Toolbox Tuesday: Bath Time Can be a Great Way to Build Attachment

October 21, 2014

by:  Linda Forsythe

When my daughter came to live with me as an eight year old, she was not a happy camper.  She wanted to stay with her foster mother, the fifth foster parent of five years in foster care.  She was not impressed with another move, nor with the idea of adoption by me.  We didn’t have much of a honeymoon before the troubles began.  It was rocky!  After about nine months of daily battles about almost everything, we were close to terminating the plan to adopt her and her biological brother.

I was desperate.  Thank goodness, a friend, another adoptive parent, told me about a psychologist who specialized in attachment in adoptive families.  Unfortunately, the psychologist practiced more than 300 miles from my home.  I was so grateful when she agreed to do phone consultation with me.  The consultant read all the paperwork on my daughter and then had a phone interview with me.  It was amazing!  She asked me questions about my daughter’s behaviors and was able to identify behaviors that were not in any of the paperwork we had sent. My daughter had been in therapy and we were in family therapy, but no one else had the understanding and knowledge that we needed.  She helped me to have hope! She made many recommendations and explained many of the behaviors with which we struggled.  Her biggest recommendation was to use bath time as a key time for nurturing touch.

My daughter had not had an adult bathe her with love and tenderness. Her biological family was neglectful and may have been abusive around bathing.  Her first four foster mothers did not like her and certainly did not take the time to attempt to build attachment. Bath time became the highlight of our lives for about nine months.

We spent about forty five minutes each evening with her bathing ritual. Scents have always been very important to her. (I have since learned that this can be an indicator of children who have brain development issues.) She and I spent time picking out bath products and lotions that smelled good and were soothing to her skin.  Although she was initially resistant to my bathing her, she began to enjoy the soothing gentle touch.  She had a history of eczema, and careful selection of bathing and skin care products was educational for both of us, and has helped to eliminate her problems with painful skin irritation.

It was an amazing experience to see our relationship change.  She began to be comfortable sitting in my lap and making eye contact with me… We began to have positive times each day.  Reflecting back, those times and the attachment that occurred have enabled me to be able to become attached to a very angry, prickly little girl…The attachment that we began to build with bath time has been tenuous, but at 19, she continues to tell me that she knows I love her… one of the reasons is the memory of loving bath time and healthy touch! I am smiling as I remember those nights… I am grateful for special bath time…

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