Why Does Attachment Matter?
Most of us are aware that attachment is an essential part of healthy development. Yet, we may not know exactly why it is so important or understand how secure attachment occurs.
Healthy Brain Attachment
Attachment affects brain development by increasing feelings of safety and comfort, allowing the brain to use its energy to develop pathways crucial for higher-level thinking. Secure attachment is mainly related to the development of the frontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, judgment, and reasoning.
Empathy & Attachment
Secure attachment leads to the development of empathy. If a child sees herself as worthwhile and deserving of care, they can also see others that way. Only when a child believes their own basic needs will be met can they attend to others’ needs.
Trauma & Attachment
Conversely, children who have experienced childhood abuse or neglect have most likely experienced fear, stress, and rejection at the hands of the trusted adult with whom they were meant to feel safe. Children with trauma histories may have a wide range of problems related to lack of secure attachment, including developmental delays, difficulty with emotional regulation, impaired social relationships, low self-esteem, aggression, depression, etc.
Signs of an attachment Disorder
Some signs your child may be struggling with an attachment disorder include:
- Bullying or hurting others
- Extreme clinginess
- Failure to smile
- Intense bursts of anger
- Lack of eye contact
- Lack of fear of strangers
- Lack of affection for caregivers
- Oppositional behaviors
- Poor impulse control
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Watching others play but refusing to join in
- Withdrawn or listless mood
Types of Attachment Disorders
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
Children with RAD are less likely to interact with other people because of negative experiences with adults in their early years. They have difficulty calming down when stressed and do not look for comfort from their caregivers when upset. These children may seem to have little to no emotions when interacting with others. They may appear unhappy, irritable, sad, or scared while having normal activities with their caretaker. If symptoms become chronic, then the diagnosis of RAD is made.
Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED)
Children with DSED do not appear fearful when meeting someone for the first time. They may be overly friendly, walk up to strangers to talk, or even hug them. Younger children may allow strangers to pick them up, feed them, or give them toys to play with. When these children are put in a situation with strangers, they do not check with their parents or caregivers and often go with someone they do not know.
Parenting a Child with Attachment Issues
Parenting a child with insecure attachment or an attachment disorder can be exhausting, frustrating, and emotionally trying. It is hard to put your best parenting foot forward without reassuring a loving connection with your child. Sometimes you may wonder if your efforts are worth it, but be assured that they are. With time, patience, concerted effort, and a trained mental health professional assistance, attachment disorders can be repaired. The key is to remain calm yet firm as you interact with your child. This will teach your child that they are safe and can trust you.
A child with an attachment disorder is already experiencing a great deal of stress, so you must evaluate and manage your stress levels before trying to help your child with theirs.