Issues of attachment can occur in children with their relationship with their caregiver is somehow puts them at risk. All children need a stable, safe, nurturing relationship connection with a trusted adult in order to foster the kind of connection that promotes their healthy growth and maturation. With this positive attachment, children develop a sense of belonging, togetherness, groundedness and safety that becomes a foundation for their self-esteem, self-image and relationship with the outside world. This is the foundation we take with us as we grow into functioning adults.
Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, this connection can be put at-risk or changed or lost altogether. Suffering the loss of a connection is a vulnerable and frightening experience for a child. It means they are on their own in the world, an overwhelming reality they are not developmentally prepared for. Grieving the loss of a parent who has passed away, or reacting to the stress and strain of a separation and divorce in the family, the reaction is to the loss of the cherished attachment.
Children may show signs of attachment difficulties through anxiety or dependence around their parent or caregiver, clinging to them, refusing to attend school, withdrawing from relationships. They may also show the opposite tendency, the reactive over-friendliness and indiscriminate willingness to connect with anyone. Children suffering with attachment issues may also appear angry, controlling, distrusting of adults, defiant, anti-social, engage in theft or delinquent behaviours, and they may have behavioural difficulties in school.
Attachment disorders may occur in children who have profound attachment wounds, such as losing both parents, or growing up moving through foster care homes and social workers. When a child does not have the opportunity to learn what a safe, nurturing attachment is, they cannot learn how to relate to others or themselves. They may be self-destructive, or engage in criminal activity or join gangs.
This is the work of the therapist. The therapist can help the caregiver to learn to attune sensitively and consistently to the wounded child, and with patience, time and consistency, the child’s attachment wounds can heal.
Megan Hughes has completed Level 1 and Level 2 of the Power to Parent series. This is an attachment based series which is designed to teach therapists how to recognize and respond to the attachment needs of children, and how to pass these strategies to their caregivers. The Power to Parent series was created and presented by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, the leading authority on childhood attachment and attachment issues.