Fostering Positive Attachment in Children
The world is changed one child at a time. – Maya Angelou
At PASAC, we provide services to individuals of all ages. As part of the Kentucky Association of Children’s Advocacy Center, we are charged with providing services to those children who have experienced sexual abuse. We provide a wide array of services to meet the complex and holistic needs of the child and family. These direct services consist of forensic interviews and specialized medical exams to assist with the investigation process, legal and family advocacy to navigate the legal system and complex needs of those families dealing with abuse, and specialized therapy services.
At PASAC, specialized, trauma-focused therapy services are provided to children and their supportive family members. A variety of expressive art and body-oriented practices are integrated into the evidence-based treatment frameworks. For the child clients we see, the family is a critical piece of a child overcoming abuse and trauma. We know that a supportive caregiver is a factor in a child developing resiliency. Attachment between the child and caregiver is key in this supportive relationship being an effective tool.
Unfortunately for many of the kids we see, a supportive, nurturing, and loving caregiver is often lacking in their life. We know that children with chronic maltreatment are more likely to have internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors. Developing that nurturing attachment figure for the child can be a critical tool in helping the child learn to regulate themselves in times of distress, promote positive relationships with others, and decrease problematic behaviors.
From the Parenting Tool Kit, here are some activities that can facilitate a positive, nurturing caregiver-child relationship:
- Nurture them: these kids often need that healthy, appropriate physical contact, such as rocking, hugging, and cuddling.
- Be consistent, predictable, and repetitive: these kids are often sensitive to changes in routines which can be linked to times when problematic behaviors arise.
- Listen to and talk with them: one of the most important and pleasurable things is just to stop, sit, listen, and play with the child.
- Have realistic expectations: progress may be slow with these kids so remember to use your “magnifying glass” and “measuring spoons” when evaluating progress.
- Play: all attachment begins with play. This also allows the child the opportunity to be a child.
- Take care of yourself: you can’t provide consistent, predictable, enriching, and nurturing care to your child if you’re depleted. Get rest, support, and give yourself time to nurture your own relationships.
- Teach feelings: help kids learn feelings by saying them out loud when you notice the child feeling a certain way. Also, encourage them to draw their feelings and talk about them rather than hold them in. Help them pay attention to how those feelings come up in their body.
- Help the child to self-regulate: children need adults to help them learn to regulate and stay calm. Make a plan for what to do to help them calm down and don’t expect them to be able to do/handle more than they can.
- Parent children based on emotional age: children with attachment problems are often emotionally and socially delayed so may act in ways that seem age-inappropriate. Use non-verbal soothing to help them regulate, such as rocking, holding them, and sitting quietly.
- Understand behavior before punishment or consequences: think about the message you want to give your child and create a consequence according to that insight.
- Use AFFECT as a primary parenting tool: these kids need an abundance of warm, sincere praise when they’ve done something well and clear, dispassionate consequences when they’ve misbehaved.
- Model and teach appropriate social behaviors: these kids often don’t know how to interact well with others. Model the behavior by doing “play-by-play” announcements. Don’t assume the child is going to know how to play, share feelings, or know appropriate physical boundaries.
By implementing tools to help foster a secure attachment relationship for your child, the potential for your child’s healing and growth from trauma are increased exponentially.
Kelli Morrow, MS, LPP, LPCC
Attachment – PDF version