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Attachment

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Attachment difficulties can develop when the early bonding between parent and baby is interrupted in some way. Life circumstances can undermine the parent’s emotional wellbeing, making it difficult for the new parent to bond with their baby.

Issues such as bereavement, poor physical or mental health or trauma can contribute towards postnatal depression, a risk factor for attachment difficulties.

Having a baby can trigger painful memories of childhood experiences and parents who’ve had difficult relationships with their own parents might find it difficult to adjust to parenthood. This doesn’t always interfere with the bonding process, but it is a risk factor.

What you might see

All the behaviours below can be seen in most children and young people. When there is an attachment issue, the behaviours will be noticeably more extreme and persist over a longer period of time.

Challenging behaviour might be caused by emotional distress associated with an insecure attachment relationship.

  • Separation anxiety (clingy behaviour that exceeds their peer group)
  • Reluctance to initiate or accept affection or comfort from you when distressed
  • Indiscriminately seeking caregiving from any available adult
  • Excessive difficulty regulating emotions

How you can help

For advice on bonding with your new baby, pleasesee our Getting to Know Your Baby page.

You can help build a healthy attachment throughout your baby?s childhood by:

  • Getting to know your child?s emotional states and how best to react
  • Being emotionally available when your child is distressed
  • Provide parenting boundaries and structure; children feel more secure if they know what?s expected of them
  • Initiating age-appropriate play with your child
  • Offering physical affection, particularly when your child wants to be close to you
  • Offering specific, positive feedback about their characteristics and behaviour
  • Taking time to reconnect emotionally after separation, especially important for children who struggle with separation
  • Taking a more nurturing parenting approach, offering lots of praise for wanted behaviour; children with attachment difficulties don?t respond well to punishments
  • Working with your child to find objects and activities that soothe them

All these approaches can be adapted for work with teenagers, for example playing cards or ball games.

If you?re caring for young people with more significant attachment issues, such as fostered or adopted children, use the techniques above and discuss any concerns with your social worker.

When to ask for help

If you?ve concerns, speak to your Health Visitor, child's school or social worker.

Self-help and other support

Books that you may also find helpful include:

  • Attachment-Focused Parenting; Effective strategies to care for children by Daniel A Hughes, 2009
  • Creating Loving Attachments; Parenting with PACE to nurture confidence and security in the troubled child by Daniel A Hughes and Kim Golding, 2012