Attachment disorder is one of the hardest, loneliest, and defeating aspects of parenting children from traumatic pasts. If you’re anything like us, you struggle to not take the words and actions of your child personally. So, how do you find light at the end of a very dark and long tunnel?
It IS personal. That’s the trouble with Attachment disorder. It is the opposite of the parental connectedness that we all desire with our children. Children attach through constantly having their needs met. When this attachment doesn’t happen during a child’s first few years, it can take a lifetime to recover the loss. As adoptive parents this is where we find ourselves with many of our children.
Often we are ashamed to admit that our child is not attaching to us. We may feel judgment from others who do not understand the cycle of bonding or the lengths we are going through to repair years of past damage and trauma. When we are living in a cycle of shame and disappointment as parents we are further hindering our own ability to attach. Here are a few things you can do to put shame behind you and stop taking your child’s attachment disorder personally.
- Lose Expectations. Do you have a healthy bond with another child? Did you have a healthy attachment to your parents? This relationship is different. A child who has been through trauma is going to view his or her world through a different lens than other children. They have built an emotional wall as a protection against further hurt. They did not consciously intend to keep your love out as well. They do not know how to differentiate. Lose your old expectations and allow your relationship to evolve at it’s own pace.
- Take a Minute. Children who have lost trust in adults, namely parents are often quick to react out of fear. They may lie about the most trivial situations. They may respond to requests with hurtful words or refusal to comply. They may curse at or push parents away emotionally. When these things happen, it is important for yourself and for your child to take a minute. The first reaction is usually not their real reaction. When you realize that your child is responding to a situation inappropriately, take a moment to allow their brain to catch up to the reality of the event. Often when our children are allowed to have a do-over they will aim for a different outcome.
- Correct and Guide. While you must understand where your child’s attachment disorder comes from, you don’t have to surrender to the disconnectedness. As your child grows and matures it is ok to find moments to address the issue with your child. Our son is now a pre-teen. He is beginning to have the maturity to understand a small correction like, “When you yell at me, it really hurts my feelings.” Sometimes we desire for the connection to be there so badly that we are tempted to deny the hurt. It is more than ok to allow your child to take responsibility for his or her words and actions. Keep in mind that your child may not seem to care how you feel. Brace yourself for that but if they do seem to understand, this can become a time of careful guidance.
- Cherish Moments Of True Connectedness. Be on the lookout for real moments of connectedness. Often I am exhausted from the every day wearing down that the lack of trust takes on my relationship with my children. I sometimes forget to look for the hope that still exists within our relationship. Hope is still there. Connectedness is always possible. The connection could happen in a brief moment of eye contact. Maybe it will be a genuine hug. You may laugh at the same joke or find out that you love the same food. My daughter was 24 when she called me “Mom” for the first time. I cling to that moment in my memory to this day.
- Be Prepared to Start the Cycle Over. Tuck those good memories away where you can retrieve them quickly because attachment disorder may rear its ugly head just moments after a wonderful success. Attachment, bonding and trust take time. My children are worth all the time it takes. I’m willing to bet yours are too!
Often you will feel as if you’re fighting a losing battle. It’s hard to see the sun behind storm clouds. Hang in there. Remember, you’re not alone. We’re in this trench with you. Keep your head up and keep fighting for the heart of your child.
Question: Are you parenting a child with an attachment disorder? What has been the most difficult aspect of your journey? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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