Attachment is vital for healthy development, mental health and relationships. Children who are adopted may have difficulties with attachment, which can lead to a variety of problems that require help and treatment. School, friends and family can be deeply affected when a child’s pattern of attachment has been disrupted due to multiple placements or adoption from an institution. Consequently, it is vital to provide a safe, secure and predictable home.
- develop secure attachments
- seek a thorough assessment
- find an appropriate provider for advice, consultation and treatment
- provide safety and security
- use harsh or punitive methods
- create chaos or unpredictability
- fight over care
- assume that all mental health professionals understand attachment
Developing a secure attachment requires a primary caregiver who is able to provide responsive, supportive and attuned care. The caregiver must have reasonably well- developed reflective capacity, insightfulness and the ability to provide sensitive care.
If a child has experienced chronic early maltreatment in a caregiving relationship–as often occurs before adoption–difficulties in attachment can occur. Keep in mind that there are different treatments for different conditions. The purpose of a comprehensive assessment is to determine the causes of the difficulties being experienced.
A thorough assessment by a competent provider is necessary to determine the areas that need addressing. Chronic early maltreatment can cause difficulties in seven domains of functioning, including attachment, behavioral regulation, emotional regulation, biology, cognition, defensive functions and self-concept.
Attachment-focused treatment, dyadic developmental psychotherapy, is an evidence-based, effective and empirically validated treatment for adopted children and those experiencing attachment problems. Ensure your professional is certified by the Attachment-Focused Treatment Institute as being certified in dyadic developmental psychotherapy.
The core of a secure attachment is grounded in the provision of safety, security and responsive care in a consistent and predictable manner by a primary caregiver. Chronic early maltreatment creates insecurity, a sense of danger and distress.
Developing a secure attachment requires sensitivity and addressing the cause of the difficulties–not the surface symptoms. Harsh, punitive, shaming, blaming or critical methods only make the situation worse by reinforcing a child’s internal working model that adults are not to be trusted or relied on to be a source of safety, security and comfort.
Children who have experienced chronic early maltreatment require consistency and predictability to feel safe and secure. Regular meal times, bed times and rituals will help the child know what to expect and feel less worry or anxiousness about what is going to happen.
Using calendars and letting the child know about the day’s and weeks’ plans can go a long way in creating a sense of safety and a feeling of reliability.
In child custody situations, caregivers may have difficulty separating their antipathy for each other from the need to act in a cooperative and collaborative manner in regards to parenting. If one parent cannot function in a supportive, responsive and attuned manner, it may be best to temporarily suspend visits until he/she is able to put aside his/her feelings toward a spouse.
Unfortunately, many mental health professionals do not have significant training or experience with evidence-based and effective models to treatment for attachment disorders. Too often, children with histories of chronic early maltreatment are misdiagnosed with ADHD, ODD and other conditions without the provider having completed a comprehensive assessment.
Attachment is the basis for health development and personality. Providing a safe, predictable and secure home will help heal an adopted child whose early experiences have not created a stable and secure pattern of attachment.