Get Informed


Posted by Ashley Eure

Adapted from “Top Ten Tips for the First Year of Placement” by Deborah Gray,

What are reasonable things for parents to concentrate on during the first year home? Here are ten keys for a great start to your relationship with your baby or child.

1. Spend ample time in nurturing activities.

The most significant process of the first year home is creating a trust relationship. Intentional and ample nurturing promotes this goal. Restrict your hours away from the little one. Do not leave your child for overnight trips for the first year.

Meet your little ones needs in an especially sensitive manner. Feed on demand. Respond quickly to fussing. Let your child experience you as the safe person who is meeting her needs. Play games that promote eye contact, like peekaboo, ponyride, and hide-and-seek. Make positive associations between yourself and food.

Rather than children becoming more dependent through this extra nurturing, they become trusting. Anxious people do not know who they can trust. More secure individuals understand that they do not have to be perfect and that they can rely on significant others.

2. Teach children to play with you.

Act as an amplifier, teaching toddlers and children the pleasure of play. Most children have missed the experience of having parents express joy as they played. Their reward centers were not stimulated. This restricted the association of exploration and play with pleasure. Set aside at least thirty minutes a day for play. 

If your child can already play, then continue to build your relationship through play. Shared enjoyment cements relationships. Make your family one that develops a pattern of having fun. Throughout life, having fun as a family builds self-esteem.

3. Talk to your child.

Parents of infants use exaggerated voice tones to emphasize important concepts. Their "amplifier system" helps children pay attention to the most important parts of the environment. Continue to use this brighter emotional tone with your child as she understands your shared world, even if she is not an infant.

Explain things, even though you might think that the meaning of what you are doing is obvious. Not only are you conveying information, you are revealing your view of the world. Your voice tones guide him or her to better understand the context. Use your gestures to point out important things to your child. 

Most of us have an internal dialogue going on during the day – simply make some of this internal language external. This is a typical activity for parents of infants. Since children have missed this early activity, parents should feel free to describe things as they would to an infant.

4. When toddlers or older children have behavior problems, use your body to stop them.

Be gentle, but be consistently and predictably competent in stopping negative behaviors. Do not use across the room reminders. Stay within arms reach of the child, moving their hands, bodies, feet, to where you want them to go. Never tolerate hitting, kicking, or hurting. Gently move their bodies to where you want them to be. For example, if your little one is reaching for an item, move the child or the item. Describe in a pleasant manner how pretty the item appears to you as you move your child.

Obviously, most parents will not be getting much done except parenting when their child is awake. Remind yourself that your primary job is parenting when your child is awake.

5. Get enough sleep, good food, and exercise to stay in a good mood.

Little ones who have been moved and/or neglected tend to be irritable, fussy, and hard to soothe. Parents use their own positive, well-regulated moods to help calm and engage these little ones. Model respect for yourself by taking time for showers, good meals, and sleep.

Your own emotional stability will help to steady your child’s moods. A depressed parent struggles to form a positive, secure attachment with her child. The parent who is tired by day’s end does not give a child a competent source of emotional regulation. Parents who find that their moods are slipping, even with good self-care, should seek counseling. It is simply too hard to do essential, nurturing parenting while depressed.

6. Keep a calm, but interesting home.

Match the amount of stimulation in the home to the amount that is within the child’s ability to tolerate. Neglect massively understimulates children. They do not build neurology to process as much sensory stimulation. After adoption, their worlds can suddenly be overwhelming. Things are too bright, too loud, move too much. Slow things down, buffering your child to the extent that they can process the information coming their way. Lay out predictable, consistent events for the day.

7.  Explain to children basics of your relationships as they gain language.

For example, "A mothers job is to love you. I will always come back home to you when I leave in the car to go shopping. You will live with me until you are as big as I am. I will not let anybody hurt you. I will never hurt you. We will always have enough food."

One mother told me of her son’s relief and better behavior when she told him that she would never allow others to hurt him. "Why didn’t I think to tell him the first year?" she questioned. 

8.  Do watch for signs of an exclusive attachment by the end of the first year.

Children should be seeking out their parents for affection and play. They should be showing off for positive attention. They should prefer being with the parent and show some excitement about time together. When hurt or distressed, the child should seek out the parent. In a secure attachment, the child will calm with the parent and accept soothing.

Trauma and traumatic grief are the common culprits when children are remaining wary, fearful, and controlling of their parents. Signs of trauma with younger children include regular night terrors, dissociation (child shuts off emotionally and stares away), scratching, biting, extreme moods, freezing in place, and destructiveness. Parents who see these symptoms should find a mental health counselor to help their child.

9. Enter your little ones space positively.

This often means getting low and looking up for eye contact. It means trying patiently for a longer time. You are the one with the responsibility of engaging your child positively. Do not use punitive techniques to try to build relationships. After all, no one wants to attach to a mean person. Instead, be strong, dependable, available, and kind. Sensitive parents gradually build empathy and security in their relationships with their children. That process takes time and the type of parenting that caused you to want to be a parent in the first place!

Maintain a sane schedule as you move into year two. Many parents decide that the first year is the marker until they can re-enter a "normal" schedule. Resist this widespread but unhealthy pace. Continue to parent with margins of time that allow for sensitivity, with margins of emotional energy that allow for appreciation of those around you. Model a healthy, emotionally fulfilling lifestyle to your child.

10.   Be part of an adoption support group.

The relationships between families are invaluable. They can be emotional lifelines on hard days. If possible, find a mentor who is positive, and who likes you and your child. Ask her to be part of your circle of support. We all need to feel understood and authentically accepted. A mentor who can provide that sense of nurture for the parent helps the parent to be a good nurturer. The mentor relationship provides a sense of being heard and accepted, and tips and information. Sometimes this can be mutual support, sometimes one-to-one or part of a group.  

For information about adoptive and foster family support at Saddleback, email

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