Attachment is as simple as it is profound. The infant expresses a need and the parent meets that need. The infant becomes secure, trusting that Mom/Dad/caregiver will meet his need. A parent regulates for the child. The parent feeds the child when he is hungry. The parent regulates. The child is cold. The parent wraps the child in a blanket. The parent regulates. The child cries a lonely cry and the parent picks up and comforts the child. The parent regulates. Eventually the child can begin to self-regulate. That is the beauty of attachment.
“When abuse and neglect occur, they can interrupt the attachment cycle-leading to serious problems in the formation of the personality and most likely affecting him throughout adulthood. When the cycle is not completed and repeated, difficulties may arise in critical areas such as:
- Social/behavioral development
- Cognitive development
- Emotional development
- Cause-and-effect thinking
- Conscience development
- Reciprocal relationships
- Accepting responsibility”
– Parenting the Hurt Child
1. Attachment begins in the womb.
Negative stressors can affect early attachment. A woman wrestling with thoughts of abortion or adoption has increased cortisol levels which damage the brain and immune system of the baby in utero. A baby adopted at birth still has a high risk of attachment issues. Thoughts of abortion, a negative lifestyle. Days of worry and lack can cause stress on the baby in the womb.
2. Medical Trauma can cause breaks in attachment
A child born with medical issues that require surgeries, separation, tests, time spent in the NICU can cause breaks in attachment and sensory issues. When a child’s first touch is pain, he may have an aversion to being held. Light touch may send him through the roof and he may also be immune to pain.
3. Attachment is plastic.
A child who has attachment issues can attach. When children’s needs are met consistently by emotionally responsive care givers, they learn to trust and attach to others. Over time, with lots of experiences of their fears calmed and stress soothed, they begin to develop the capacity to comfort themselves in times of stress.
4. Relationships are brain food.
The best way to grow the brain is with relationships. When you spend time with your child playing games, wrestling, having a tea party, building Legos, you are feeding his brain. Play Therapy was developed to help children with growth and development and emotional modulation and trauma resolution. Who knew fun was so important?
5. Adopted/foster children are not the only children who have attachment issues
Any child who has breaks in attachment due to medical trauma, neglect, abuse, inconsistent parenting and an unattached care-giver can have attachment issues. Also, children with parents on active military duty may display some signs of attachment issues. Children who attend a day care with not enough one on one attention can suffer breaks in attachment. Laura Schlessinger refers to daycares as day orphanages.
*if your child has to be in daycare, make sure there are enough workers to love on your child. The best daycare are in home with a mom or grandma and a smaller ratio of children.
6. Giving your child material things will not produce attachment.
We love to give our kids gifts. I understand. We love them. But, things do not replace time and connection. A toy truck will not guarantee a connection unless it is coupled with time spent. Buying your son a baseball glove is a great idea and the connection comes when YOU actually pass ball with him.
7. Attachment takes time, time and more time.
If your child came into your home with attachment issues, he will not attach overnight. It takes time. Lots of time. Don’t give up with you see regression. Just keep pressing forward. We all have regression. Ever try a diet and do great for a week and then eat two slices of cake and give up? Been there done that. Don’t give up on your child, someone already did. You cannot erase his past, but you can parent with the past in mind. Keep pressing forward for his sake. When he has a bad day, say ‘this is a bad day, tomorrow is another day’ and then find something good. There is always something good in the day. It may be something as simple as he has food in his belly and you put it there.
8. You must be present to attach.
I often hear of parents adopting older children (internationally) and putting them into school the week they come ‘home’. It breaks my heart. In many instances, the children just have a whole new set of people to manipulate and not attach to (if they are severely unattached or have RAD-Reactive Attachment Disorder). The best thing you can do for your newly adopted child is be present, twenty-four seven like you would a newborn. Feed them. Read to them. Sing with them. Cuddle with them (if they are not in sensory overload). You be the one to meet every need. You be the one to attach to because you are there. Academics can wait a bit. The truth is a child stuck in survival mode cannot learn anyway. A child marinating in anger and fear is stuck in the downstairs brain and needs help to work his way upstairs so he can learn.
9. Attachment is transferable (foster parents)
Foster parents amaze me! They are the super heroes of attachment.
I’ve met some amazing foster parents through all my years of phone/email/in person counseling foster/adoptive parents and running a support group. One foster Mom relayed this at support group-
“I have been asked on multiple occasions Aren’t you afraid you will get attached to the child(ren)?” Her standard reply?
“That’s my job! I attach to the children so they have the ability to attach to someone else!”
She knows the secret! Attachment is transferable!
10. They can’t- not they won’t
Most children that come into the foster/adopt arena are disorganized in their attachment. The ones who were supposed to take care of them hurt them. They may be asking When I have a need, do I come to you or do I run? Their greatest desire is to connect to you. Their worst fear is connecting to you.
We adults have the ability to use our upstairs brain and not get on the level of the child. We don’t always do that, I understand, sometimes we have meltdowns. But, here is some amazing news, the more you connect and redirect your child, the more his brain rewires in that directions. And then, his can’t becomes can. Don’t keep counting the times you verbally duked it out with your child or tried to get him to listen to reason. Start sowing seeds of connection. Connect, “I hear you, that’s tough, what happened, tell me about it…..” You cannot redirect until you connect.(More here) You cannot connect unless you are the adult using the upstairs brain.
The brain can be rewired. Attachment is possible. It takes time. It takes work. It is worth it, don’t give up!