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What is secure attachment?
In order to have a secure base from which to explore the world, be resilient to stress, and form meaningful relationships with themselves and others, all infants need a primary adult who cares for them in sensitive ways and who perceives, makes sense of and responds to their needs. Attachment is an instinctive system in the brain that evolved to ensure infant safety and survival. Primary caretakers are usually the natural mothers, but they need not be. A father, another relative or a non-relative can function in the role of primary caretaker provided they sustain a central role in a child’s life for at least three, and preferably five years – the period when a child’s brain develops most rapidly.
What causes insecure attachment and attachment disorder?
If the attachment bond doesn’t occur with sufficient regularity, then the necessary safe and secure experiences do not occur as they should. Instead, insecure attachments are formed. All insecure attachments arise from repeated experiences of failed emotional communication. They take one of three different forms. Before listing some of these, it is important to note that parents of insecure children are themselves products of insecure experiences. Insecure attachment is passed on from one generation to the next unless repair occurs.
• When a parent is unavailable or rejecting, a child may become “avoidantly” attached, meaning that the child adapts by avoiding closeness and emotional connection.
• An “ambivalently” attached child experiences the parents’ communication as inconsistent and at times intrusive. Because the child can’t depend on the parent for attunement and connection, he develops a sense of anxiety and feelings of insecurity.
• “Disorganized” attachment occurs when the child’s’ need for emotional closeness remains unseen or ignored, and the parents behavior is a source of disorientation or terror. When children have experiences with parents that leave them overwhelmed, traumatized, and frightened, the youngsters become disorganized and chaotic. Disorganized attachment leads to difficulties in the regulation of emotions, social communication, academic reasoning as well as to more severe emotional problems.
The major causes are:
• physical neglect
• emotional neglect
• separation from primary caregiver
• changes in primary caregiver
• frequent moves or placements
• traumatic experiences
• maternal depression
• maternal addiction to drugs or alcohol
• undiagnosed, painful illness such as colic, ear infections, etc.
• lack of attunement or harmony between mother and child
• young or inexperienced mother with poor parenting skills.
What are the signs and symptoms of insecure attachment?
Insecure attachments influence the developing brain, which in turn affects future interactions with others, self-esteem, self-control, and the ability to learn and to achieve optimum mental and physical health. Symptoms can include the following:
• low self-esteem
• needy, clingy or pseudo-independent behavior
• inability to deal with stress and adversity
• lack of self-control
• inability to develop and maintain friendships
• alienation from and opposition to parents, caregivers, and other authority figures
• anti-social attitudes and behaviors
• aggression and violence
• difficulty with genuine trust, intimacy, and affection
• negative, hopeless, pessimistic view of self, family and society
• lack of empathy, compassion and remorse
• behavioral and academic problems at school
• speech and language problems
• incessant chatter and questions
• difficulty learning
• susceptibility to chronic illness
• obsession with food: hordes, gorges, refuses to eat, eats strange things, hides food
• repetition of cycle of maltreatment and attachment disorder in their own children when they reach adulthood.
What is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)?
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a clinically recognized form of severe insecure attachment. Children with RAD are so neurologically disrupted that they cannot attach to a primary caregiver or go through the normal developmental processes. These children cannot establish positive relationships with other people. Many of these children may have been incorrectly diagnosed as having severe emotional and behavioral disturbances ranging from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to bipolar disorder to depression. In response to these diagnoses, they may have received various combinations of unnecessary psychotropic mediation. See References and resources for an excellent website that thoroughly describes the problem.
How is inadequate attachment repaired?
Recent studies show that it’s never too late to create positive change in a child’s life, or in an adult’s, for that matter. The learning that accompanies new experiences can alter neural connections in the brain. Relationships with relatives, teachers and childcare providers can provide an important source of connection and strength for the child’s developing mind.
In attempts to repair attachment, here are some things to consider:
• Attachment is an interactive process. It is an evolutionary fact that our brains are structured to connect to one another. The attachment process alters the brains of both parent and child. But what makes attachment so unique is that the stronger, older, more experienced parent attunes and follows the lead of the younger, less experienced, more vulnerable child
• Following an infant’s lead does not mean that that the infant makes all the decisions. It does mean that the caretaker follows and responds to the infant’s emotional needs and defers to the infants emotional needs when appropriate.
• Attachment is a nonverbal process. It takes place many months and even years before speech and thought develop. Communication is accomplished through wordless means that rely on several things to convey interest, understanding and caring:
o eye contact
o facial expression
o tone of voice
o speech rhythm and rate
o body movement
o timing, intensity and voice modulation
Children vary in what they find soothing. There is no “one size fits all” for every child. In determining what constitutes “just right” communication for a particular child, it will be up to the adult to follow the nonverbal cues of that child.
• Attachment is akin to falling in love, but can’t begin until both parties feel safe in their bodies and safe with one another. When adults are anxious, mad, tuned out or overwhelmed, they will not be able to make an attuned connection with a child. They should regulate themselves before attempting to connect. If a child is overwhelmed or inconsolable, he may not be available for an attuned emotional connection until he feels safer in his body. Sensory activities such as rocking, singing, moving, touching, and feeding can sooth children, but youngsters vary in their sensory preferences. What soothes a parent may not soothe an infant. Thus, parents may have to become sensory detectives to determine the best techniques for soothing their child and soothing themselves in order to make connection with the child.
• The key to shared emotional experience is not simply to mirror or give lip service to the child, but to share his experience by feeling it to some degree within your own body. This process of shared experience helps both infants and children regulate their feeling states. It is usually more important to share a negative state with a child than to problem solve. Sharing enables children to learn to problem solve for themselves.
• The shared positive emotional experiences of joy are as important to the attachment bond as the shared negative emotional experiences of fear, sadness, anger and shame. Some parents are very good at detecting a child’s distress and responding appropriately to it. Other parents share joyous moments but leave or space out in times of trouble and unhappiness. A strong attachment bond includes the full range of shared emotional experience.
• Rupture and repair is a crucial part of secure attachment. No matter how much we love our children, there comes a point where we are not in agreement with them, a point when we have to set limits, and say “no.” This is usually a point of rupture in the relationship as the child angrily protests. Such protest is to be expected. The key to strengthening the attachment bond of trust is to be available the minute the child is ready to reconnect. It is also important to initiate repair when we have done something to hurt, disrespect, or shame a child. Parents aren’t perfect. From time to time, we are the cause of the disconnection. Again, our willingness to initiate repair can strengthen the attachment bond.
• Families who have children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) will benefit from treatment and therapeutic parenting. Other disorders may accompany severe attachment disorder. http://www.helpguide.org/mental/parenting_bonding_reactive_attachment_disorder.htm