Attachment Disorders This Emotional Life on PBS

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Attachment

		

Importance of attachment

Our interactions in the first few years of life form the building blocks that determine our outlook and understanding of how the world works.

These first attachments influence our worldview, the quality of our future relationships, and how we eventually parent our own children. It’s never too late to learn new ways to relate to the world and the people around us, but our earliest interactions always matter.

Babies
& attachment

Babies and attachment

Babies respond in consistent and identifiable ways to a secure or insecure attachment to a parent or caregiver. Research has shown that when separated from a parent or caregiver during a strange or unusual situation, a securely attached baby may cry at separation, and, if so, is quickly comforted by the caregiver’s return.

A baby with an insecure attachment in the same situation behaves in one of the three following ways: 

  1. Baby tries to avoid the returning caregiver 
  2. Baby cries at separation, but is not comforted by the caregiver’s return
  3. Baby behaves in an odd and disorganized way

Children
& attachment

Children and attachment

A child’s early care provides her first lessons in trust and self-worth. If she has an insecure attachment, she may be impulsive, lack self-confidence, and have difficulty relating to others. As she grows up, her early experiences continue to influence how she behaves and feels about herself and others. If she has a secure attachment, she is less likely to struggle as a teenager or experience mental illness later in life, such as depression, anxiety, or a personality disorder.

Reactive attachment
disorder

Reactive attachment disorder

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is very rare and is mostly evident in children who did not have early opportunities to form an attachment at all.
Because it is rare and usually only happens when a baby was unable to attach at all, you are most likely to encounter it if you are adopting a child or providing foster care.

Any concerns about a child’s care or development should be addressed as soon as possible.
Evaluation and treatment are important not only for a child’s long-term social, emotional, and mental health, but also for the well-being of the whole family.

Seek a medical evaluation.
If you are concerned that your child or a child you know has reactive attachment disorder or is not developing in the same way or pace as other children, it’s important to seek a medical evaluation, starting with the child’s pediatrician or a primary care doctor.

Helping a child heal and recover from reactive attachment disorder involves the whole family.
It includes creating a safe and stable living situation and the opportunity for a child to build strong relationships with her parents or caregivers. There isn’t a standard for how long a child or family may need therapy and professional support, and support may be needed long term. The challenges and length of treatment vary by individual and family, but full recovery is certainly possible.

Find Help

Locate mental health and well-being support organizations in your area.