Attachment issues are not the same thing as reactive attachment disorder. Whenever a child moves to a new home or is confronted with a new set of parents, he will grieve for the loss of the familiar. He will do this even when the previous environment was abusive. This is normal, and should be anticipated even when the new home is a major improvement on the old.
Even without a diagnosis of attachment disorder, it can take a year or more for a child who has been removed from one family to become attached to another. By understanding this natural resistance to attachment, parents will be in a better position to ease the transition and to facilitate bonding than will those who expect it to happen easily and effortlessly.
Attachment issues stem not from any one cause, but result from a number of influences, as evidenced in our Background and Causes page. Children with attachment problems are most often found within the adoption and foster systems, although a growing number of attachment issues have been identified among biologically intact families.
Birth to 6 Months
- Social withdrawal and/or frequent screaming
- Pulling away from all touch
- Rejecting comfort from caregivers
- Attempts at self-soothing, evidenced by repetitive movement
- If not corrected, attachment issues at this age can lead to outbursts of rage, a negative self-identity, as well as behavioral and learning problems.
6 to 10 Months
- Self-soothing, evidenced by rocking
- Lack of stranger anxiety
- Extreme precociousness
- Self reliance
10 to 18 Months
- Extreme separation anxiety
- Disinterest in exploring the world
- Aggressive behavior as an outlet for frustration
15 to 24 Months
- Difficulty integrating dependence and independence
- Problems with transitions or sudden changes
When these attachment issues are not addressed, separation anxiety can linger, and become a problem when the child enters his school years. Attachment problems at this age also sensitize a child to frustration and failure which results in strong anxiety, anger, and poor self esteem.
24 to 36 Months
- Difficulty relating emotionally
- Clingy behavior
- Inability to cope with changing situations
When attachment issues continue after the child begins elementary school, they are likely to intensify and in some cases escalate to an attachment disorder. Children with attachment disorder distrust authority figures, whom they see as exploitive, cruel, and unpredictable. Their own self image is one of a defective victim of life, and they outwardly accept no responsibility for anything, even while inwardly blaming themselves for everything bad that happens.
There is little satisfaction in mastering anything unless it is seen as having survival value. Social skills may be limited, although they tend to master the art of manipulation. People, even parents and caregivers, are seen as interchangeable sources of getting what they want. Attachment disordered children bring enormous stress on all family members.
While attachment issues can have severe consequences, there is hope. As you might expect, the younger the child is when he begins appropriate therapy, the better the chances of a positive result.