Attaching to a new caregiver can be hard for some children who enter foster care or who have been adopted. This may be because of past hurtful or traumatic experiences; or perhaps there was some disconnect with a primary caregiver. At times attachment simply comes slowly. At other times attachment issues can become so intense or attachment is so lacking that there is cause for concern. Understanding attachment can also provide your family with a roadmap toward a stronger relationship and positive solutions.
What Is Attachment?
Children who are securely attached want to be near the people they’re attached to, typically their parents or primary caregiver, and they go to those people when they feel afraid or threatened. They see these attachment figures as a “secure base” from which they feel safe enough to branch out and explore their environment.
Furthermore, they show some anxiety when the person or people they’re attached to are absent. A child who is not securely attached might also seem distressed when separated from a parent or caregiver but, when the parent returns, the child doesn’t seem to be reassured. The child might refuse comfort or even be aggressive toward the parent.
The lack of secure attachment can look different for every child and can be caused by many factors, such as:
- Abuse and/or neglect
- A prolonged absence (e.g., prison, hospital stay)
- Medical conditions for either parent or child
- Mental health issues (e.g., postpartum depression)
- Environmental factors (e.g., poverty, violence, lack of support, multiple moves).
The effects can follow a child no matter how loving and secure the home is that the child is entering. It’s important to remember that underlying the child’s behaviors is the child’s need to feel safe and to protect himself at all costs, even if that means initially rejecting love and support. A better understanding of attachment can help you understand a child’s challenging behaviors, and can help you decide when it may be time to seek help from a professional.