One of the most powerful parenting strategies we have used with the greatest amount of immediate and visible, long lasting healing has also been one of the easiest: Holding.
Although we naturally did this with our biological son, we intentionally do this with our adopted children. A parent holding a child is a basic and natural part of parenting, a part of development and bonding that many adopted children have missed out on. Holding your adopted child is nurturing and gentle, and it’s powerful, because the holding increases and mobilizes development within a child.
Both of our children were labeled as developmentally delayed, most likely caused by the neglect inherent within an orphanage setting, lack of touch, lack of stimulating environment and lack of parental care. We employ holding therapy for both of our adopted children, one very young, and one older, both with different reactions, yet both resulting in very strong, beneficial outcomes in development, bonding and attunement.
For our daughter who was brought home at age ten, holding therapy was both physiological and psychological, allowing a time for deeper discussions when the feelings of calm resulting from holding therapy washed over her. This allowed for attunement (deeper bonding, a harmony and unity between needs of child and provision by parent, characterized primarily by the time of infant and parent time frame; complete dependency, and parents attuning, filling those needs, creating a deep bond)
Holding therapy is often the first time a child can find synchronicity with another person, an opportunity to connect and attach to their parent, allowing to share and pick up non-verbal cues with another person. Oftentimes for our daughter, her emotional responses will deepen as she is able to share some of the buried things in her heart, furthering healing and attachment as we are able to listen and hear. When she was first home, it decreased her need to self sooth by rocking, and the need to be hypervigilant coming from an environment of low safety, simply by decreasing the space she took up and increasing trust, physical and emotional.
Holding therapy can be done with any child, even up to 18 years old talking to them about it prior. As a parent, don’t be intimidated or feel it’s strange, they will take your cues, but know it is a natural, healthy and important, even necessary aspect of development and bonding for your child.
“…most adolescents (age sixteen to eighteen) look perplexed. When asked about their thoughts and feelings, they often respond with something like, “You know, this is really weird. I thought I’d hate it, but it feels kinda good. This is bizarre–being held at my age.” We most often follow this comment with a simple, yet powerful, question: “Did you get this when you were supposed to?” Never has any child–even the most difficult and resistant–responded with an affirmative answer.” -Adopting the Hurt Child.
Development is sequential, meaning it is very difficult to skip stages, which is why holding is so powerful, it brings them back to the beginning, allowing, overtime, to gently pass through crucial stages of development. It points to high reason for adoption, showing that to allow children to leave institutions that are stunting to healthy development, they can find healing in a family environment. Nothing replaces the lifelong benefit of a loving family.
It teaches them to nurture as well. When she was first home, she would wrap dolls in blankets, and leave them in beds all day.
“(Holding) is precisely what happens to a “normal” child in his first year of life, providing him with a foundation of nurturing, trust, safety, and security. These four elements merge to set the stage for later development.” –Adopting the Hurt Child.
With our son, he came home at age 18 months, but we very delayed and small, closer in age to nine months. The lack of touch he received made any sort of close, physical touch and the ensuing emotional connection unbearable to him initially. At first during holding therapy, we would use a swaddle to protect himself from flailing and to calm him, sing to him and hold him close while in a rocking chair. As time went on, the pressure he felt gave him a deep, meaningful calm as he felt a sense of not needing to self sooth, or self regulate, oftentimes making his first attempts a self initiated eye contact with us. Although we felt these moments of bonding and healing from the first time because of holding therapy, it was still an ongoing, needed process, as he learned, gradually a new way of life, a new way of being a child, one who was cared for and protected intrinsically.
One year later, it is still how we begin each morning. On the mornings we start with holding, even just 2 minutes, he will have a good day, obedient, kind, happy, wanting to please us. On the days we don’t, it is much harder for him to self regulate. Now, a year later, he doesn’t fight it, and has recently initiated with, “Mama, I want to ‘nugg-ah you,” which still shocks us.
Often in times of behavioral issues with our son, trying to discipline his behavior is fruitless, while holding therapy alters his behaviors because it touches his deeper needs within, while calming him. There are times, while in public I will he will need to be held, and although it is not traditional parenting and people may think it strange,we do it anyway. We don’t mind.
When we hosted an orphan over Christmas and she would start to break down emotionally, our muscle memory pulled her into our arms where she would instantly become calm, and we all felt very bonded, she would often fall asleep in our arms, and would wake up happier, more balanced.
No matter the age, no matter the child, holding therapy is powerful in it’s simplicity.
So worth it.
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