By Daniel B.
HCC Client and Proud Adoptive Dad

To parents of kids with attachment problems: I know things are really hard for you and your kid(s) right now. Please know that it does get better. Your skills will grow, and your child will respond to your love.

You may have a child that isn’t even school age yet, who is already showing signs of classic attachment disorder. I do know that any child, even a toddler, who has experienced maltreatment and multiple placements already is quite likely to have insecure attachment AND a great deal of readily accessible primal rage. Heck, at that age, one or the other would probably trigger it. Add to that the idea that your child may have had poor prenatal care/ negative emotional states/ malnourishment, and you do have yourself a need for some intensive healing!

If any of this sounds familiar, I’m SO glad you’re reading this. It shows you are committed to finding a way to help your kid(s) feel loved and cared for, even if they seem to reject half your efforts.

There IS help available, in a number of ways. I’ll try (silly MBA) to “categorize” some ideas/resources, if nothing else to make it more digestible for you.

I have worked very successfully with House Calls Behavioral Health for several years and found them to be therapeutically brilliant, dedicated, transforming. I attribute the success of my parenting and relationship with my (now 18 year old) son to them. We work with Billy Kaplan. Not only does House Calls provide assessment and therapy, but they ALSO have a monthly parent support group that meets the first Monday of every month in Wilmette. I have been having an awesome, amazing time at these!

Billy has helped me understand a couple of crucial concepts that have helped me in my relationship with my son.

1. Early childhood trauma has an enormous impact on brain development.
Here is my personal synopsis: When a child senses or feels in the womb that he is unwanted, or not cared for, resented … Those messages come through, and they stick. They can start the process of a child’s core belief that they cannot ever count on anyone. As an infant, if the child cries and is not responded to; is left wet, dirty, hungry, cold, lonely, frightened … Time after time after time, the child learns that they cannot count on anyone. Neurological pathways in the brain that loving interaction sparks do not form correctly (yet!), and vast regions of the brain are left “dark”. Often, the child learns a dual-mode of survival: invisible (to be safe) or enraged (to get fed).

2. How you approach and respond REALLY matters!
Again, my personal take: Everything this kid does may seem geared to reject, anger and upset you. He is showing you everyday how hurt he is, and how angry he is that there is no one there for him.

*Side Note*
Many, many, many new parents fall prey to a thinking trap: “Now that the child is safe, well cared for, loved every day, isn’t it about time they start realizing everything is fine, shaping up, falling into line? Well, isn’t that a normal expectation? Come on, there is no trauma going on here!” What is SO hard to see, realize, is that *now* doesn’t matter to the child, they are stuck on *back then.* They need you to help them get unstuck and begin to heal, and that takes a heck of a lot more than hugs and food.

Anyway, the calmer you are inside, the better. Soon, you will be hearing about PLACE, PACE, SPACE or other monikers to help you think, consciously, about how you interact with your child:

Playful (Oh, you’re going to throw cookies now, are you? Well, me too!)
Loving (I love you all the more when you’re upset and angry with me, here’s a hug)
Accepting (Yep, this is where he is at right now, I’m okay with that)
Curious (I wonder why you don’t want to put your coat on? I wonder if you don’t know I will stay with you at the doctor’s office?)
Empathic (It looks like you’re feeling really sad right now, your eyes are down, your face isn’t smiling. It must be so hard to feel that sad)

Author Dan Hughes also talks about the tremendous importance of nonverbal cues: Since trauma is held in the body, it is essential that the parent/ therapist deliberately use all body communication to facilitate and deepen the therapeutic process. This includes:

  • Matching vitality and affect of client (i.e., if voice is raised, raise yours)
  • Congruent with verbal communication
  • Awareness of others’ nonverbal meaning
  • Clear, non-ambiguous expressions
  • Flowing – gradual, regulated, changes
  • Gaze – direct, warm, open, interested, responsive
  • Voice – variable, responsive, relaxed, open, animated, thoughtful, alive, empathic
  • Gestures – animated, expansive, dramatic, responsive
  • Posture- open, moving/ leaning forward (fighting the instinct to retreat)

3. There are several online (occasionally interactive) places I have turned to for help.
My list IS NOT the be all – end all, not by a mile.

  • Beyond Consequences – Seems to be headed by Heather Forbes and Eric Guy. She is coauthor of the Beyond Consequences book, along with Bryan Post. I have attended several lectures in the area by both Heather and Eric, when they were in town, and learned a great deal.
  • Yahoo newsgroup – I love this group, I subscribe to a daily digest and occasionally contribute my own thoughts or problems, you will totally be welcome there!
  • Heather’s Daily Parenting Reflection – Sign up for this daily morning refreshing idea to arrive by email, they are fantastic! Sign up on website.
  • Post Institute – Bryan Post and several colleagues also do transformational work. They host calls, provide newsletters, CD’s, DVD’s etc., online conferences, webinars, all geared to help you help your child thrive. It isn’t necessary to pay to receive most of the benefits, by the way!
  • EnjoyParenting.com – Scott Noell puts out a daily email in the morning that I also love. It just gives you a moment to reflect and think about trying new ideas and approaches, to consider things from a different light. Unlike Heather’s, his ideas do not seem limited to 120 days or thereabouts!
  • JourneytoMe.com – These folks work a lot with Post, and have put great stuff out there. I confess I haven’t explored a lot with them, but have participated in several calls and webinars they presented at and been impressed.

I’ll close with the idea that has worked best for me:
Nothing matters but my relationship with my child. Nothing. Not the behavior, not being on time, not being dressed properly, not being well-behaved. The relationship. Knowing that I may have to give and give and give for many years before any love comes back. If ever. What matters is that this child feels loved.