From the moment of conception, a mother and child begin a rhythm of attachment that becomes a pattern for life. This dance between mother and baby becomes more vital over time, with critical windows of development. Depending on how this dance is established, a child learns to view his world and what to expect from it. This is a wonderful thing when the experience is warm and validating, but can be devastating when seriously interrupted by illness or abuse.
A child depends on the attachment process with mother, father and eventually 2 or 3 other significant adults in their lives, for smooth transitions into healthy social and behavioral, as well as cognitive and emotional development. Healthy attachment facilitates conscience development as well as cause and effect reasoning, just to mention two. Recent studies have shown that basic emotion regulation skills are developed during the 18 month to 36 month period, and that the warm, predictable, safe dance of parent-child interaction is the key factor to achieving this skill successfully.
Without consistent, loving care giving these early, critical tasks may not be accomplished well, leaving a child severely emotionally handicapped. Depending on the child’s response to trauma as well as the exact nature of the trauma, different patterns of behavior become evident over time. One such pattern is angry and avoidant, even punishing toward the parent. Another equally challenging pattern is one where a child cannot seem to sense the nurturing they receive, creating a cycle of clinginess.
When these patterns emerge, parents can use all their best tools and still end up discouraged and even frightened. It is not unusual for parents who have been previously successful with other children to have a deep sense of failure when dealing with their adopted child’s attachment issues. Good therapeutic support and knowledge can make all the difference for both the parents and the child.
A hurt child can sometimes bring up the pain and hurt from the parent’s childhood, as well, complicating matters significantly. When handled well, this can actually be a gift of growth and learning for everyone involved.
For an article written by Elsebeth Green about attachment and relationships, click here.