BONDING WITH YOUR CHILD
What is bonding?
Bonding is very important when discussing your
parental response to your child who has a special need. It is imperative
that you understand what bonding is and how it can impact the emotional
well being of your children. Bonding is:
• the forming of a mutual emotional attachment
between parent and child.
• the giving of unconditional love by the parent to the child.
• the development of an emotional connection between parent and
• the development of a sense of security for the child.
• the establishment of an emotional intimacy and sense of closeness
between parent and child.
• the beginning step in helping the child to feel a healthy self-worth
• the transmission of familial ties between child and parent through
which nonverbal communication and understanding takes place.
• a means of providing the child with a sense of belonging to a
• a way of bringing the child into the larger network of caring
and love present in the parent's extended family.
• the concern and love for the child by the parent, and for the
parent by the child, which is exhibited in all aspects of both their
What is over bonding?
Parents of children with special needs can go
to the extreme of over bonding with their children. Over bonding
• the forming of an over-dependent relationship
between parent and child.
• the forming of a relationship in which the parent becomes over
responsible for the child.
• the forming of a relationship in which the parent is overly concerned
for the child putting these concerns before the needs of the spouse
and other family members.
• a relationship in which a parent is so guilt ridden due to the
child's early problems/ disability that the child is smothered with
attention and all personal needs of the parent are ignored or dropped
to meet the needs of this child.
• a relationship in which the child is overindulged.
• a relationship in which the child is unable to develop a sense
of individual personality or autonomy.
• a relationship in which a child is neither encouraged nor allowed
to accept personal responsibility for personal actions.
• a relationship in which one parent focuses all personal attention
onto the target child to the exclusion of the spouse and other family
• a relationship in which the rights of an individual are ignored
or excluded in order to more fully address the needs of a second
individual who appears to be more ''needy'' or ''deserving.''
• a relationship in which one person devotes one's entire life,
energy, efforts, and health for the sake of another person.
How is bonding manifested?
Parents of children with special needs should
review the following signs of mutual bonding between parent and
child to assess how well they have bonded with their children. The
degree of bonding between parent and child is shown by:
• the parents' attitude and interest in their
• the way the child is held or touched.
• how comfortable the child is in leaving the parents to enter a
• the child's ability to be secure in a social environment.
• the child's degree of self-confidence.
• the child's sense of self-concept and self-esteem.
A parent's response to the child's special needs
reflects how well they are bonded. The signs to analyze as to how
close or distantly the parents are bonded with their children with
special needs are if the parents are:
• overly protective, smothering, and hysterical
can mean over bonding.
• acceptance, relaxation and coping can mean normal bonding.
• detachment, rejection, withdrawal can mean a lack of bonding.
A parents' response to the helpers of the child
with special needs reflects the level of bonding. If the parent
• critical, non-trusting, lack of faith can mean
• involved, active can mean normal bonding.
• disinterest, ignoring can show a lack of bonding.
The manner in which a parent deals with the child's
diagnosed special need or disability reflects the level of bonding.
If the parent is:
• permissive, babying, pampering can mean over
• cooperative, helpful, understanding can mean normal bonding.
• blaming the child, ostracizing, condemning can show a lack of
What are some obstacles to bonding?
Parents of children with special needs are faced
with many obstacles to healthy bonding with their children such
An unhealthy pregnancy
Parental anxiety can result in the child being
blamed for the problems, therefore interfering with bonding.
A problem delivery
Extreme pain and discomfort can be a barrier to
A premature birth
This can interfere with bonding because the child
is often immediately taken from parents for medical intervention.
Intensive care placement of child
A child being kept in an intensive care nursery
can prevent touching, holding, rocking, therefore healthy initial
bonding between parent and child is not formed.
Diagnosis of special need
The diagnosis of developmental disability or chronic
illness can result in the parents' having a grief response resulting
in poor bonding.
Behavior problems or not performing up to a parent's
anticipations can impede bonding.
Lack of achievement can impede bonding.
A child needing specialized services and treatment
can impede bonding.
Spouses who use the children as pawns in marital
warfare can interfere with bonding between parent and child.
Child's Search for Autonomy
The natural development to a stage of seeking
independence and autonomy can interfere with bonding.
Recognizing these obstacles to bonding you can
take steps to improve the bonding with your child with special needs.
This holds true even for your typical children as well.
What are some ways to improve bonding?
You can improve the bonding with your child with
special needs by doing one or all of the following:
• When the child is a baby place it on your chest/stomach
area while you both relax.
• Use lots of firm physical touch, bear hugs, or baby massage in
a way that won't cause sensory
• Talk often to the child, surround child with an atmosphere of
• Physically hold the child face to face.
• Talk to the child face to face.
• Get down to the child's level to make eye contact when talking.
• Work at meeting the ''match'' of the child. Encourage the child
to do those things for which the child is ready and capable. Try
not to expect too much too soon, frustrating both child and parent.
• Speak in a loving and caring manner to child, helping the message
of bonding to get through.
• Show respect for the child; do not expect the child to act like
an ''adult'' when child-like behavior is normal.
• Play with the child at the child's level of understanding and
• Always listen carefully to the child and offer empathy and understanding
when the child is troubled.
• Encourage interaction between your child and your child's peers.
• Be honest with the child when describing or dealing with problems
in the family or with the child.
• Be supportive of the child as the child faces the harsh realities
of life and becomes fearful, scared, or concerned about the future.
• Let the child grow up to be his own person; encourage the development
of independent and autonomous thinking.
