Attachment Issues?

My last post discussed the use of play to deal with behavioural issues. The podcast featured Dr. Larry Cohen explaining how parents can use play-based activities to divert an unpleasant situation into a fun opportunity for child-parent interaction.

Let’s continue exploring this concept of the ‘play zone’ in relation to an important adoption related matter – attachment.

As an adoptive parent you may have come across the concept of ‘play therapy’ – whereby the adoptive parent(s) and the child work with a professional to build emotional connection and trust, and the parent(s) work with the professional to understand the child’s developmental needs and techniques that will assist with self-regulation and moving towards a secure attachment relationship. In some instances it may be necessary to get a professional involved; however, you can begin using some of the techniques of play therapy at home.

When bringing attachment difficulties into the play zone remember to be empathetic, emotionally attuned, playful, curious and unconditionally accepting.

We will look at three stages of play that may be observed in children with an insecure attachment relationship and/or traumatic pasts.

The first stage of play is focused on their senses.

  • If your child is averse to touch, begin by slowly promoting physical contact through play. Use your toddler’s hands to cover your eyes while playing peek-a-boo, or wiggle their toes while singing a song.

  • If a child grew up in a sterile environment without toys or a person to provide stimulation they will not know how to play. When you are playing with a toy, the child becomes curious, and by playing, you become interesting to them.

  • Children with early deprivation often begin playing with food, water, mud, and paint. This is a way for the child to explore their sensory environment, as well as their bodies. Often these activities are messy, and associated with “naughty behaviour.” Try to embrace the messiness, and accept that your home will not be as tidy as usual. You may not understand the play, but it allows children to build acceptance, better understand themselves, and have fun with you.

The second stage of play involves using symbols or objects to reveal aspects about their past experiences. This is a shift from their own environment (sensory) to paying attention to their surroundings. If the child is using play to reenact traumatic events, use this time to engage with the child about their feelings. Reflecting on feelings helps the child gain control of what happened to them. Talking about emotions or invasive thoughts helps most children organize the events, which making the memories less toxic. If these feelings become overwhelming, you will be there to comfort them.

The last stage of play explores the use of storytelling, creative play and role-playing. This type of play requires a degree of awareness from the child about how others feel and teaching him/her to empathize with others.

Play is something innate to all children. One way or another all children play, and they use play to express themselves. Although insecure attachment is not an issue that can be solved exclusively by bringing it into the play zone, it is an activity that all parents should engage in with their children, even if it is only for 15 minutes a day.


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