachment in Adopted Children

Lacher explains "Family Attachment Narrative Therapy is a gentle, nonprovocative, nonintrusive methodology in which parents are the primary agents of healing their hurt child."four different types of narrative, each with a specific purpose:

Claiming: "establishes the rights of a child to belong, to be accepted, and to be cared for by loving parents..."

Developmental: "provide children with the experience of a caregiver celebrating their accomplishments and revelling in their uniqueness."

Successful Child: "help children create new stories about who they are, what happened to them, and who they can be."

Trauma: "... can not only heal the child's wounds ... they can shift the child's negative internal working  model [making] new behavioral and emotional responses available to the child."

This specialized and personalized type of story telling requires some education and careful attention to a child's behavioral cues. Using their own words, parents create stories based on the facts of their child's life. Stories are told in the third person through a character whose history mirrors the child's actual life experiences. (This allows the child to listen and absorb the story without feeling threatened or judged.)

The stories offer a way to help a child build skills, to imagine their new parents sharing their lost milestones, to learn developmental skills that they missed because of neglect.  They can help rewrite patterns of behavior based on maladaptive survival skills no longer needed now that loving, safe parents have adopted them. "Narrative represent the ideal in parenting--what it could have been like for both the parent and child had they been together [from the beginning of the child's life]."

This book is filled with ideas for using narratives to evoke change and help children acquire skills and knowledge  which they need to successfully accept and integrate into their new families, to heal themselves and to function in the world at large. Narrative stories offer another tool for parents to add to their parenting tool box. It includes sample scripts as examples to guide parents in creating stories based on their child's personal experiences. Well worth the read, Connecting to Kids through Stories" might make a huge difference in your family. Why not check it out?

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