I like this article because it not only explains the background
and causes, but how to be successful in bonding with your adopted
child, from as soon as you meet them and forever.
Why We Need to Attach
Sara-Jane Hardman and Jean Mauro LCSW
We hear so much today about the words "attachment", "attachment
disorder" or, even more frightening, "Reactive Attachment
Disorder," "RAD." Yet we rarely see a clear explanation of what
this is or what consequences it has on an individual's life.
Attachment grows from a secure relationship with a primary
caregiver, usually the mother, and is necessary for normal social
and emotional development.
First described by the noted British psychoanalyst John Bowlby in
the mid- twentieth century, attachment has come to be understood
as the connection that enables an individual to feel secure,
trust others, develop friendships and find intimacy. Without
trust, he will be afraid to take life's necessary risks, but he
will not avoid unnecessary risks, and he will not feel safe.
Attachment is extremely important. As parents we need to
understand the primacy of attachment so that we can maximize our
child's attachment to us and then to himself and finally the
Where does attachment begin? In the womb. Studies have shown that
embryos are already bonding when they feel movement, hear voices
and other sounds, and have their senses stimulated through smell
and taste. Optimally the womb is a good safe first home for a
baby about to be born. When a child is born to a mother who is
stressed, his first environment is an inhospitable one and he
cannot develop optimally. If, after birth, he is removed from
that familiar figure the event is traumatic for him, and he
suffers all of the consequences of a traumatic event. As
unfamiliar as it sounds, even a very young child such as an
infant who is separated from his mother, will suffers a loss
which he feels in his sub-conscious mind.
At any time during childhood separation from the mother figure is
very difficult. Babies who develop in a distressed womb and then
are separated from their mothers will find it difficult to
overcome these stresses on their own, and they may show some
symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder at birth. For them life
is already troubled and they need to secure their equilibrium.
Unable to progress smoothly through the stages of development
unaided, they will need a blueprint for help through the trouble
spots and an intimate understanding of the problem by their
parents and other involved adults. If we imagine attachment as a
continuum we can see that these children may place anywhere along
the continuum from mildly affected to severely affected. At the
far end of the continuum is Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Depending on how far they are along this line, the road to
healthy maturity becomes increasingly more arduous. Once the baby
is born, he will need to move through the stages of development
with some success. To do this, he must first learn to become
attached to and bonded with a trustworthy mother figure. He will
learn from that mother and her attentive behavior to trust that
his needs will be taken care of. Eventually, he will trust that
when she leaves him, she will return, and when he begins
exploring, he can trust that she will be there when he
We can all understand the significance of trust. It is the basis
of every relationship throughout our lives. It is from our
ability to trust first our mothers and what they say and then
ourselves that a conscience is born, ethics are developed and a
sense of personal identity, an "I am" is achieved. "I am!" "I am
smart." "I am capable." 'I am honest." "I am proud." This is the
child who can control his urges in order to attain his goals. And
if he knows who he is and is satisfied with himself he can go on
to care for other people's feelings and learn how to take care of
others. He will learn how to do a job well, how to have a sense
of competence. He will naturally evolve, in Erik Erikson's terms,
"a sense of industry." This sense of industry, he asserts, is
what develops a lasting basis for cooperative participation in
productive adult life. When trust is not attained and
developmental goals are not being reached or are interrupted,
there is a sense of identity confusion, and an inability to feel
any confidence about who one is and how one fits into the world.
A crucial aspect of learning how to develop identity, Erikson
believes, is settling on an occupation with the accompanying
feeling, "This is what I do well, and this is what I have to
offer the world." The inability to settle on an occupational
identity is perhaps the most difficult obstacle to maturity for
many young people. One of the final achievements in development
is the ability for true intimacy with another, which can only
come when one is sure of a stable personal identity.
This attainment of intimacy is a feeling of being open to and
bonded to another while maintaining a sense of separate self.
