Child Attachment Problems

What Is A Child Attachment Problem?

Child attachment problems can develop during the early years of a child's life. Normally, children bond or attach with their primary caretakers and learn to trust and feel secure with them. This positive or secure attachment experience enables a child to form other trusting relationships and is essential to promoting positive outcomes in a child across a range of developmental areas. These include the social,  emotional and behavioral areas, as well as the child's ability to learn to his potential at school.

A secure attachment can promote positive outcomes in a child, from his earliest childhood years, to adolescence, and beyond, to the elder years. The opposite can be true for children who lack opportunities to develop secure attachment bonds with the significant adults in their lives. 

When the child lacks a secure, healthy bond with a primary caretaker, the risk increases that the child will show attachment problems. He will have difficulty trusting the caretaker or anyone else. Children with attachment problems are afraid to trust and love and may develop controlling behaviors that keep other people at a distance. They have difficulty relating to others and may show the  the following: symptoms:

  • Their behavior may be at either extreme of inhibited and avoidant or inappropriately friendly with strangers. Starting at a young age (before age five), they may exhibit difficulties relating appropriately to other people.
  • They do not interact socially in ways that are consistent with their developmental stage.
  • They may be hypervigilant and guarded.
  • Their responses to others may seem ambivalent, confused and contradictory.
Children who live in unstable, or neglectful environments as infants can suffer, not only emotionally, but their brain chemistry can be affected as well.

Elevated stress hormones, for example, which often typifies these children  can impair their functioning across the major developmental areas. They  may be more likely than securely attached children to show child problems . For example:

  • Behavior problems and conduct disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anger, lack of impulse control, violent behavior
  • Depression
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Poor physical health
  • Inability to trust and problems forming and maintaining healthy rewarding relationships

What Causes Child Attachment Problems? 

Attachment Problems in children often reflect a lack of attunement between the child and parent. Some causes of lack attunement may include: 

  • Drug or alcohol use by a parent during pregnancy
  • The child is a victim of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Parental neglect; ignoring the child’s needs for food, love, safety, and security
  • Moving frequently due to family instability.
  • Psychological problems in a parent which can interfere with the child/parent attachment relationship (e.g., addiction/alcoholism, depression, anxiety disorders).
  • Being separated from one’s mother or primary caretaker because of death, or illness etc.

The Benefits of a Secure Child Attachment

Attachment influences every aspect of human development. This includes the mind, for example, the child's self-perception and mental health, the child's physiology (e.g. often hyperaroused),  the ability to regulate emotions, and the quality of her relationships throughout the life-span.

Studies indicate that securely attached children do better in a number of areas. These include self esteem; independence; autonomy; enduring friendships; trust and intimacy; impulse control; empathy and compassion, as well as resilience.

How Can You Help?

Foster and adoptive children often experience attachment issues

If you are worried about attachment issues in an adoptive child Child Adoption Matters can help. This site includes numerous resources to help you deal with a range of adoption issues.

If you are worried about child attachment issues in an adoptive child an attachment based psychological assessment can help.

Dr O'Connor offers Psychological Assessments that she tailors to the specific needs of a   child or adolescent who is showing attachment problems.