Saturday, November 12, 2011


When we first brought Seth and Lizzie home, it was quite noticeable to me that neither of the kids liked to be touched on their backs.  They loved being hugged, were almost always ready for a cuddle, and would have appreciated being carried around every waking moment...but oddly, by their reaction you would have thought that the touch of our fingers on the bare skin of their backs was like a red hot poker.  They flinched or pulled away sharply and, when they had the words to say it, would complain "don't like that" or "don't touch there."  The one time I tried gently scratching their backs in a way that Matthew adores, both kids actually screamed out loud.

They just couldn't handle it.  That manner of touch was just too much for them at the time...too intimate.  I think that it represented too much closeness to us, more attachment than they were ready for at the time.

We were pretty sure that this would change over time.  And I'm glad to say that it has changed.

About six weeks after we got home with the kids, I suddenly noticed that my hand was splayed over Seth's back and resting there firmly as I cuddled him.  He was not complaining.  Ever so gently, I moved my hand down his back, once - just enough to let him know what I was doing, but over with so quickly that he didn't have time to voice a complaint.  I did the same thing again the next day, and the day after that.  And the day after that.  Eventually, he didn't even tense up.  So...I tried to increase the interaction by gently moving my hand back up his back, after having moved it down in the now-familiar pattern.  He momentarily tensed, then relaxed.

I continued that deliberate, single down-and-up stroke for weeks, with both kids, and over time have seen a very significant difference in their reaction to this kind of touch.

Two weeks ago, while I was comforting Lizzie about something, I suddenly noticed that I was rubbing her back up and down repeatedly and that she was actually being comforted by it; welcoming it.  I smiled to myself in the midst of her tears, feeling her body pressed into mine as a result of my hands rubbing her back and pulling her in closer to me.  When, later on the same day, I noticed the same thing with Seth, I experienced a moment of deep satisfaction, knowing that the kids have tangibly and clearly made huge progress in their attachment to us.

Yesterday morning, I found myself giving Lizzie a gentle back scratch while we cuddled.  I didn't do it for longer than about twenty seconds, but when I stopped and asked her if she liked that she said "yes."  Then she shifted her body to move behind me, and reached under my pajama shirt - she started scratching my back and asked if I liked it.  I did!  So, with her in control of the timing, we spent the next ten minutes trading back scratches!

Though there are many positive signs that they are attaching well, understanding the significance of touch in attachment (think about how newborn infants attach first through their senses) and how actively they did not want that kind of touch in the beginning, has been a huge thing.  Plus, I simply love being able to help them feel better by rubbing their backs in that instinctive measure of comfort.

1 comment:

  1. That's very interesting, Ruth. My two bio girls absolutely beg for bag scratches and practically melt when they get them. I assumed Mebira would like them as well, but she squirmed whenever I tried. She was OK if I rubbed her belly or arm or leg with my thumb, but as soon as I gently (or even more firmly) scratched her back she asked me to stop. I may see if I can ease her into it, but so far no luck on the back. I wonder if it is just not a cultural way to comfort them, or if it is attachment? Interesting to see your post and read your experience on this!