There are various ways to achieve this goal, but all require long
term opportunity for exposure to a lifestyle that promotes the
ability to internalize a stable self. Such an opportunity eases
the transition into young adulthood. It is our role as adoptive
parents to help our children through this journey toward ultimate
maturity and a fulfilled life. Below are some suggestions to help
your child attach:
• Be attuned to your child's natural schedule for sleep,
feeding and play. There have already been many unpreventable
frustrations that this child has encountered, and there will
continue to be others. These are children who may not trust that
their needs will be met so they have a harder time dealing with
disappointments and delays. By focusing on the baby's needs and
wants rather than on the maintenance of an imposed schedule,
additional frustrations may be minimized. Therefore, parental
responses must be immediate and appropriate.
• Be attuned to your child's emotions. The child may be
grieving over the loss of an earlier caregiver. Allow him time to
mourn and be there to help him deal with the loss. It is
important at this time that his emotions be soothed. He should be
held, cradled and sung to but not denied opportunities to feel
• Maximize the time spent with your child. This is not a
child who should be left often with babysitters or other
surrogates. He needs consistent care from the primary caregiver
who must also do all of the feeding, bathing, changing and other
activities that facilitate bonding.
• Be consistent with attitude and performance. A child should
be able to trust that routines and responses will be consistent.
Feeding, napping, bedtime should be on a regular schedule and
emotional responses should also be predictable.
• Provide the model for a range of facial expressions such as
smiling and frowning and all of the expressions in between.
Maintain eye contact when tending your child so that he will
mimic your behaviors and maintain a feeling of being
• Maintain close physical contact so that your child feels as
if he is almost an extension of you. Hold the child whenever you
can, rock him, cuddle him and encourage him to touch your face
and hair. If you can't always hold him, keep him in the same
room. This will encourage a sense of security and comfort,
especially if he was not held enough before he joined your
family. Keep him on a bottle longer than is usual and use the
opportunity to hold him even more. Bathe with him. Such
activities as hand feeding while holding the child, rather than
propping a bottle, rocking, hugging, tickling, singing, massaging
and engaging in playful behavior while maintaining eye and
physical contact are essential. As he gets older and is toddling
and walking around, allow him to be your shadow to maintain that
• Closely monitor your child's performance by staying with
him or encouraging him to check in frequently with you. As he
grows older, it is important to carefully supervise his chores
and homework. He needs you to see that work is done and done to
some previously established standard. Providing opportunities for
success will help build feelings of mastery and accomplishment.
Limit opportunities for your child to make poor decisions which
affect his sense of security and self-worth and thus jeopardize
the attachment. A child who feels good about himself feels
connected to others.
• Structure your child's time during the day so that there
are many opportunities to engage in meaningful activities and
idle time is minimized.
• Demonstrate affection regardless of your child's responses
to that affection. He needs to be held and kissed and stroked
even if he rejects these demonstrations of love.
• Nurture a happy and loving nature through shared play and
modeling playful behavior. Happy surprises, mystery activities,
silly moments are wonderful for developing this attitude. Toys
and objects that encourage attachments should be readily
• Be aware of your child's need to behave as if at a younger
age and allow him time to be there. If he wants to talk "baby
talk" or crawl when he can walk, allow him opportunities to
regress. Conversely, allow opportunities for him to play out more
• Articulate your child's conscience until his sense of
morality is strongly developed. Simple conversations about the
relationship between cause and effect and the consequences of
alternative actions are important for these children.
• Avoid control battles. State what has to be done or what is
expected. Don't be diverted. If discipline is necessary, follow
up with a time for affection and reassurance to avoid leaving the
child with feelings of shame and worthlessness which will weaken
the attachment. Do not isolate your child with "time outs" alone
in his room. This will only increase his feelings of
separateness. Have him do his thinking time near you so that he
will feel safe and the bond will be reinforced even in difficult
In spite of all these activities aimed at developing attachment
and eventually intimacy, it is critical to be aware that
occasionally the child must withdraw and have space in order to
stay balanced. While developing attachment, it will be necessary
for the major caretakers to keep in mind the ultimate goal and be
willing to go at the child's pace in order not to overwhelm him.
It will be a matter of inching him toward attachment rather than
insisting on it.
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Free Presentation and Get Together: Experiences and Information
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Come learn more about this adoption opportunity at this casual
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Location: United Methodist Church, 116 East Washington Ave.
Washington, NJ 07882