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Attachment: What?s the Problem?

Bonding & Attachment Medical

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  Written by Corinne Rayburn on 01 Jan 2006

As a clinician working with foster/ adoptive families, I have heard these concerns expressed by numerous parents. The list could include many other observations.

My child:

* doesn’t make eye contact * doesn’t like to be held * will go off with any stranger while ignoring me * clings to me * has difficulty with relationships at home and at school * is a bottomless pit in terms of needing attention * doesn’t seem to want or need any attention * doesn’t trust that I will be there * has trouble with my leaving * has no trouble with my leaving * cannot self-soothe

Parents are confused when they see these behaviors in their kids. One mother told me that she was puzzled that her daughter did not seem to care or believe that adoption was a forever plan. The mother felt her child would be just as happy somewhere else. It didn’t seem to matter.

It mattered a lot to the mother, however, and she was getting discouraged. Nothing was coming back for all the hard work of trying to parent her daughter. She wondered whether they ever would be a family or if it would remain a temporary, good-enough boarding house for the child. This mother wanted be a mother, not a distanced provider for the needs of the child.

Parents, like children, need help with this attachment dilemma. All human beings are born needing caretakers and nurturers . We cannot survive without someone to provide for our basic needs. If caretakers are abusive and neglectful, or the environment has not been enriching, or responsive to the needs of the child, the child may survive, but survival will come at a price. In that kind of circumstance there will be evidence of the minimal nurturing that had been available to that child. This is the child who finds his way to an adoptive placement. It is amazing that kids survive as well as they do and that some are in good shape, despite their awful beginnings.

Children aren’t born with attachment issues or disorders . Attachment issues begin with inadequate caretakers not with children. No child should be blamed for the failure to nurture himself as an infant or young child. Nor should receiving parents be blamed for their puzzlement and discouragement. So, what is the problem?

The problem is that parents need education and support to understand the reasons why Maria will go off with anyone or Andre won’t let go of his Mom’s skirt or Tommy cries in frustration because neither he nor anyone else knows how to soothe him. No one taught Keisha and Joey about trust and intimacy at the developmental time when the work should have been done. They don’t believe that caretakers will help them to get their needs met.

The problem is also that extended family or school or communities are quick to label a child as attachment disordered without any real understanding of why that has happened or what it means. After all, Susie isn’t in the Chinese orphanage anymore, she has a nice family now, and she was only in the orphanage for the first three years of her life. Susie should be grateful, right?

In the first and most important years of her life, she suffered losses and institutionalized care and had no celebrations of her first step or birthday, and no one to celebrate Susie.

The problem is that many interventions may seem age inappropriate. Should an 8 year old be hugged and snuggled like a newborn? Is it ok to give a 4 year old a bottle? If the child was never hugged or cuddled, or experienced the intimacy of eye contact, then he is missing key pieces for his development.

If parents concentrate on “age” tasks and neglect the small but vital eye contact piece, it will be forever missing. That missing piece will affect the child’s future ability to make and keep healthy relationships. There is no harm letting your child be your baby until he reaches the next stage of development. He will know when he is ready to move ahead.

The building of healthy attachment for a child is the most important task in parenting that child. Attachment is adult work, parents’ responsibility. Simple and yet responsive methods parents have found effective for kids who have had difficult beginnings include: · carrying their child in a front sling pack for weeks or · rocking their older placement child as if she were a newborn or · creating and playing games about who could look into the eyes of the other longest.

Talk with people who understand your family and its needs. Read books to learn what happens when kids miss important building blocks. Educate your family, school and community with discretion. Remind people it is not the fault of the child that adults failed to care for him properly. Feel confident in your parenting. Trust your gut. Love your child.

Corinne Rayburn, LCSW, LMFT, is an adoptive parent, a member of the AFT Board of Directors and an adoption specialist,consultant, and trainer with a privatepractice in Braintree, MA.

“Children do well if they can. If they can’t, we need to figure out why, so we can help.” Dr. Ross Greene



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