Facts About Attachment Issues
Attachment is extremely important in every parent-child relationship. This is especially true with kids who are adopted or in foster care. When emotional, psychological, behavioral, or learning difficulties arise with children in these situations-especially children with a history of neglect or abuse-they are nearly always rooted in or related to attachment issues.
Naturally, attachment is extremely important in every parent-child relationship. This is especially true with kids who are adopted or in foster care. When emotional, psychological, behavioral, or learning difficulties arise with children in these situations-especially children with a history of neglect or abuse-they are nearly always rooted in or related to attachment issues. That's because kids from "hard places" tend to be disconnected kids. The following principles of attachment theory should provide you with some helpful insights into this process and equip you with a deeper understanding of the challenges your child is likely to be facing:
- How Attachment Develops. Under ideal conditions, attachment springs up and grows within the context of nurturing experiences with a loving caregiver. If these positive experiences are lacking, or if a child's interactions with a primary caregiver are frightening or traumatic, chronically elevated levels of stress-related hormones, such as cortisol, can cause significant damage to the limbic system of the brain and impair a child's capacity for secure and meaningful human relationships.
- Stages of Infant Attachment. Since you're adopting a four-year-old, you should be aware that your child is already past the age at which the foundations of attachment are laid down. Generally speaking, the process by which babies form these emotional bonds with caregivers unfolds in three stages:
- Indiscriminate social responsiveness (0 to 2 months). At this stage, a child will focus with pleasure on any human face.
- Discriminate social responsiveness (2 to 7 months). During this phase, babies begin to show a preference for familiar faces.
- Specific attachment relationships (7 to 30 months). In particular, the period from six to twelve months represents a delicate window within which a child's ability to form healthy connections may be curtailed if conditions for its growth are less than ideal.
- Abilities Required for Attachment . No one, whether child or adult, can form deep and meaningful attachments with others unless they possess the following four capacities:
- The ability to seek care. A person cannot learn to be intimate with anyone unless he or she is willing and able to turn to others in times of trouble.
- The ability to give care. An individual's sense of security is largely associated with his or her ability to care for others.
- The ability to feel comfortable with an autonomous self. Ironic as it sounds, independence is a prerequisite for healthy intimacy.
- The ability to negotiate. In a parent-child relationship, productive negotiation occurs when the child knows that his wishes and preferences will be heard, understood, and acknowledged.
- Four Attachment Styles. Research has revealed four categories of infant attachment styles. By a slight shift of nomenclature, we can also apply these categories to adult behavior:
- Secure (adult: Free/Autonomous). A secure infant seeks to be near the parent and is easily consoled by the presence of a loving, affectionate, and sensitive caregiver. Individuals who carry this attachment style into adulthood are comfortable with their own autonomy and find it easy to free themselves from the need to "manage" past disappointments and hurts.
- Insecure/Ambivalent (adult: Entangled). An ambivalent child is clingy and hypervigilant. His "push-pull" method of relating to caregivers is the result of inconsistent early parental care. Ambivalent babies grow up to be entangledadults-people who can never let go of the abuses and betrayals of past relationships.
- Insecure/Avoidant (adult: Dismissing). The avoidant infant shows little or no desire to be held or comforted by his mother. This behavior is a defense mechanism designed to protect him against the pain of rejection from a cold, non-nurturing, or abusive parent. In adulthood, avoidance expresses itself as dismissal or denial-an unwillingness to deal with or even acknowledge past or present relational difficulties.
- Insecure/Disorganized or Disoriented (adult: Unresolved or Disorganized). A child with a disorganized attachment style displays a variety of unusual and even bizarre behaviors, including hypervigilance, "zoning out," or strange repetitive actions such as rocking back and forth or pawing the air. Such reactions to the mother's presence are expressions of confusion and pure terror and are generally regarded as evidence of parental abuse. In later life, disorganized children grow into disorganized adults-candidates for addiction, dissociative behaviors, and borderline personality disorders.
It's important to add that these attachment styles tend to be transmitted wholesale from one generation to the next. In other words, avoidant parents tend to raise avoidant children. Of even greater concern is the fact that, according to several reputable studies, percentages of entangled, dismissing, or unresolved adults tend to be much higher among parents of difficult adoptions than we would expect to find in the population at large. In some cases 25 percent of these moms and dads have tested out as unresolved as opposed to a mere 2 percent in the general population. These statistics indicate that parents of kids from "hard places" need to be careful and diligent about working on their own attachment issues before attempting to solve the problems they're facing with their children.
Derived or reproduced from Trust-Based Relational Intervention® resources (Purvis & Cross, 1999-2011) and used with permission of TCU's Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development.