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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A CHILD HAS NOT FORMED A SECURE EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT

Attachment is the most important foundations for healthy development.  It is the deep and enduring connection established between a child and caregiver in the first several years of life.  Attachment is not something that parents do to their children, it is something that children and parents create together in an ongoing relationship.

Infancy and the first several years of life is the critical developmental stage in which children develop basic trust, sense of self, conscience and cognitive abilities. Many children do not experience secure attachments with loving, reliable and protective parents. These children begin their lives with seriously compromised and disrupted attachment.  They often become impulsive, extremely oppositional, lacking in conscience and empathy, unable to give and receive genuine affection and love.

Disrupted and anxious attachment not only leads to emotional and social problems, but also results in biochemical consequences in the developing brain. Infants raised without love and security have abnormally high levels of stress hormones, which can impair the growth and development of their brains. The neurobiological consequences of emotional neglect can leave children behaviorally disordered, depressed, apathetic, slow to learn, and prone to chronic illness. Compared to securely attached children, children with attachment disorder are significantly more likely to be aggressive, disruptive, and antisocial.

But of course we want to help these children and dig deeper, so here are some tips on how to connect with children who have an attachment disruption. The most important thing is this: Relationships are the key. Providing a safe, predictable environment helps all children, and especially helps children who don’t have that environment at home. Children who have insecure attachments often don’t know what to expect and they live in an unpredictable world. They need to know what’s coming. This means letting children know the schedule, and when things will deviate from the schedule. It means showing up every day with a calm demeanor, and not fluctuating back and forth in how children are treated and talked to. It means showing up even after a child has acted out, and not walking away when it gets harder.

Children with insecure attachments might try to “push buttons” to get a reaction out of an adult. Sometimes to adults, this looks like disruptive behavior, or comes across as manipulation. But when a child is used to an adult responding with anger, abuse, neglect, or simply leaving when a child acts out, the child is likely using his behavior to test how an adult will respond. If a teacher or other adult responds consistently with a calm response, the behavior will eventually fade as the child learns to trust the adult. Adults need to model healthy ways of relating to children.

Free State Care in Action has equipped social workers with the necessary expertise to provide both children and caregivers with attachment therapy, helping them to correct and manage insecure attachments.  For more information contact Free State Care in Action on 051-4446143.