Supporting children with attachment difficulties – information for parents/carers
As children grow up, they develop attachments to their main care givers. It is thought that children develop different types of attachments, depending on the relationships they have in their early life.
‘Nurturing adult attachments provide children with protective, safe havens and secure bases from which to explore and engage with others and their environment’ (Bowlby, 1988).
It is now thought there are four attachment styles, secure attachment, and three insecure attachments, which are described as ambivalent attachment, avoidant attachment and disorganised attachment.
Current research suggests that at least one third of children have an insecure attachment with at least one caregiver (Bergin and Bergin, 2009).
Children with attachment problems are likely to have difficulties relating to others, and managing their own emotions. They may have a lack of trust and self-worth and get angry easily. They may not wish to get close to anyone, and are likely to want to be in control of situations.
Parenting a child with insecure attachments can be quite difficult, as they are likely to find it hard to develop a trusting relationship with you.
Please see below some suggestions that may help (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/parenting-family/attachment-issues-and-reactive-attachment-disorders.htm):
Have realistic expectations. Helping your child with an attachment disorder may be a long road. Focus on making small steps forward and celebrate every sign of success.
Patience is essential. The process may not be as rapid as you’d like, and you can expect bumps along the way. But by remaining patient and focusing on small improvements, you create an atmosphere of safety for your child.
Foster a sense of humour and joy. Joy and humour go a long way toward repairing attachment problems and energizing you even in the midst of hard work. Find at least a couple of people or activities that help you laugh and feel good.
Take care of yourself and manage stress. Reduce other demands on your time and make time for yourself. Rest, good nutrition, and parenting breaks help you relax and recharge your batteries so you can give your attention to your child.
Find support and ask for help. Rely on friends, family, community resources, and respite care (if available). Try to ask for help before you really need it to avoid getting stressed to breaking point. You may also want to consider joining a support group for parents.
Stay positive and hopeful. Be sensitive to the fact that children pick up on feelings. If they sense you’re discouraged, it will be discouraging to them. When you are feeling down, turn to others for reassurance.
Help your child to feel safe and secure:
Set limits and boundaries. Consistent, loving boundaries make the world seem more predictable and less scary to children with attachment problems such as reactive attachment disorder. It’s important that they understand what behaviour is expected of them, what is and isn’t acceptable, and what the consequences will be if they disregard the rules. This also teaches them that they have more control over what happens to them than they think. Take charge, yet remain calm when your child is upset or misbehaving. Remember that “bad” behaviour means that your child doesn’t know how to handle what he or she is feeling and needs your help. By staying calm, you show your child that the feeling is manageable. If he or she is being purposefully defiant, follow through with the pre-established consequences in a cool, matter-of-fact manner. But never discipline a child with an attachment disorder when you’re in an emotionally-charged state. This makes the child feel more unsafe and may even reinforce the bad behaviour, since it’s clear it pushes your buttons.
Be immediately available to reconnect following a conflict. Conflict can be especially disturbing for children with insecure attachment or attachment disorders. After a conflict or tantrum where you’ve had to discipline your child, be ready to reconnect as soon as he or she is ready. This reinforces your consistency and love, and will help your child develop a trust that you’ll be there through thick and thin.
Own up to mistakes and initiate repair. When you let frustration or anger get the best of you or you do something you realize is insensitive, quickly address the mistake. Your willingness to take responsibility and make amends can strengthen the attachment bond. Children with reactive attachment disorder or other attachment problems need to learn that although you may not be perfect, they will be loved, no matter what.
Try to maintain predictable routines and schedules. A child with an attachment disorder won’t instinctively rely on loved ones, and may feel threatened by transition and inconsistency—for example when traveling or during school holidays. A familiar routine or schedule can provide comfort during times of change.
Help your child feel loved
Find things that feel good to your child. If possible, show your child love through rocking, cuddling, and holding—attachment experiences he or she missed out on earlier. But always be respectful of what feels comfortable and good to your child. In cases of previous abuse and trauma, you may have to go very slowly because your child may be very resistant to physical touch.
Respond to your child’s emotional age. Children with attachment disorders often act like younger children, both socially and emotionally. You may need to treat them as though they were much younger, using more non-verbal methods of soothing and comforting.
Help your child identify emotions and express his or her needs. Children with attachment disorders may not know what they are feeling or how to ask for what they need. Reinforce the idea that all feelings are okay and show them healthy ways to express their emotions.
Listen, talk, and play with your child. Carve out times when you’re able to give your child your full, focused attention in ways that feel comfortable to him or her. It may seem hard to drop everything, eliminate distractions, and just be in the moment, but quality time together provides a great opportunity for your child to open up to you and feel your focused attention and care.
Access appropriate support