Challenges to attachment may arise in many family or childcare settings. Sometimes it will be difficult for a child and an adult to attach and bond with one another. Challenges might arise in the case of adoption, divorce, special needs, post-partum depression or for many other reasons. Keep in mind that challenges will not occur in all of these situations, so we will not focus primarily on situations that might be challenges, but rather what can be done to overcome those challenges.
The consequences of weak attachment in early childhood can be different for each child. With severe emotional neglect in early childhood, the effect can be devastating. Children without touch, stimulation and nurturing may be unable to build relationships for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, few children suffer this degree of severe neglect. More than 80 percent of children form secure and healthy attachments with their mothers. Many others establish a bond with another caregiver. Unfortunately, there are many children who have not formed a secure attachment during infancy and early childhood. Normally, the severity of problems is related to how early in life, how prolonged and how severe the emotional neglect has been. This does not mean that children with these experiences have no hope to develop normal relationships.
There are many things that parents and caregivers can do to make a difference in the lives of children, even when there are challenges to the relationship. Here are some tips to help overcome challenges with children.
Hold, rock, cuddle, engage in gentle physical contact.
Model social skills
Help children learn how to interact with other people by modeling appropriate behavior through your own. Announce what you are doing: “I am going to wash my hands before dinner because…” Children will imitate what they see. Help children understand what is appropriate physical contact (when to hug, how close to stand, when not to pick your nose, etc.).
Listen and talk to children
When you listen to a child, she will talk to you. Practice being there for children and just listening to them. This can be an important time for adults and children to have teachable moments, especially about feelings.
Progress is slow. Don’t be hard on yourself, and remember that attachment may take time.
Take care of yourself
Get rest and support. You cannot help a child if you are depressed, angry, overwhelmed or resentful.
Use your resources
Tap into support groups and professionals with experience in attachment problems. Seek help early and aggressively.