THE OPPOSITE OF R.A.D.
How to form healthy attachments in adopted families
At a symposium last march, room packed, Jerome Kagan, psychologist who
is leading expert in childhood development therories more specifically how temperament
influences child development thorough the life span, said, “I’m glad attachement theory is dead.
I never thought it would go anywhere.
There was stunned silence. Shifting in seasts, and brain researcher, attachment theorist, Dan Seigel bounded out of his seat, went up to the stage and said, “Have you actually read the attachement research?”
And so there was a heated impromptu debate, the two stars of psychology, passionately arguing about what matters more, nature or nurture?
Nature meaning we are born with one temperament or another, making us more outgoing, pleasant, easily soothed
Or the reverse…would be something that Kagan supported.
Nurture, the idea that a break in that early attachment, whether due to a caregiver’s mental illness, addiction, neglect etc severely impairs that child’s ability to connect and attach later on in life.
Basically the history of attachment theory went something like this:
Based on early research by Bolby and bolstered by Mary Ainsworth, in the 70’s created Strange Situation Experiment. A way to observe how infants actively sought contact with their mothers and vigorously protested when that contact was denied. Then throughout the 80’s a woman named Mary Main, a research psychologist at U. Of Berkley, devised the Adult Attachment interview…the way that adults responded to the questions on the interview, whether their narratives were coherent or confused to questions like, describe your relationship with your parents, did you ever feel rejected. Etc.
Ultimately it provided real data about their capacity to form relationships…
Dan Seigel’s, The neurobiology of WE is a fascinating series about brain development, attachment theory and human relationships, a must listen to for any of us working in this field.
So where does that leave us?
A man named Gordon Neufeld created what I think is one of the best models for understanding and explaining the way healthy attachments develop. And it is a model for the way virtually every relationship develops for children, beginning with parents, to siblings, friends, and finally intimate partners.
Attachment is the most primal need of the child. Surpassing even hunger in its importance.
Attachment makes parenting easier. It awakens a child’s natural desire to follow our lead.
A very important concept to share with families is to help them LOOK FOR and IDENTIFY in the things they are doing OUTSIDE of therapy to PROMOTE ATTACHMENT.
Workers at group homes, foster families should also be ENCOURAGED TO HELP children attach and connect
So that they will be able to apply these SKILLS in OTHER RELATIONSHIPS.
Want to give you an example of family I’m working with who adopted a child from DCYF
about 3 years ago. She is now 12. When family first began working with me this past fall, were in danger of terminating adoption. There had been an incident that led them to believe they might not be able to parent. The child was also very oppositional, interrupting parents at every turn with no, I’m not. That’s not right, etc. We focused on ways of building positive attachments, for example, she and her father related on physical activity, sports, doing things together. She got more nurturing from her mom. They were encouraged by me to look for places where the attachment or connection was getting deeper. “She let me tuck her in and kiss her cheek.” I explained to her that when she argued with them about everything, pushing them away instead of
Bringing them closer. What was getting in the way of attaching. How to help build empathy. Explaining that she was functioning like a three year old when having temper tantrum….how to respond…how to help her attach.
THE SIX STAGES OF ATTACHMENT
STAGE ONE is Proximity,
Through touch, closeness, contact infant/child begins the journey of attaching…
HOW DO WE PROMOTE THIS with Older Children, Children who are in foster care or who have been adopted through CHiId welfare system?
a. Invite child to be in your company. Cuddle, snuggle, play a game together sends a message you want to be close and connected… when you clearly DON’T want to be around him, because he’s misbehaved, this threatens his most fundamental need to be securely attached to SOMEONE. Attachment disordered kids may push against this basic need, testing it to see if it is real, if they can count on it. Or they may not even know how to attach or connect and need to be show, like taming a baby bird. Fragile.
COACH THE CHILD on how to ASK APPROPRIATELY to have connection needs filled. Instead of being annoying or acting out or demanding….do X instead.
STAGE TWO IS SAMENESS:
a. When you and child have something in common. Fondness for watching baseball together. One of the families I work with call each other when they hear a special song
that they both like playing on the radio.
Emphasizing that you both enjoy doing something fuel the connection, when you have a child whose interests are distinctly different MUST find something can both relate to.
STAGE THREE: BELONGING OR LOYALTY
a. This is when you emphasize to child that you are UNEQUIVALLY on his side. You have HIS back.
Examples of when this goes awry: parent takes side of teacher FIRST when they get in trouble at school…or the side of siblings first over them…etc. Or when rules or order or rigidity take precedence over the relationship.
How to promote this: If a child has a problem let them know you are there to support him. That you will get through this together…if a child has misbehaved, communicate that you want to see situation CALMLY and through his eyes so you can help meet needs in healthy way. Thank child for when he’s helped you…
STAGE FOUR: SIGNIFICANCE
Feels held by parents even when they aren’t there. Child knows how precious she is to them. Examples of this, when we here from pre-adoptive families “We’re the lucky ones.” We usually know we have a good fit.
Tell child his/her adoption story. Looking at them with love/ not disdain, infusing voice with warmth when say his name. WHAT makes them special? “I know that you are really great with animals, your dad and I aren’t so good with them.” or “I bet you got that from your birth mom or dad or someone in your birth family.”
STAGE FIVE LOVE:
Love is the food that nourishes us all. Fortifies us as we go out into the world.
Sometimes our kids will jump to calling foster parents mom and dad/ or pre-adopt. How do we help them know what it means to love someone? What is HEALTHY love for them?
It is a stage that comes only after some of the earlier phases have been worked on.
FINALLY: BEING KNOWN. IF the child has successfully attached, will have a child who will open up, wants you to know inner world, tells you things. Contact you when they are confused…
THE PEOPLE WHO BECOME TRULY AND DEEPLY CLOSE TO US LET THEMSELVES BE KNOWN BY US !!!
MUST HAPPEN FOR ALL PEOPLE IN THE RELATIONSHIP IF HEALTHY AND BALANCED CONNECTION IS TO OCCUR.
Remember: WHEN A CHILD SPENDS A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME IN THE COMPANY OF THOSE WHO HE FEELS DON’T UNDERSTAND HIM OR ENJOY HIS PRESENCE IT WEARS DOWN HIS SPIRIT AND DIMINISHES HIS JOY!!!!
BE THE JOY.