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Attachment Disorders Series #1: Parenting a Child With Attachment Issues

“My daughter won’t make eye contact or let me touch her.”

“My child does what I ask only when he wants something.”

When a child is distant, parents often think it’s their responsibility to develop attachment in their children. But attachment is different from bonding.

Just because you bond with your child doesn’t guarantee they’ll attach to you. Your responsibility is to be consistently reliable — to provide a safe, nurturing environment for your child. You can’t control their decision to attach to you.

What’s more, attachment disorders can affect children in healthy families, not only children in the foster care system or who’ve been adopted. Abuse, neglect, and trauma are the most common risk factors. But a child’s ability to attach can also be influenced by a stressful pregnancy, a difficult birth, and early hospitalization.

That’s why parenting a child with attachment issues requires understanding, persistence, and patience. And it’s why, if you suspect your child is struggling with attaching, we’d encourage you to connect early with a qualified mental health professional.

Find professional help for attachment issues

Without effective treatment, children with attachment issues can become more symptomatic over time and affect the whole family. So it’s wise to choose a therapist who will work with a parent and child together. Even better, find one trained in Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI).

TBRI is part of therapeutic parenting: learning to parent your child’s brain along with their behavior. Why is that important? Because a child with attachment issues struggles to respond positively to traditional parenting methods.

A trained therapist can guide you to identify reactive patterns (fight, flight, freeze, or faint) in your child’s brain and how those patterns influence actions. Then you’ll be able to help your child learn to make conscious choices to engage in acceptable behavior.

The therapist will also help you implement key principles when interacting with your child, including:

· Connection. Help your child feel that you’re with them instead of against them.

· Empowerment. Give your child a choice between two acceptable options. (A child can often feel scared or trapped if they don’t have options and won’t be able to hear what you’re trying to teach.)

· Correction. Make good use of do-overs. You’re looking for acceptable and appropriate behavior, not perfection.

· Truth. In all things, be honest and straightforward with your child, and encourage them to do the same. Intimacy is directly tied to feeling understood.

Remember the goal of therapeutic parenting

Healthy attachment is possible! The continuum of healing requires an average of one month for each year of your child’s age. But don’t lose heart. The human brain can always reorganize itself — whether to deal with trauma or adapt to a new environment of trust.

Read our complete article for examples of attachment issues as well as a list of recommended resources: Parenting a Child With Attachment Issues. And for a deeper look at how attachment between children and caregivers can be disrupted, read our article Complicated Attachment Dynamics.