Attachment refers to the bond created between parent(s) and child. If an infant and parent(s) have temperaments that are adaptive, or there is a “good enough” fit between parent(s) and infant, a secure attachment pattern will form and provide the child with a sense of care and protection. However, a secure bond is not guaranteed. Some babies are easy to soothe and calm, while others are more difficult and require some trial and error as well as creativity. A key element in a secure attachment is the baby’s ability to learn to “self-regulate” (soothe themselves), which is dependent on the relationship with their parent(s). Parent and baby must be able to adapt to one another in the process of creating a secure attachment.

First and foremost, attachment is a biological survival skill. Mothers and babies are affected by the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes a sense of closeness, trust and relaxation between mother and baby during pregnancy and birth, and between baby and parents from birth on. This is essential to the creation of a secure attachment, which is the foundation of a healthy relationship between caregiver and child.

Healthy relationships form between caregiver and infant when the following occurs:

  1. Caregivers are able to meet with biological, physical and emotional needs of their infant.
  2. There is a recurring pattern of an infant “communicating” their needs and a caregiver meeting those needs.
  3. A caregiver responds to the needs the infant in an attuned and soothing manner to create a sense of “trust in care” with the caregiver.
  4. As the child grows, the caregiver sets developmentally appropriate limits.
  5. As a result, the child gains “trust in control” by the caregiver.

Sounds easy, right? Except that

Parenting is complicated and healthy attachments with our children can be elusive, due to the following reasons:

  • a caregiver’s ability to attach is based on the caregiver’s own experience of being cared for
  • a caregiver suffers from mental illness, substance abuse, or a chronic physical illness
  • a caregiver lacks the support they need from other adults
  • and more…

Here are some signs that a caregiver is suffering from their own attachment problems:

  • resentment of your child
  • harsh discipline
  • being uninvolved or disinterested in your child’s world
  • being alert to your child’s mistakes and minimizing or ignoring their strengths
  • emphasizing how your child is intentionally manipulating you through their behaviors
  • showing little or not interest in your child’s “inner” life (their feelings, thoughts, ideas, etc.)

Children also show signs of suffering from attachment problems, including:

  • being excessively alert or demanding
  • aggression and anger
  • destructive behaviors toward people or property
  • a lack of remorse or compassion for others
  • anxiety or clinginess
  • emotional distance
  • oppositional or defiant behavior
  • being extremely controlling or bossy
  • a pre-occupation with gore and blood
  • lying and/or stealing

In addition, there are some specific events that can disrupt the attachment between a caregiver and a child such as:

  • pre-natal damage
  • early separation from mother
  • multiple moves from caregiver to caregiver
  • physical or emotional abuse
  • physical or psychological abandonment or neglect
  • sexual abuse
  • unconsolable pain
  • domestic violence

Tips for those parenting a child with attachment disorder

Parenting a child with attachment issues can be frustrating and emotionally trying. Rebuilding this bond often takes a considerable amount of time, effort and patience. It can be especially hard if you have adopted a child with attachment issues. Whatever the situation may be however – there are ways you can help.

Talking through any treatment plan with a qualified professional is advised, however the following tips may offer some help for those parenting a child with attachment issues:

Be realistic with your expectations

Helping your child with an attachment disorder can be a long and trying process. Ensure you are focussing on every step forward you take (no matter how small) and celebrate any signs of success.

Patience is key

Remaining patient when setbacks occur is essential. Keeping calm despite any bumps in the road will help to create an atmosphere of safety and security for your child – and it is this sense of safety that children with attachment disorder crave the most.

Take care of yourself

Children suffering from attachment disorder are already experiencing high levels of stress, so it is imperative that you keep stress to a minimum. It is important therefore to manage your own stress levels before attempting to help them with theirs. Make time for yourself to ensure you get enough rest, eat well and reduce sources of stress.

Lean on others for support

As well as professional help, be sure to look to friends and family for support when times get tough. Try not to let things get to breaking point and consider joining a support group if you are struggling to cope.

Stay positive

Children are brilliant at picking up on other people’s feelings, and if they sense you are feeling discouraged, they are likely to feel discouraged themselves. Try to stay hopeful and optimistic, and turn to others for reassurance when you’re feeling low.

Set limits and boundaries

Children with attachment disorder need consistent, loving boundaries to make the world more predictable and less scary. Setting limits helps them to understand what is expected from them, while having consequences for their actions will instill a sense of control.

Be available immediately after conflict

Conflict is likely to happen in any parenting situation. Remaining calm during this conflict and being readily available to reconnect after it happens reinforces your consistency and love towards your child. This will help your child trust you and teaches them that you will be there for them no matter what.

Own up to mistakes

If you do let your emotions get the better of you during an argument, be quick to own up to your mistakes and look to reconcile quickly. Your willingness to make amends will help to strengthen the attachment bond.

Keep a routine

Consistent and familiar routines offer a sense of comfort to those with attachment disorder. Explain why any changes to routine take place and look to keep other elements in their life as consistent as possible.

Help your child feel loved

Listen, talk and play with your child. Ensure you are dedicating time to your relationship and if possible, show your child love through cuddling, rocking and holding – things your child may have missed out on in early life.

Support your child’s health

Healthy lifestyle habits such as a good sleep routine and nutritious diet can make a big difference when it comes to children’s moods. If you need help with this, be sure to speak to your doctor for advice.

Source: Pivotal Education Behavior Specialists

Good News!

If any of the above sounds familiar, there is hope. Whether you never had a secure attachment with your child or that attachment was disrupted for some reason, it is possible (with some hard work and insight) to heal that relationship. Through family therapy and attachment trauma counseling, you can be the caregiver you want to be and the caregiver your child deserves. Contact me, I’m here to help.



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Wynnewood, PA 19096
(484) 213-3616

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