Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Help for the Adoption Journey - What attachment with an older child adopted child looks like.

When I sat in first year Psychology and learned all about these people I never ever thought that I would be using what I learned for anything except for typical child development ...if I knew then what I know now I might of paid more attention.

Bowlby was the best known researcher to develop a list of attachment stages in young children.He built on the work of Freud before him and produced a number of works that are still central to those working the field of attachment theory today. He identified 4 characterstics of attachment:

1.Proximity Maintenance - The desire to be near the people we are attached to.
2.Safe Haven - Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat.
3.Secure Base - The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.
4.Separation Distress - Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure
                                 - taken from Attachment Styles but can be found many other places as well.

More research was also conducted by Ainsworth ( who worked with Bowlby for a time)  and she identified three attachment styles, secure, anxious-avoidant  and anxious-ambivalent/resistant that are often used to describe attachments between a child and their primary caregiver(s). We hear a lot about these when we are talking about the attachments that adopted children have to first parents and to adoptive parents.

But for today, I wanted to focus on Bowlby and talk about some of things that I have seen as my older adopted children are beginning to attach to us. A lot of what goes on for adopted kids is a reliving of what they missed or should of had as young children.

I will keep this pretty simple and make a list under each one of some of the things that you might see in your older child when they are working on creating an attachment to you.

1.Proximity Maintenance - The desire to be near the people we are attached to.
- coming in from outside/another room just to see where you are.
- wanting to be held, cuddled or hugged (sometimes all the time)
- wanting to be touching you, holding hands, playing footsie, stroking your back, playing with your hair
- wanting to wear your clothes/shoes/hats.
- wanting to be in the same room as you at all times.
- hiding behind a parent when meeting new people or in a store.
- holding my hand when she's nervous (as long as no one is around). Added by Mary

2.Safe Haven - Returning to the attachment figure for comfort and safety in the face of a fear or threat.
- saying things like, "That scared me" or "I am afraid to go out there" when faced with something that seems as though it should not be frightening to a child their age.
- coming to you when they are being chased by a friend or sibling and acting overly frightened.
- being scared of "every little thing" and looking to you for comfort.

3.Secure Base - The attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment.
- a child leaves a successful activity for frequent "check ins" even though everything is going okay with what they are doing.
- asking if an activity is okay or just looking to you for your approval when someone asks if they can participate in something.
- only being willing to try something new if you particpate as well.
- letting you know that they are following your rules even when you are not with them. Added by Mary

4.Separation Distress - Anxiety that occurs in the absence of the attachment figure.
- Lots of questions even though they know the answer like - When is she coming back?  Where is she? How do you know she will be back then?  and asking them over and over.
- anxious behaviours in the absence of that person, nail biting, toilet accidents, chewing on clothes, and constant chatter.
- return of past behaviours that have not been seen since the early days of life with the child in your home.

These are all things that I have seen and experienced with my children. We have worked really hard to get to where we are today and I would say that we still have a long way to go. They are attaching to us and I see it more and more as time goes by. It is not a quick process but it is happening.

What have you seen and experienced with your adoption? Can you add to my list, if so leave me a comment and let me know which number to add it to. I will add it with a link to your blog ( if you have one)

5 comments:

Megan said...

You do such an awesome job of getting information out there. If we ever adopt again, we are leaning toward an older toddler adoption. It is so good to know there are moms like you putting their experiences out there for others!

Kerrie said...

Does "stealing your bra when she's mad at you" fall under Proximity Maintenance? No? Rats.

Essie the Accidental Mommy said...

Hmm, #2 is interesting because we get that a lot. I always thought the over- reaction was acting. In other words, Genea didn't know precisely how to react in real life to something scary so she would do what she saw people on tv do, which is generally over- reacting. What's your take on it? I didn't realize it was attachment related at all!

marythemom said...

My daughter is almost 15(less than a week away now!), has an attachment disorder and didn't come to us until almost 11, but we are seeing more and more attachment behaviors.

Maybe it's because she's at an older developmental stage (we figure about 4-6 years depending on the day), but her attachment behaviors are a little different.

1. She will hold my hand when she's nervous (as long as no one is around).

I have no idea where this falls, maybe 3?, but it is definitely an attachment behavior that my daughter is showing me that she shares my values - she makes sure she tells me that she is following my rules when I'm not there. "Mom, so and so wanted to give me a caffeinated drink today (we don't allow caffeine at our house), but I said no, because I knew you wouldn't want me to."

Mary in Tx

mom2spiritedboy said...

I stumbled across your blog and it couldn't be at a better time. We too have adopted two boys and we live in Ontario. I haven't even begun to "dig in" to your blog but its nice to know there is someone else out there.