I was recently talking to someone on twitter about tips for settling a child into your family. It has been 6 months since introductions ended, and my daughter moved in, so I wanted to reflect on what I felt had worked for us. I am writing from the perspective of a working parent, whose partner is the full-time carer. Our Daughter was roughly 20 months old when she moved in. I recognise that not all of these tips will work for everyone, especially where there are specific needs from particular abuse or neglect, but I hope that some of the advice might be useful.
We kept routines as strict as possible, taking a lead from her foster carers, but amending it slightly to suit our day. The main things we changed were adding a bath every night and adding an extra snack in the morning (she is more active with us than she was at the foster carers). We Kept mealtimes and snack times consistent, we kept the bedtime routine the same every night (bath, stories and milk, saying goodnight to her toys, musical wind-up bear).
We would plan visits and activities to ensure that she would always be able to eat and sleep at the same times. As she has settled in we have been able to flex things a little around the edges.
After the first two weeks, I had to return to work. I am lucky that my job enables me to be home every night to eat dinner at 5 (apart from the odd day where it hasn’t gone to plan). Mummy and Squiblet enrolled in a couple of classes and started regularly attending playgroups.
Squiblet likes the routine of specific activities on certain days of the week, and there are days free for other fun with friends or relaxing(?!) at home with Mummy!
Initially, our daughter dealt with her recent separation by clinging on to her (new) Mummy for dear life. With the help of a hip seat Mummy soldiered on with day-to-day life. It meant that Squiblet could be carried around, and a few chores could still be done. She became noticably calmer when on the hipseat. Cooking from scratch went out of the window – but we had a well-stocked freezer!
We really made an effort to be with her as much as possible in the early days. If we left the room we would make sure that we always said “goodbye, I’m just going to the bathroom, be back soon” often we would need to actually count “I’ll be back in 10 seconds: 10…9…8…”
If people visited we always made sure she said goodbye to them before they left – which meant on a few occasions holding people hostage until she had woken up from her nap! We would also ensure that when she said goodbye to people she was aware that she would be staying with us – and not leaving with them.
She didn’t really play with any toys, she wanted to be carried, or walk with us holding her hands. We worried that she wasn’t “playing on her own enough”, I’ve heard other parents express similar worries with their newly placed children.
It makes sense that if her world had just been torn apart she would need to feel safe again before being relaxed enough to play. It might feel tough to have to give that much of yourself in the early days, but we have found that it has paid off.
We coped by sharing duties and always ensuring that one of us could have a shower without being interrupted (difficult though, when she was shouting “LOOK MUMMYYYY!!!!” and knocking on the door). I think those small episodes of leaving and returning were necessary to reassure her that we would always come back.
We felt it important that Squiblet could transfer her attachment to Mummy as a priority, as Mummy would be the primary carer. At first, Mummy did the majority of dressing, nappy changing and putting to bed. Squiblet would often push me away and didn’t want me to put her to bed, or be left with me to have a bath.
After about 3 months I noticed that the cuddles she gave me were genuine affection, not the “clinging on for dear life” that had come before it. We ask her who she wants to put her in her cot at naptimes and bedtimes – it’s almost always me now! She reverts to Mummy when she’s poorly.
She also went through a stage of not wanting to say goodbye to me in the mornings and would pull away or hide her face.Again, I tried not to take it personally (in fact as a good sign, that she cared that I was going) I would kiss her and tell her I loved her and would see her again at dinner time. These days when I turn the key to come through the front door after work I am met with happy squeals of “It’s Mama!! It’s Mama!!”, so it was worth waiting for.