Attachment: take it outside!


Angela Krueger
Focus on Adoption magazine

There’s no better time than the present for adoptive families to get reacquainted with Mother Nature. Angela Krueger, an Ontario PRIDE trainer, parent facilitator, freeelance writer, and adoptive mom, explains how getting outside can facilitate attachment for adoptive families, and shares practical tips to help you make it happen.

Take a walk

“Again?” my preteen asks, rolling her eyes, when I say it’s time for a walk around the block.

“Yep,” I reply, knowing that if I get dressed for a stroll she’ll follow. It’s usually easy to sell my younger daughter on a walk. She’s full of energy to burn. But today, it’s just my eldest and I, heading out into the rain. It’s rare for the two of us to have a few minutes alone together, so when the opportunity arises, I’m all over it. I think she secretly is too.

Why nature matters

Nature can help adoptive families attachBetween school, chores, homework, jobs, extracurricular activities, and appointments, it can be tough for any modern family to find time to play outside together.
For adoptive families, whose plates are often even fuller, it can be that much more difficult. But there are extra benefits for adoptive families to spending time together outside, especially when it comes to attachment. 

In his book Last Child in the Woods (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2008), Richard Louv proposes that our connection to nature can be understood the same way we look at attachment in relationships. When we’re outside, we build connections with our environment and experience positive feelings that naturally spill over into our relationships with the people who share that experience with us.

According to a 2012 survey by the David Suzuki Foundation, 70% of youth ages 13-20 spent an hour or less outdoors per day. The younger the youth, the more likely they were to spend time with their families in nature. The survey also highlighted the important role parents and families play in getting teens to spend time outside.

Create connections

Families often wonder if they can do more formal art or play therapy outside. The answer is absolutely! Talk with your family’s therapist about how to incorporate the outdoors into both play and art therapy.
Families can also use play and art to help build attachment outside without the coaching of a therapist.

Consider building a tree fort together or doing sand play at the beach. How about working silently on a pencil sketch outside next to your teen, or asking all members of the family to choose a special rock or flower and creating a collaborative art piece?

It’s important to remember that these activities aren’t meant to help kids work out difficult issues quickly. Instead, the therapeutic goal is for the family to connect with one another.

Guidelines for getting out there

Convincing your family to get away from their screens and out the door can take work. Here are a few suggestions families can follow to make sure they’re exercising their attachment muscles appropriately as they start to spend more time outside as a family.

  • Make it a date. Add outside time to the family routine so that everyone knows the plan. Include a timeframe to help to minimize backlash when it’s time to come back inside and to help reluctant family members understand how long everyone will be expected to hang out together.
  • Dress for it. Make sure everyone is wearing clothing appropriate to the weather and activity. It doesn’t make sense for mom to wear flip flops if the plan is to play soccer, and there’s nothing like the mood of a grumpy teenager who “forgets” to wear a hat for a winter hike in the woods.
  • Do NOT go to the park. If you’re lucky enough to live near a park, don’t take the easy way and hang out there. Typically, parents will end up standing around chatting with neighbours while the kids play with others or constantly demand attention through tricks and shenanigans. This doesn’t promote attachment.
  • Leave the phone, and friends, at home. This time is all about family bonding. It’s vital that you give each other 100% of your attention. A 2015 survey done by AVG found that 54% of children ages 8 to 15 felt that their parents checked their phones too often, and that 32% of the kids felt unimportant when their parents got distracted by their devices.
  • Let your child(ren) lead. Do what the child wants to do, no matter how messy or embarrassing it is for older members of the family. Attachment is built by meeting each other’s needs. If your 7 year old wants you to roll up your pant legs and wade in the creek, go with it. If your toddler wants to search for fairy houses in the cedar grove, cherish the moment. If your teen just wants to sit on a rock and look at the ground, join in. This will create positive feelings and memories, which strengthen attachment. 

Okay, we’re outside. Now what?

  • Play a sport. Kick around the soccer ball, look foolish playing badminton, chase each other around the ice rink, or shoot some hoops. This time should be all about having fun together, so don’t worry about teaching skills. That can happen another time.
  • Play a game. Try the oldies but goodies: hide and seek, capture the flag, tag. Kids love to see their parents running around and laughing. It makes everyone feel good.
  • Go fish. Unlike other activities such as riding bikes, swimming, or skiing, fishing is a sit-and-think kind of activity. Even the most active kids sometimes surprise their parents by discovering a special connection to a particular fishing hole.
  • Have a campfire. Kids and adults of all ages enjoy the magic of a campfire. Don’t be surprised if your youngest falls asleep on your lap or your preteen opens up about a show she is watching while you bask in the flickering light.
  • Cloud watch or star gaze. For little kids, simply lying on the ground and looking up at the sky invites interesting questions. Some older kids may find that lying on the ground next to a parent, without pressure to make eye contact, feels comfortable and safe and encourages conversation.

Take a walk with me

What’s the easiest way to get outside? Start with a short, simple walk, which allows for shoulder to shoulder conversation or none at all. This time isn’t meant to be immediately therapeutic, but you you might be surprised about what your child shares with you, and how you feel about each other, after you spend some time in the fresh air together.

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