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Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Holding Time Print
Holding Time is a strategy designed by Martha Welch, MD, to promote bonding between any mother and child. It was not developed with adoptive children in mind. However, adoptive parents have noted the positive results with attachment achieved through the use of this technique. Many attachment therapists coach parents in holding.

This amazing article by Doris A. Landry, M.S., L.L.P., describes how adoptive children may react more intensely to the holding experience than other children and explains why it is so important for their emotional health and well-being. “Holding” Emotionally or physically should be one in the same—Or--The Adoptive Family Asks.... What is this thing called “holding?”

One mom shares from her first week using holding with her 17 month old:

When my son struggled with poor choices, I picked him up, tilted him back in my arms like a baby and calmly talked to him. I told him I loved him, over and over. This may sound contrary to logical thinking. Holding a child like a baby and telling him you love him after he has misbehaved sounds like you are begging him to act up so that you'll do this again and again. But for the first several days I did this, my son would arch his back and scream and scream. I also picked him up a few times (2-3 times) during the day (not when he did something wrong--just whenever) and held him like a baby and sang to him and talked in a quiet voice. Again, he arched his back and screamed. I continued to hold him until he was calm and could relax in my arms. I was shocked by his reaction because none of my other children had ever demonstrated such resistance to being held. On the first day, he screamed for 45 minutes straight. A later session was more like 20 minutes. By the fifth day he calmly looked me in the eye and talked in a nice voice. He looked relaxed and appeared to enjoy the process.

I noticed a change in personality to go along with this. He stopped doing no-nos as often. He smiled at me more and would even snuggle against me when I held him. Before, when I carried him, he often kept one arm locked against my chest, holding me at an arm's length. These small but significant changes happened in only 5 days.

When I didn't have time for a full holding session, I might just cuddle him for a few minutes. One example was a morning at breakfast. He woke up in a good mood. He was hungry and I put him in his highchair to eat. I gave him something he likes. But for no apparent reason he suddenly arched his back and started screaming. After a minute or so of this, I took him out of the highchair and cradled him like a baby. He immediately calmed down. Then I started feeding him from his bowl with a spoon (he usually feeds himself.) He totally relaxed and let me feed him and smiled at me and cuddled.” [This family continued the use of holding in conjunction with several other “Corrective Experiences.” The child’s heart showed immense healing in just a year.] (a. 5.5mo, FC)

I am a big proponent of a modified version of "holding time."

To be fair, I have really only used holding time to help my kids when they were already throwing a tantrum - I have not held them until they got emotional - they were already upset when I started holding them close.

I started doing a somewhat modified version of holding time because my son was crying for over an hour every day, for the first 6 months after he arrived home (he was 21 months when he came home). Based on everything I had read and my "gut," I thought a lot of it had to do with grieving and general agitation over such a huge life change. I held him tight while he raged because I wanted him to know that I was going to be there for him NO MATTER WHAT - no matter how mad he got, no matter how upset he was - nothing was going to scare me away from him. I thought it was very important that I held him throughout his tantrum - otherwise, I feared sending him a message that Mama would only be around him when he acted "appropriately." I wanted him to understand that I loved him unconditionally, even when he wasn't acting so loving towards me.

Although I started doing this because it instinctively felt "right," my son's reaction also confirmed that it was what he needed me to do. When he eventually calmed down, he was always very affectionate and loving - it was as if he was saying "wow - I guess you really do love me! You didn't take off, even though I tried to scare you away." Holding him tightly and consistently throughout all of that definitely brought us closer.

I realize that we did not follow the holding time techniques exactly, but the basic principles worked well for us (i.e. holding my kids close when they were upset and seeking "resolution" to their tantrums).(a. 21mo, FC)

Holding Time and Close Time with Mommy
While using attachment parenting techniques we found that our son became more and more anxious. He accepted that I was his Mommy but then developed an overwhelming anxiety that I would leave too. One attachment therapist explained it so well. Our son had a fear of love and of love going away. His anxiety did not necessarily present itself like some would expect. He didn’t necessarily scream and cry if I left the room or cling to me and want to be held all the time…though we did have those days or moments. Our son’s anxiety would come out as persistent whining, temper tantrums, and easily frustrated behavior. He was irritable, moody, on edge, and sadly lacking the joy and life we expect from little ones. It would have been easy to make the excuse that he was tired or teething but no amount of sleep or pain relievers made a difference. I would say that 95% of the day he was miserable. It would cycle too. He would have a few great days, but the dark cloud always came back.

