Attachment and Bonding

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A tween boy embraces his mother
John Howard
If there is even one significant adult in a child's life who will provide consistency and unconditional love and support, that child can attach.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. . . .It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
—1 Corinthians 13:4-5, 7

One family with whom I worked wanted to expand their family by adopting a child from another country. Their family consisted of the parents and two sweet-natured little girls. The parents wanted to adopt a younger male child. The little boy they adopted came into their lives through much perseverance in the adoptive process. They were thrilled to have him join their family.

Then, a few months after the adoption, he began to act out. His behaviors were targeted on the primary caregiver, his mother. He would yell at and hit her; defecate and urinate on the floor; cry and scream instead of sleep at night; and he wouldn’t allow anyone to touch or attempt to calm him. As a result of his escalating behaviors, the mother began to react to him and became angry with herself for her negative thoughts toward him.

When I met them, she felt as though her son was in the process of ruining her family. She expressed how much she despised how he changed their family. She found herself yelling at him in response. The father became the only one who could soothe the child. Without his presence, the boy’s behaviors continued to escalate.

The emotionally drained family needed answers. Why was this happening? What could they do? (You can read more about this family in the next article.)

First, I explained the issue of attachment and bonding. As parents interact with and relate to their children, children reflect what they see. They model facial expressions, voice intonations, and physical gestures, and these elements contribute to the child’s developing attachment capabilities. For some of us, this process is second nature; for others, it is unknown territory.

Attachment can be a complex concept. To understand, let’s look for it in everyday life. The face of attachment is evident in children who, while playing with other children, go to their parent(s) and touch them or stand near them to “touch base” and then return to playing with their friends. Attachment is also seen when children run to their parent(s) when hurt, sad, afraid, or overwhelmed. When attachment is present, the parent(s) can soothe this child. A child who is not attached may be hypervigilant; always on guard out of fear; or they may not respond to the parent’s words, sounds, or gestures.

All different degrees of attachment exist. A child may have experienced an intermittent attachment process such as when parents are deployed, divorced, or depressed. If there is even one significant adult in a child’s life who will provide consistency and unconditional love and support, that child can attach. Attachment is based on the needs of the child.

Bruce Perry, M.D., a specialist in child development and trauma, defines attachment as “a special enduring form of ’emotional’ relationship with a specific person which involves soothing, comfort and pleasure.”Bruce Perry, M.D., Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children (www.childtrauma.org), 2001. An attached child finds security and safety in context of this special relationship. It is within this secure and safe relationship that a child is able to develop emotionally, physically, socially, culturally, intellectually, and spiritually. This connectedness provides the context for a child to learn, love, survive, work, create and grow.

Attachment is also demonstrated when the loss or threat of loss of the specific person evokes distress. Distress is manifested through behaviors: bouts of crying, throwing tantrums, periods of hoarding, moments of withdrawing, actions of self-mutilating, and other significant behaviors.

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Your Teen Needs You Most of All

No parent of teens is perfect and even the best can learn how to better connect with their son or daughter. Get practical action steps to better connect with your teenager in 8 Essential Tips for Parenting Your Teen in this FREE video series!

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.

There Is Still Hope for Your Marriage

You may feel that there is no hope for your marriage and the hurt is too deep to restore the relationship and love that you once had. The truth is, your life and marriage can be better and stronger than it was before. In fact, thousands of marriages, situations as complex and painful as yours, have been transformed with the help of professionals who understand where you are right now and care deeply about you and your spouse’s future. You can restore and rebuild your marriage through a personalized, faith-based, intimate program called, Hope Restored.
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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Reconnected: The Digital Experience

Is the love there, but not the spark? Reawaken fun in your marriage and move from roommates to soulmates again with the help of this 7-part online video experience. Learn how to connect emotionally and spiritually as husband and wife using techniques such as dreaming together and establishing deep, heartfelt communication. The Digital Experience includes 7 teaching videos, an online study guide and access to additional tools and resources to help spouses reconnect.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.

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