Attachment Disorders: Emotional Insecurities in Children
Does it sometimes feel like your children are a mystery to you? That no matter what you do as a parent, it doesn't seem to work for them? If so, you may be dealing with more than meets the eye. While it is perfectly normal for children to sometimes become moody, withdrawn, angry, sad, or even downright hostile, if they are showing consistent patterns of behavior, it may be time to examine the possibility of an attachment disorder.
1 in 10 children in the U.S. today has emotional problems so severe that they cannot function normally.
Most severe emotional insecurities in children stem from some form of an attachment disorder. These disorders form in infancy and can have serious effects on a child’s well-being, schooling, behaviors, and relationships.
Attachment disorders occur when the infant’s primary caregiver fails to meet the non-verbal emotional signals sent out by the child, and/or parental hostility is shown in front of the child.
If a child develops an attachment disorder, it DOES NOT necessarily mean that the caregiver did a poor job taking care of her; it simply means that some of the child’s non-verbal emotional needs were not met as needed. This is especially true with children who were distressed at an early age, be it by C-section, neonatal units, or even colic.
Licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist, Pam Dyson, explains the importance of a calming environment at a young age. “The first two years of life are critical to attachment. Insecurities can be seen in infants even a few months old, if they do not have consistent care-giving or caregivers.”
The good news is that these attachment disorders and the behaviors that accompany them can usually be fixed with time and patience.
Common Characteristics of an Attachment Disorder
Characteristics of an attachment disorder may vary from child to child, but can include a child acting:
- shy, avoiding eye contact and smiling, crying inconsolably;
- inhibited, rarely speaking, wanting no physical contact;
- socially awkward; withdrawn; and,
- fine with being alone, performing self-comforting acts, such as rocking.
“Children lacking secure attachments with caregivers commonly grow up to be parents who are incapable of establishing this crucial foundation with their own children.”
Emily Kircher-Morris, PLPC, a professional counselor in St. Louis who specializes in working with gifted and high achieving children, advises keeping a close eye on the child’s behaviors. “It is possible to recognize some traits of fears or anxiety in children that are extreme when they begin to affect that child’s daily functioning. Is the child having a ‘meltdown’ daily? Do they have so much difficulty with impulsive anger that they get in trouble at school or have difficulty making and keeping friends? If a parent feels this is the case, then it may be time to seek help.”
Attachment disorders vary in severity, but it is important to correct them as soon as they are spotted. If they are not treated, the child will have a hard time connecting to others and managing their emotions later in life.
According to Dyson, “As children get older, they may not be able to understand emotions in themselves or in others. They may seem anxious or clingy, have regressive behaviors, or a need to be in charge and control situations. A child may have low self-esteem and doubt their self-worth. They may appear withdrawn in social settings.”
The main types of disorders are avoidant, ambivalent, and disorganized attachment disorders, but the most serious form is reactive attachment disorder (RAD).
Characteristics of Reactive Attachment Disorder
Characteristics of a reactive attachment disorder include, but are not limited to a child:
- flinching, laughing, or saying “ouch” when touched;
- having major self-control issues, acting defiant or argumentative; and,
- showing inappropriate behavior and aggressiveness.
Here are some tips to help your child get past an attachment disorders:
- Parent at a slower pace, allowing the child to explore you and themselves.
- Let the child initiate interactions.
- Allow the child to frequently connect with people on a one-on-one basis.
- Speak and act calmly and purposefully, repeat yourself if necessary.
- Prepare the child for new situations, and help him label his feelings.
“Often, children worry and don’t realize the underlying cause. Providing an environment where they can talk about what is happening and process these emotions is essential because it will allow them to develop an awareness to work through those situations in the future,” said Morris.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with attachment disorders is to be emotionally present and calming with your child. Always maintain eye contact, tune in to their feelings and needs, and be proactive rather than reactive. Having a structured, consistent routine and setting boundaries with your child will help a great deal to alleviate these disorders as well.