The first 5 years is the most imperative time in a child's life for forming attachments. Childhood is a very important stage. Ensuring a secure attachment will help children become adults capable of healthy relationships. If a child fails to form attachments to primary care givers, this can impact on emotional developmental issues going forward in their lives, known as attachment bond, it can affect their ability to express emotions, develop trust and security and build meaningful relationships later in life.
Attachment disorders can be split into three types of attachment groups: avoidant, ambivalent and disorganised. Of them, a forth 'secure attachment, is considered the “ideal” standard to have.
The 3 main types are dysfunctional attachments and could potentially come from mild problematic issues from separated parents, or family members that left without closure or the child understanding, and/or that person being away for a large portion of their life and returning suddenly into their lives, while filling a void, the child often forms unhealthy bonds with them over the primary care giver. Attachment disorders are common in young children who have been traumatized, abused, moved around in foster care systems, or separated from their primary caregiver/s after establishing bonds. These children may have difficulty relating to others and are often slower to develop mentally and socially.
If a young child repeatedly feels abandoned, isolated, powerless, or uncared for—whatever the reason—they will learn that they can’t depend on others and that the world is a dangerous and frightening place. Sometimes the circumstances that cause attachment problems are unavoidable, but the child is too young to understand what has happened and why. To a young child, it just feels like no one cares. They lose trust in others and the world becomes an unsafe place.
However, no matter how detached or insecure your child seems, or how frustrated or exhausted you feel from trying to connect, it is possible to repair an attachment disorder. With the right approach, patience and love, you can bond with your child and help them develop healthy, meaningful, and loving relationships again.
The attachments to role models in a child’s life is of great importance. If the child doesn’t have a stable ‘goto’ person, they may find it hard to trust and form meaningful attachments in the future, and find it hard to regulate their emotions. They will quickly develop a cycle of distrust and insecurity through stress and anxiety. A need or a want, cannot be sought, and thus outing the stress and anxiety in a difficult to break cycle.
They may also try and quickly establish a bond to someone new in their significant parent’s life, e.g they could feel they think they want to be close to the person they crave attention from or if that person may have been in and out of their life for substantial periods of their life (e.g. their father) and that person has a new girlfriend/boyfriend, they feel they could ‘give’ them everything they’ve always craved, love and attention. This could in turn bring a range of emotions that they are unable to process, leading to high anxiety, self harming, major trust issues-unable to trust those trusted with their care and conversely becoming overly trusting to empowered figures.
3 negative styles can be recognised from Mary Ainsworth's research (and John Bowlby foremost):-
Ambivalent – where sometimes they get there needs met and sometimes they don’t, i.e. inconsistent mothers or fathers in their life, mental health problems, drug users. This style is really difficult for the child to cope with and understand.
Avoidant style – where they don’t get the emotional attachment and become very self-sufficient – they believe they can’t place trust in or rely on anyone else but themselves and learn to adapt and cope on their own. This style can be hard for them to allow a foster carer in and enable a trust/bond to form.
Dis-organised Style –This is the most dangerous style, as the child could be frightened from being subject to abuse, and they often have no clear response to a situation or emotions.
A disorganized attachment style in a child, is formed when a child is emotionally and physically dependent on someone who is also a source of distress or fears. No matter what the child does in response to their own needs it does not bring proximity, safety and comfort from their primary carer. Children who have a disorganised attachment will typically be somewhat bizarre in their way of relating to others because they have not learnt any clear way to relate and regulate their emotions. They can often show incoherent responses in relating to situations or other people.
It's very important to correct this type of attachment disorder as early on as possible to prevent future issues, the child needs to re-establish a safe, secure attachment system with the new primary caregivers who can become gradually capable of bringing in positive role models, positive behaviour standards and safe boundaries, therefore offering a progressively more positive attachment experience to the child.
General signs of attachment disorder in young children:
An aversion to touch and physical affection:
Children often flinch, laugh, or even say “ouch” when touched. Rather than producing positive feelings, touch and affection are perceived as a threat.
Children go to great lengths to remain in control and avoid feeling helpless. They are often disobedient, defiant, and argumentative.
Anger may be expressed directly, in tantrums or acting out, or through manipulative, passive-aggressive behaviour. They may hide their anger in socially acceptable actions, by being overtly aggressive when greeting someone or dismissing someone.
Difficulty showing genuine care and affection:
Children may act inappropriately affectionately with strangers while displaying little or no affection towards their parents.
Lack of inhibition:
The child may be overly talkative or physical with unfamiliar adults, excited to interact or even leave with strangers, and fearless about places or situations that are strange or threatening.
An underdeveloped conscience:
Children may act like they don’t have a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving badly. There’s evidence that left untreated attachment disorders may even lead to personality disorders in adulthood.
It’s important to note that the early symptoms of attachment disorders are somewhat similar to the early symptoms of other issues such as ADHD and Autism. If you start noticing any of these signs, ensure you contact professional help and make an appointment with your Doctor.