Tomorrow is the first day of Adoption Knowledge Affiliates’ annual conference in Austin, TX, and I’m pumped up! I can’t wait to reconnect with other professionals who work with adoption, attend some of the sessions, and meet other adoptive parents and adoptees. And – I’m excited to share my ideas, rooted in an ecotherapy approach, on incorporating nature into the relationship between adoptive parents and children to help deepen attachment and foster healing.

Here is a sneak preview of my presentation on Saturday afternoon…..

To begin with, attachment is not always easy when kids have experienced trauma and early childhood attachment disruptions and wounds. The parent-child relationship can begin to feel like a roller coaster ride of big emotions and difficult behaviors.

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How Does Nature Help?
Intuitively, many people agree that spending time outside in nature is relaxing, restorative, and healing. A growing body of research tells us our intuition is spot on; nature affects our minds and bodies in a myriad of healthy, positive ways. For children who have been through trauma, here are some especially salient research findings:

Exposure to nature…

• reduces stress
• regulates and calms the nervous system
• increases heart rate variability (indicating better response to stress)
reduces attention fatigue
• promotes positive mood
• reduces hostility
• promotes empathy
• decreases impulsivity
• promotes trust-building and lessens need for control
• encourages ability to form emotional bonds

How Can Nature Help Me and My Child Grow Closer, More Attached?
Attachment is a complex, multi-faceted process, particularly when the parent and/or the child have experienced trauma (or aspects of trauma) which is still unresolved. This is especially true when the traumatic experiences involved relationships with adults who were supposed to be safe and secure.

It can be very difficult for a child who has experienced this type of relational trauma to learn to trust and bond with other adults, such as adoptive parents. Bringing nature into the relationship provides an indirect, less threatening, way for a child to interact with and attach to their parent.

Here are a few broad concepts to keep in mind which can encourage attachment, along with some examples, to get you started:

• Play together doing outdoor activities you both enjoy, where your child’s and your play styles overlap
Ex. if you both enjoy storytelling, you could watch clouds together; if you both enjoy collecting, you could find nature items, such as rocks, to collect together
• Activities promoting safe touch
Ex. splashing in creeks, help with climbing rocks or trees, playing in the mud together
• Activities promoting fun, laughter
Ex. Safe bloopers and silly “mistakes”, such as pretending to fall off of a log
• Sharing food
Ex. picnics, learning to identify edible plants together, learning outdoor cooking skills

These are just the tip of the iceberg, as nature provides so many wonderful, simple opportunities for parents to foster attachment with their child. And, even if you aren’t focusing on attachment activities, don’t forget that simply spending time in nature is good for the mind and body – for both you and your child!