Having a face full of stickers may be one of the best things I’ve done to build attachment with my littlest chickens. Bonding and attachment can be very difficult for the adopted child after suffering abuse and/or neglect in their biological home. Our chickens needed to form attachments to their caregivers (us) in much the same way that infants do. They need eye-contact. They need skin-to-skin contact. They need to build a wealth of positive experiences to associate with their caregiver. They need to learn reciprocity of emotion and expression. The following are 4 silly games we’ve made up to play with our chickens. Laughter and play are the best ways to attach and fall in love with your kiddos!
1. Sticky Face
This is a game we made up with a spinner but you could also make your own playing cards on index cards etc. You will also need stickers. We have the categories “left cheek, right cheek, chin, nose, mouth, forehead, and ears.” The way to play is to spin a spot and then place a silly sticker there on your opponent’s face. The person who keeps all of their stickers on for the longest time wins the game.
Attachment Benefits: This game builds attachment by promoting eye-contact. The more time the child spends looking into your eyes, or even at your face, the more they can bond to you. This game involves touch in a playful and fun way. It promotes safe and happy feelings that your child will associate being close to you. Infants are held and gazed at. Your older child also benefits from physical closeness and eye contact. For bonus silly points? Start the game by having a sticker on your face already and avoid commenting on it until your child initiates the game. Or wear your “sticky face” out together to the drug store or grocery store!
2. Finger Face
This game is played in much the same way as sticky face. We created a spinner for parts of the face and one for fingers. You could easily create two separate card decks as well. If I spin on “left finger” and “right cheek” then I place my left finger on my daughter’s right cheek. It is a little bit like twister for your fingers. Also, your fingers are in someone else’s face! The person who lasts the longest without dropping a finger, wins.
Attachment Benefits: This game encourages eye-contact and physical touch. It’s also a really funny game and you look ridiculous with your finger on your child’s nose. It also allows your child to get used to having someone close to them in their personal space, while feeling fun and silly. This is particularly helpful for those children with PTSD who flinch when someone’s hand is near their face. It’s a corrective experience that teaches a positive association (ie hands are for fun and affection, not for hitting)
3. Penny, Penny, Where is the Penny?
This game requires a handful of pennies and a large T-shirt, or blanket with a scent-memory component. A child’s favorite blankie will do but a shirt that the parent has worn, or a blanket or pillowcase they sleep with is better. Objects that smell like the parent’s unique smell will help to build positive memories associated with this scent. I’m not suggesting anyone stinks! It’s just that everyone has a unique smell made up of shampoo, body lotion, shaving cream, soap, hair products, sweat, etc. Hide your child’s entire head under the blanket or shirt, if they will tolerate it. if not, allow them to hold the shirt and face a wall. Hide a penny somewhere in the room in a very difficult spot. The child must turn around and find the penny. The adult gives clues such as “you’re getting warmer.” etc. Make sure to exaggerate your facial expression and tone of voice. Use a panicked “Oh no! You’re getting hot! On fire!” When the child is close. The child will have to look to you in order to find the penny. Let the child keep each penny that they find.
Attachment Benefits: In this game, the child is learning to rely on you, the caregiver, for guidance. They are also learning to match your facial expression and tone of voice, to an appropriate response and reaction. Children coming from homes of neglect have often experienced a disconnect between adult emotional response and action. For instance, a child may have been physically abused by an adult who was laughing or an adult may have begun to cry or yell uncontrollable for no reason that was apparent to the child. This confuses their ability t express and interpret their own feelings and the feelings of others. The more they practice this, the more they will learn to trust that their current caregiver has a reliable cause and effect system with their emotions. The child also must trust the caregiver that the penny is, in fact, hidden. This promotes object permanency with a child who may or may not been able to rely on a previous caregiver. For example, a caregiver may have promised food when in reality, they failed to produce food for the child.
4. Are You My ____ Baby?
I like to use this game for my very active 9-year-old son. You do not need anything but yourselves for this game. Without any previous warning, I begin to scuttle around the kitchen like a crab, calling out, ” I am a crab. Have you seen my crab baby?” My son will squeal in delight and get down into crab mode saying, “Here I am! I’m your crab baby!” Then it’s his turn to hop like a frog or slither like a snake, etc and say ” I am a frog. Have you seen my frog mommy?” Then I must hop like a frog and answer “Here I am! I am your frog mommy!” Some fun animals to use are the penguin, duck, spider, elephant, gorilla, turtle (pop your head in and out of your shirt for a “shell”) and horse. Try your own! You get bonus points for using a different accent for each animal. End the game by becoming yourself and saying, “Baby, Baby, have you seen my baby?” The child can choose to be themselves or to role-play being an actual baby. Show exaggerated delight in finding your “baby” no matter how old they are.
Attachment Benefits: Sometimes children who have suffered abuse and/or neglect have skipped early developmental stages. This gives them the opportunity to become a “baby” in a non-threatening way. Children who did not get enough of this in early childhood will often show you by craving infant role-play. This is a fun and silly way to meet that need. It also builds the concept that families work together. If you are a frog I will have to bend a bit and become a frog mommy. When I am fish, you will have to bend a bit and become a fish baby. It builds compliance as well. This game also builds on the idea that you should be together because parents need children and children need parents.
No matter what you play with your child, please make time for fun and games and silliness. The more fun they have with you, the easier it will be to work together with you on harder things, like non-preferred tasks. Adopting can be hard. Don’t forget to stop and enjoy the ride. Have fun with your chickens (my favorite animal to play!) If you have ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your adventure today!