Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Overcoming fear, building trust, and attachment

Up until recently, pea has been virtually fearless and he rarely shys away from anything. He approaches most new activities and experiences with lots of energy! It is so refreshing and fun to watch his fearless and enthusiastic approach to life. We all have a lot to learn from our toddlers at times, don't we? So, I was very upset when pea suddenly developed an intense fear of the water. He LOVED the water! He loved to dunk his head underwater, splash, pour water on his face before he was even a year old. That is, until he learned the hard way that water can be very scary.

Our babysitter, Diane, has an in ground pool and she takes the kids swimming one-on-one and tries to teach them some basic swimming lessons. About a month ago, she took pea out to swim and he was so excited! As is typical for him, he approached this activity full force and ran right into the water...and sank. Thank goodness Diane was right there and thank goodness she only allows one child in the pool area at a time. Of course, she informed us of what happened, but I honestly did not worry about it too much because we trust her 100% and we realize that things like this just happen. The following weekend we went swimming and pea absolutely refused to get into the water. He would not even let us hold him in the water. It was very clear that he was very, very scared. He finally ventured to the steps leading into the pool, but that is as far as he went. It was then that I realized how traumatic the pool incident was for him. On one hand, it was good that he learned how dangerous the water can be...on the other hand I was definitely upset by this new intense fear of something he loved so much.

It just so happens that we had signed him up for swimming lessons so the timing could not have been any better! But, the first lesson did not go well! He had a full body death grip on me while we were in the water and cried off and on the entire 30 minutes. I basically held him the entire time and we just walked around in the water. So, I was anticipating the same last night for his second lesson. We started off with the death grip and the crying, but he slowly started to relax. By the end of the lesson, he was laying on his belly in the water, kicking like crazy, blowing bubbles in the water, and laughing! I was so excited I almost started crying in the pool! Isn't that funny?!

Now, he definitely still had moments of fear and would wrap his arms around my neck very tightly, but he definitely had a breakthrough so I am confident he will overcome this fear very quickly. Whenever he would start getting scared, I would just have him look at me in the eyes and he would quickly calm down. For me, it was not only an experience in overcoming a new fear, but also an experience of building trust and attachment. It was confirmation that we have developed a strong attachment as a family, but also a reminder that it is something that will always be tested.

Attachment is always a hot topic in adoption so it is something I think about a lot. Sometimes it's hard to know that fine balance between what is typical toddler behavior and what is adoption/attachment related. I wonder if we sometimes become victims of adoption paranoia, thinking everything little thing must be an adoption/attachment issue. For example, pea is also going through a separation anxiety phase right now that has thrown us for a little loop because he is normally pretty easy going. My first thought was "is this an adoption/attachment issue?" even though I know it is completely normal for every toddler to experience separation anxiety at some point. In fact, it can be a very good sign of the attachment process and developmental milestones. But, I can't help but still he afraid we are going to leave him? Is he having some sort of memories of the loss he has already experienced in his very short life? Did we leave him too long, too early when we went on our trip? I don't think so, but I still wonder.

What do you all think? Do you get caught up in the "adoption paranoia?" How do you find that balance?


  1. Steph,

    So glad that you are able to calm Eli so quickly. With Sam I have been so fortunate to have a homegrown nephew just 4 weeks different that Sam. They have faced the same issues (seperation anxiety, etc.) around the same time relieving my fears about the adoption effect. Then the second go around, even thought Joe was older when he came home, I have less fears about it. You are doing a great job...keep up the good work, mama!

  2. Gosh, Stephanie - this is SO funny....I swear it was just two days ago that I thought "Wow - it's been a while sinece I've worried about adoption issues." I think it's because my children are SO verbal now that
    they can tell me what's what.

    But it wasn't that long ago that I was still trying to decipher every "issue" into categories: is this an adoption issue? a 2 year old issue? etc.

    I think for us, it may always be a little of both. They are who they are - adopted children. But I do find it interesting to see that things have "shifted" a little in our household.

    I'm more worried about keeping my little "energized" bunnies safe and accident free!

    I will say that both Austin and Logan like to be "babies" a lot. And I do not know if that's a normal tendancy or something that they regress to for "adoption" issues. Whatever it is...I hold them like little babies and coo and caa for as long as they want...

    It'll be interesting to see what others say.

  3. Hey Steph- great post! Its been awhile since anyone in my blogger circle has talked about attachment, but it is still something I think about too from time to time (though much less now).

    I, like you, tend to default to adoption issues. I read this in a book that helped me frame it:
    -all kids have seperation anxiety/fears due to the perception their parents could seperate from them. Our kids dont just have this perception, it is their experience/ reality. It changes the way I think about this with my daughter.

    So, I think it is just managing through it all. You may never really know whta is adoption vs. normal toddler behavior and that is ok. I agree with Donna...just keep giving them what they need!!

  4. Oh, I totally get the "adoption paranoia" It was really hard in Guatemala. He was so off!! I kept wondering if he was having flashbacks. More likely he just wanted to go home!! It is a fine line and I always heir on the side of caution. You did agreat job w/the water issue.

    As parents we always question everything!!

  5. I go back and forth on the attachment issues. I think it is always good to be aware that that's what may be going on, then I always try to err on the side of being cautious of adoption/attachment stuff. But, I think each child is different and each family is too. I think you guys are doing a great job feeling him out and trusting your instincts.