When parents are told their child might have attachment disorder, they don’t really understand what that means.  They question what it means to have a “healthy attachment” with someone. In this article, I will take a look at

  • What an attachment disorder is
  • What may look like an attachment disorder
  • How to help your child with attachment problems

According to the DSM-V, Reactive Attachment Disorder has some of the following criteria:

  1. They are emotionally withdrawn and rarely seek or responds to comfort
  2. Persistent social or emotional problems like minimal social and emotional responsiveness, limited positive affect, or eposiodes of unexplained irritability, sadness, fearfulness even with positive interactions from adult caregivers.
  3. Experienced a pattern of extremes of insufficient care

Many adolescents may exhibit many of these behaviors, but have had constant, stable, and loving caregivers. If this is the case, then they do not have a disorder per se, but perhaps have an unhealthy attachment problem due to a low sense of self-worth. Many adolescents, especially children that have been adopted, may exhibit attachment difficulties and push away the very closeness in relationships that they desperately want out of fear of being rejected. They may fear that if they let people get close, they will see their unworthiness and leave them, so they keep people at a distance. Others may go to the opposite extreme of attaching to anyone who will have them no matter how unhealthy they are.

How to Develop a Healthy Attachment

Here are a few things from attachment expert Daniel Hughes, that can help parents of teens that are struggling with having a secure attachment.

P:   Playfulness – Parents are able to engage with the child expressively, using facial expressions, voice and body to join in the emotional and creative life of the child. Parents don’t take ourselves too seriously and are able to laugh at our mistakes, play and have fun together.

(L): Love – We all need to feel loved. When we don’t, we tend to do unhealthy things to feel a counterfeit kind of love or importance. If we buy in to the belief that we are unlovable then we may avoid loving relationships and even equate love with pain. We must love our kids unconditionally and express it often.

A:   Acceptance – The child’s sense of safety is enhanced when her inner self is never at risk for rejection, ridicule, or emotional withdrawal when we relate to them. Behavior is subject to evaluation or criticism but not who she is. She understands that she is not her behavior and even takes for granted that she is accepted even when she makes mistakes.

C:  Curiosity – An attitude of curiosity is a “not knowing” stance that requires us to ask about their inner life that leads them to do what they do and feel what they feel. We are interested   in their experiences and in them as people. This fosters a feeling of being accepted.

E:   Empathy This is the ability to put ourselves in the child’s shoes and feel what it might be like to be them. This is difficult if we are uncomfortable with the emotions they are feeling.

Through consistent use of these skills and other therapeutic approaches, your child can regain their self-worth and have a healthy and secure attachment.