Sometimes children do not get what they need early in life to form a stable attachment to others. Sometimes bad things happen. Some children are not born to stable parents because of poverty or the political climate. Sometimes children are abandoned and cared for in orphanages for months or years, never being held enough or loved enough.
Some mothers are abused and mistreated, and their children know fear and yelling from a young age, never feeling safe. Other children are born with medical complications and spend years in and out of hospitals always feeling pain and being afraid.
If a child’s life is disrupted from a young age, sometimes even prenatally, this experience can impact development. Some children, born to mothers who are unable to offer unconditional love, are passed around to relatives, moving from one caring adult to another but never knowing consistency.
Other children are abused. Others are adopted locally or internationally by parents who are loving and wonderful, after 6-9 months or more of insufficient care.
What do challenges with Attachment look like?
- Feeling unable to rely on people to always be there?
- Seeming to have difficulty maintaining a stable attachment to others?
- Too quickly hugging strangers or inviting them to come to your house?
- Experiencing moods that can shift rapidly and without predictability?
- Interacting with others in a way that feels like Push/Pull? Meaning does the relationship feel close, even needy, and then angry?
Why is Attachment happening?
Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby, two clinical psychologists and researchers in the mid-1900s, studied attachment and proposed attachment theory. Children who are securely attached have learned that they will be loved and cared for in their lives. They have a stable world free of excessive pain and trauma, and they have parents upon whom they can rely. Children who don’t have this stability, for whatever reason, can develop disordered attachment. This disordered attachment is characterized by a failure to trust caregivers and a Push/Pull interaction style that is needy one moment and sometimes violent and out of control the next moment. Children with attachment disorders have challenges interacting with others. Children can be less likely to seek or respond to comfort because they are less trusting of adults.
Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD is characterized by irritability and fluctuating mood. Later in life, children with RAD may develop Bipolar Disorder or Personality Disorders if they are unable to learn to trust, seek support from others and cope with feelings of anger and sadness.
Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder is a newly defined disorder, distinguished from RAD. This disorder is characterized by the tendency to attach quickly and to seek love and support from adults with little chance to form any connection. This child may approach any dad at the swimming pool, offer a hug and ask to come over for dinner. On day one of school, this child may be holding the teacher’s hand and climbing into her lap. Children with attachment issues often require intense and consistent therapy from a trained professional. They also require support and compassion by all adults in the child’s life, including school professionals and family members.
How can I manage Attachment at home?
Researcher and clinician Karyn Purvis spent her career working with children and families impacted by attachment disorder.
A big take away from her research is to be stable and predictable, stay calm and do not leave your child.
Although ‘time out’ is a reasonable strategy for many children, the use of ‘time out’ is ineffective. It can be damaging because the child’s basic need to feel safe takes precedence, and the child cannot learn while being isolated or afraid.
Parents of children with attachment issues must be consistently supportive and safe. She suggests calmly reminding a screaming child that he or she is safe and noting that as a parent, you can help when your child is ready.
If the child is screaming or hitting, model a calm posture, stay close, but stop talking. Do not resort to threats or yelling. Again, your child will not learn if he or she is in a place of fear or extreme anxiety.
Always focus first on nurturing and safety and then on teaching your child coping skills and appropriate behavior.
Her book, The Connected Child, is a great resource for families who adopt or foster children or for those whose children were impacted by early instability.
How can Clear Child Psychology help with Attachment?
We Help You, Immediately
Our Free Discovery Session is a 20-minute consultation where we can talk one-on-one about the concerns and questions you have about your child.
We Help Determine Next Steps
Our Initial Consultation allows us to get a deeper understanding of your child’s needs and determine if an assessment is appropriate.
We Build a Customized Plan
Our Assessments allow us to determine your child’s specific strengths and challenges. We can use this information to develop a customized support plan which includes: referrals
We Connect you with the Right Professionals
Once we understand your child’s needs, we will help families get connected to the right specialists. No more guesswork, no more wasted time and resources.
We Provide Ongoing Coaching and Support
Our Coaching Packages allow us to continually support families as they continue their journeys. Parental coaching, life-skills practice, and school advocacy are just a few examples of ways we help.