The Impact of Attachment Part 1

I remember when our youngest daughter came to live with us. On the first night she clearly wondered where she was and why things were so unfamiliar. She was just over a year old and had been in a foster household where she was adored and cossetted, and the focal point of attention for four adults.

Joining a busy household with other children, however much she was loved must have felt really challenging for her and as a result she was initially unsettled. 17 years ago there was little talk of attachment styles, or teaching adopters ways you could increase bonding as an adoptive parent. But now I believe we know a lot more.

Attachment is the description of a biological and psychological event, the bond that develops between the primary carer and an infant. The process of attachment will begin in utero, when it is anticipated the mother will nurture positive feelings towards her developing baby and begin the relationship, between mother and child.

Developing a secure attachment to the primary care giver (PCG) is extremely important as the child’s development of future intimate relationships, and they will be set by the nature of this relationship.  It also impacts on the infants expectations as a foundation of trust for the child in future. Studies of attachment have identified that the nature of attachment relationships in infancy are associated with managing the child’s emotions, social skills, the ability to build relationships, autobiographical memory, and the development of self-reflection/understanding in later life.

Studies have made it very clear that attachment has a pivotal impact on a child’s development and researchers have identified 4 primary categories of attachment.


Those infants actively exploring, who become upset when their mother/PCG leaves, and show happiness when they return. The PCG is typically loving and responsive to the infant’s needs, quick to pick them up when they cry, to hold them longer and to show pleasure in the interaction.

Insecure-ambivalent (also known as anxious-resistant)

These infants stay close to their mothers/PCG and there is limited independent exploration. They become very distressed upon separation, and show ambivalence towards the PCG when they return. Mothers of insecure babies were evaluated to be more mean spirited to cool, chaotic up to incompetent. Though well-meaning these parents have difficulty responding to their babies in a “loving, attuned, consistent way”.


These infants show little distress when separated, ignore their parent’s attempts to interact, are often sociable with strangers, but may also ignore them as they do their PCG. These mothers often have an aversion to physical contact themselves and can speak sarcastically to their infants.


These infants are the most distressed upon separation from the PCG and are considered the most insecure. They seem confused upon reunion and often exhibit a combination of resistant and avoidant behaviours.

When adopted children are placed in new families, it can be devastating if the adoptive parents are unaware of these attachment issues as a result of their children’s experiences prior to moving to their home. It is easy for the adoptive parents to take the children’s behaviour very personally, not knowing or understanding that this is a product of the strategies the infant had to develop to manage or make sense of the experiences and parenting they were exposed to previously.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

RAD is usually a result of disruption and trauma experienced during the attachment process. This may be as a result of physical or sexual abuse, neglect and/or frequent changes of care givers within the first 3 years of a child’s life.

The loss of a parent, frequent moves, abuse, neglect, parental drug or alcohol use or domestic violence are some of the potential causes during early years.

The symptoms of RAD

  • Lying
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Not being affectionate
  • Cruelty to animals or peers
  • Lying over obviously incorrect things
  • Stealing
  • Limited impulse control
  • Learning issues
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Unhealthy eating habits e.g. hording or over eating
  • Preoccupation with fire
  • Inappropriately clingy
  • Speech issues
  • Destructive to self, others, material things
  • Indiscriminately affectionate to strangers

It is really important to know as much as you can about the child’s history in order to meet the child on their emotional or developmental level. Where they are. When parenting a child who has been removed due to abuse or neglect, traditional parenting will not be the best approach.

There are special considerations to make when parenting children who have experienced abuse or neglect. Traumatised children learn to respond to stressful situations and will often be at a consistent level of stress (arousal) as a result. You should allow them to talk about their experiences in their own way. Without overreacting or showing negativity, as there is a danger they will feel unable to talk about it in future, if you do.

It is important that they have an ordered and predictable environment, so building habits and structures is helpful within the home.

This is one of many reasons regular play sessions will prove to be very valuable, in building attachment between you and your adopted child. Dedicate half an hour three times a week to time when the child can steer their play with you. This will help them build confidence and their relationship with you.


To attend our session on Play within Lockdown on Thursday 19th November 2020 at 8.00 PM. Join us LIVE in the following Facebook groups Or on Youtube:






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