• Assist your child in becoming a good problem solver by encouraging
the honest and open exploration and discussion of options and alternatives
when facing problems.
Activities to improve bonding between parent and child
The following activities can increase bonding
between parent and child.
If your child is an infant, lay your naked child
on your bare chest and let your bodies touch if this does not cause
problems. Lie this way 30 minutes a day for 10 to 14 days to
increase the touch experience. Talk gently and lovingly to your
child. (Use a blanket or sheet if needed for the cold.)
Simulated Breast Feeding
With infants who cannot be breast fed, pretend
you are breast feeding by having the baby lie on your bare chest
as you feed the baby formula This is an excellent way to recapture
the lost opportunity to bond through breast feeding. It is a great
activity for fathers and brothers of children who are being breast
fed. Physical contact, body to body, during feeding creates a special
bond between parent and child.
Face to Face
If your child is talking, sit face to face and
play a game of touching and naming each other's body parts. This
encourages concept development, sexual awareness, and physical contact.
It is fun! Do this once or twice a week until you are comfortable
in giving and receiving physical touches with your child.
Play a game with your child in which the reward
for the correct answer or correct move is to get a hug from the
others in the game. You can do this with flash cards, checkers,
bingo, scrabble, card games or any children's trivial pursuit-like
games. This only works if your child likes hugs, of course.
Lie on the bed or floor (dressed) with your child
on your chest so that the child's head is close to your head. Whisper
and talk to your child. Tickle your child's body and begin to laugh
gently and comfortably as you softly tickle and snuggle with your
child. Begin to roll from side to side as you snuggle. Laugh as
you say ''Wheee'' or ''Whoose'' as you roll. This is a sure-fire
way to stimulate a sense of fun and security in the child if this
does not cause sensory
Remember your favorite childhood songs, nursery
rhymes and stories. Share them with your child while looking into
the child's eyes and keeping eye contact. The sharing of your treasured
memories contributes to cross-heritage bonding. Remembering the
things important to you as a child brings back good, warm feelings;
these feelings can then be transmitted to your child.
With any aged child, pretend you and the child
are caterpillars in a cocoon of blankets or a sleeping bag. Lay
quietly, closely touching, and sing softly to one another. After
30 minutes, pretend you two are beautiful butterflies breaking out
of a cocoon. Throw off the covers and ''fly'' around the room. Do
this once or twice a week until you feel comfortable being intimate
with your child. Some children on the autism spectrum like the
firm overall pressure from activities like this (read about the
What Steps can improve bonding with your child with special needs?
Before you can improve bonding with your child,
you must identify the determinants of your bonding today. Answer
the following questions in your journal:
• What does infant or child bonding mean to me?
• When did bonding begin between my disabled child and me?
• What were the barriers to our bonding at my child's delivery?
• When was the first time I could touch my baby? What were my feelings
and emotions whey I first held my baby?
• In my child's first three months of life what was the environment
like in which my child and I had a chance to bond?
• How did my child's diagnosis affect our bonding? How did my beliefs
about my ability to accept a child with a disability affect our
• How did my child's fragile health affect our bonding?
• What early behavior traits of my child affected our bonding?
• What physical features of my child affected our bonding?
• How did the reactions of others (spouse, children, parents, in-laws,
relatives, friends, neighbors, fellow workers) affect my bonding
with my child?
Once you have identified the determinants affecting
bonding between you and your disabled child, you are ready to ascertain
the status of your bonding. Answer the following questions in your
• What level of bonding do I have with my disabled
child? Normal? Under-bonded? Over-bonded?
• How does my attitude and interest in my child reflect my bonding
with my child?
• How does the way I hold, look at, and touch my child reflect our
level of bonding?
• How does the way I discipline my child reflect our level of bonding?
• How has my handling of grief over my child's developmental disability
and other problems affected our bonding?
• How has my guilt over my child's problems affected our bonding?
Lack of guilt?
• How does my child's behavior reflect our bonding?
• How has my acceptance of my child's diagnosis affected our bonding?
Inability to accept?
• How does the way I talk to or talk about my child reflect our
• How does the way my child treat me reflect our bonding?
Once you have determined the status of your bonding
with your target child, you are ready to deal with it.
• If you are over-bonded, work on to Chapter 4,
• If you lack bonding or want to improve the bonding with your child,
proceed to Step 4.
In order to improve deficient bonding with your
child, answer the following questions in your journal:
• Which of the ways of improving bonding listed
in this chapter have you tried? Which of these ways are you willing
to try now?
• Become aware of your physical response to your child. How relaxed
are you when you approach your child? How tense are you? What does
this tell you about your bonding? How can you improve this?
• How comfortable are you in touching your child? How comfortable
are you with your child touching you?
• How many minutes or hours a day do you hold your child?
• In what ways do you feed your child to encourage close contact
with one another?
• How do you give your child a bath? How does this encourage bonding?
• How comfortable are you with your child's naked body touching
• How comfortable are you in talking to and with your child? How
comfortable are you in looking into your child's eyes as you talk?
• What is your usual tone of voice in talking to your child? How
does this encourage bonding? What different tones could you use?
• How comfortable are you in playing with your child at the child's
level? How much fun do you and your child have together? How could
you improve the amount of play and fun you experience with your
If you still have problems bonding with your child
with special needs, return to Step 1 and begin again.
Reproduced from coping.org,
a Public Service of James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance M. Messina,
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Ph.D. & Constance Messina, Ph.D. Note: Original materials on
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