MOST children develop emotional attachments to their parents or caregivers at a young age.
They show healthy anxiety when their caregiver is absent, and show relief when they’re reunited. When basic needs are not met, children can develop attachment disorders. But some kids develop attachment disorders because their caregivers aren’t able to meet their needs.
These children may be unable to bond with their caregivers and they struggle to develop emotional attachment.
Here, we speak to Child Psychotherapist at Mable Therapy Helen Spiers, to find out what attachment disorder is, what it can mean for your child (and you) and top tips for how to handle it…
WHAT IS ATTACHMENT DISORDER?
The Child Psychotherapist explained the connection or ‘attachment’ we have with our primary caregiver – usually a parent – has a huge impact on our lifelong development and wellbeing.
This attachment starts when we’re still in the womb. If, as infants, we have all our needs met and feel loved and valued, we have a ‘secure attachment’.
If we cry and our parents attend to us by feeding, changing or soothing us, then the impact of this is long-lasting. We navigate the world confident in our right to be there.
Those who don’t have their needs met consistently have an ‘insecure attachment’.
Helen said: “There’s lots of reasons this could happen, perhaps if the caregiver is abusive or neglectful, but also if they live in extreme poverty so can’t meet the child’s needs, if they have mental health issues or if some kind of trauma occurs.
“Attachment disorder is when the insecure attachment is very severe, so we often see it in children who are in the care system or those who went through early abuse.
“It’s diagnosed when a child shows significant symptoms of having a poor attachment.”
WHAT IT MEANS FOR KIDS?
Child Psychotherapist Helen added that it’s easy to see how a poor attachment can affect a child’s emotional development, but the impact can be so much bigger than that.She said that our brains develop more in the early years than at any other point in our lives and an attachment disorder can lead to the under-development of the brain.Helen commented: “If we’re having lots of interactions and physical contact with our caregiver it stimulates the development of neural pathways which help the brain grow.“But the stress of not having our needs met requires so much energy that the brain can’t develop normally.“
“The brain is too exhausted to create the neural pathways for ‘higher level thinking’, so things like humour, empathy and self-awareness can all be lost.
“If a person has an attachment disorder, the message that the world is unsafe has had a profound impact on them.
“They might be overly trusting, so at risk of manipulation, or they may trust nobody and struggle to have relationships.
“They may struggle with social cues or lack the compassion and empathy needed to be morally-sound, law-abiding citizens.”
She added that attachment disorder can also have a massive impact on a child’s mental health and makes them more susceptible to depression.
Helen revealed five signs to look out for that could point to your child having attachment disorder.