When babies are born they rely on parents or caregivers to protect them and look after their emotional and physical needs. Having these needs met allows them to form a bond or ‘attach’ with their parents. Forming this attachment helps children learn to love and trust others, to regulate emotions, become aware of others’ feelings and develop healthy bonds in the future. If for some reason this bond fails to form, children can develop attachment issues. The reasons behind such situations can be complex, but for a young child all they understand is that they cannot depend on others. Attachment is related to trust and empathy. Sadly, when attachments are not developed early in life, a child may not learn to trust and may not develop a conscience. Lack of attachment can lead to future behavioral problems and may affect relationships and social bonds.
What causes attachment disorder?
Attachment issues result when a child fails to form an attachment to a parent or caregiver in the early years. The reasons behind this vary, but may include the following:
- No one responds or offers comfort when the baby cries
- The baby is not tended to when hungry or needs changing
- Abuse or mistreatment
- Extended hospitalisation or separation from parents
- Frequent moves from one caregiver to another
- Parents/caregivers are emotionally unavailable due to illness, mental health problems or addiction
- Inconsistent caregiver behavior
Attachment disorders fall on a spectrum, from mild problems that can easily be addressed to the more serious condition known as reactive attachment disorder. This means that symptoms can vary in severity from person to person and may resemble other disorders such as autism and ADHD. If the attachment disorder is left untreated, it can have a negative impact on the child’s emotional, social and behavioral development.
At Oriana Counseling Center, treatment for attachment disorders has two goals. The first is to help the child form a healthy bond with an appropriate caregiver. The second is to provide parental education. Parenting a child with attachment issues can be frustrating and emotionally draining. Rebuilding this bond often takes a considerable amount of time, effort and patience. It can be especially difficult if you have adopted a child with attachment issues. Whatever the situation may be, I can help you strengthen your relationship and develop a healthy attachment.
Example of an Attachment Problem
Six year old, Casey, is brought in for therapy by her newly adoptive parents. They adopted her from a local foster care system last year. Though Casey had been loving and sweet in the beginning, she had also been impulsive, prone to sudden bursts of aggression, and displayed sexualised behavior. Her new parents overlooked this, assuming the behaviors would improve as she grew accustomed to a stable life. Instead, things deteriorated rapidly. Carey's parents tell me Casey is aggressive with her older siblings, is impossible to discipline, is frequently in trouble at school, bullies other children, and wets the bed nightly. She seems angry for no reason and does not allow anyone to comfort her.
The signs of attachment issues are recognised, and instead of trying to change Casey’s behavior with reinforcement and punishment, as Casey’s caregivers have, I work on creating positive attachment experiences between Casey and her parents. In addition, I help the parents understand the motivation behind Casey’s behaviors and we explore ways to provide attachment-facilitating parenting experiences at home. After several months, results begin to appear. Casey accepts hugs and is less easily frustrated and triggered. Instead of hitting her siblings when upset, she cries and asks for help. Because her behavior was a symptom of intense emotional ambivalence, when positive parenting addressed the issue, her symptoms began to fade.