We started Holding Time after reading Martha Welch’s book. I have to say that my experience with Holding Time was nothing like Welch’s description. He would scream with intensity just because I sat down, held him in the cradle position, and told him how much I loved him. The screaming, heart-wrenching cries began immediately. Just the mere act of cradling him and looking lovingly into his eyes brought out his anger, sadness, and pain. The screaming went on and on as I continued to tell him that I was his forever mommy and I would never leave. At least an hour (but more often an hour and a half) would go by before he relaxed some and stopped crying. We did not have the resolutions that I read about. We did not have great eye contact, smiles, laughs, kisses, and all the good things I thought came with resolution. What we did have was a baby who had released a huge amount of sadness and anger that he had built up. He was exhausted.

We always ended holdings with a sweet bottle and tons of kisses and hugs. I would just pour the love on; he was more able to accept my love at that particular time. After all, that is what builds attachment – someone has to give love and someone must receive. That is why love alone is not enough; love is a two-way street. Love must be offered, but love must also be accepted. Afterwards our son was a completely different child. He was at peace. He would smile and laugh and play happily with his toys. No whining, temper tantrums, or fits of frustration. He was calm and happy and would look for me and smile as he played. The peaceful joy our son felt would last hours and sometimes even days.

I used holding often when our son was just about to break…when he just could not hold it together another minute. I held him while he released his rage. It was very painful to see him scream, cry and fight, but I knew he needed to release those feelings; and what better place than in the safety of my loving arms? It was not easy. It was emotionally and physically exhausting. I felt like it sucked the life out of me, but he needed to have that release, and the way he transformed into a happy, joyful, playful baby after kept me motivated.

The days between the dark clouds increased until my little boy was full of joy 95% of the time. The whining is gone, the temper tantrums are gone, and the fits of frustration are gone. He is happily content and peaceful now. He is full of life. He is the little boy he was meant to be.

Holding Time was a very important tool in our attachment work, but alone it was not enough. While it was immensely beneficial, it was also exhausting. Holding Time is a true commitment. Once you start, you cannot stop, so if there are time restraints or if you are too tired or frustrated to see it through to the end, another tool needs to be applied. For us this other tool was Close Time.

We bought an Ergo carrier that is designed for long wear and heavier babies/toddlers. Whenever I could not do a Holding Time, I put our son in the carrier (front facing) and there he stayed until he was regulated. He needed close contact for long periods. At first I wore him and did light cleaning around the house…all while making eye contact, giving hugs and kisses, and talking to him in a gentle, calm voice or singing. I often used this time to play Mozart softly on the stereo. The constant movement, close contact, and calming music and words all worked together to soothe our son. Close Time often took longer than Holding Time…sometimes up to three hours, but if I was frustrated and tired, Close Time calmed me down and allowed me to do some things around the house.

Sometimes I hit the streets. I would put our son in the Ergo and walk around the neighborhood. In the winter I put a hat on him and my coat around both of us, making the close time all the more warm and snuggly. I would walk, talk to him quietly about everything we saw, and sing songs I made up about how he was my forever baby and I was his forever mommy and we were a forever family.

The more I used Close Time the less often he needed it. He began to regulate quicker and hold it together for longer periods of time. The moment the whining, tantrums, and frustrated behavior returned I would console him with, “Looks like you need close time with Mommy.” Over time he would come to me when he needed help regulating and position himself on my body like he was in the Ergo. He would even bring it to me. Holding Time helped him release the angry, sad, and scared feelings he had trapped inside, but the Close Time helped him learn to regulate. The combination of the two tools made a great impact on our son’s emotional health. (a. 6mo, FC)

When children heal...a humorous postscript...

My son, age 5.5yo, was telling his sister that he was angry because he didn't get to stay up late enough to have cake. (It was cooling and still needed to be frosted.) She asked, "So what can you do about your angries?"

"I could have holding time."

"Do you want to do that?"


So he comes to find me and says, "Mom, I need to have a holding time and get my angries out."


So we went to the couch and assumed the holding time position. He got this intense look, screwed up his face, and started tensing up his whole body, bearing down like he needed to have a bowel movement. (Sorry for the graphic details!) He couldn't work up a "real angry" if he tried. I started laughing. He started laughing. He said, "Wait! I have another angry," and did the whole thing again. It was so funny and I started cracking up again. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

I couldn't have foreseen this a few years ago.
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