detecting attachment issues (adoption/foster)

I have listed the behaviors children with attachment issues display in a post titled, signs of neglect, trauma, and attachment issues, but felt there needed to be a more extensive list and one that was more accessible. After all, that is why I’m here, because of attachment issues and to help children heal from their past, so here we are. (Be sure to check out the above link if you haven’t yet, as it gives real life examples of what a child with attachment issues deals with and the responses they present.)

Before continuing, it’s essential that you understand there is tremendous hope for you and your child. This list may seem daunting, but many children, including my daughter, have been able to check off every behavior on this list as their own. But with their parents help, they have been able to overcome it all with love, consistency, and special parenting. I am here to help and support families in this situation. You can do this, and your children can THRIVE.

“Adults responses to children before and after traumatic events can make an enormous difference in these eventual outcomes – both for good and for ill.” ~ Bruce Perry The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

So, here’s a list of signs that your child may be hurting. (This is not an exhaustive list. (If your child exhibits the behaviors here, it’s not a diagnosis.)

  • Sleep Issues – difficulty going to sleep, waking during the night.
  • Anger
  • Controlling of their environment and others.
  • Hyper-vigilant – overly aware of their surroundings. They are so aware of the people and environment that they miss what’s being taught in class or said at home.
  • Lack of creativity and imagination.
  • Unresponsive to affection
  • Excessively jealous when others receive attention.
  • Sabotage events, even birthdays and fun outings.
  • Inability to focus
  • No reaction to physical pain – during attachment healing, can have an oversensitivity to pain.
  • Food issues – not noticing when they are full, eating anything in sight, also not eating.
  • Emotional deregulation
  • Manipulative
  • Bad behavior
  • Make careless choices
  • Consequences, discipline and rewards don’t work.
  • React oddly to situations that seem normal to us (this can be due to connecting an event, person, or object to the time of their trauma).
  • Obsessive about family schedule and worried about where primary caregivers are going to be at all times.
  • Go into fight, flight, freeze mode.
  • Dissociates
  • Defiant
  • Hyperactive
  • Blames others (often mom gets the brunt)
  • Depression
  • High anxiety (acid reflux can ensue)
  • Lying
  • Phobias
  • Seek independence, but are incapable of handling it in the correct way.
  • Toilet training issues
  • Familiarity with everyone they meet, overly friendly even with strangers.
  • Live in a “me” centered world

The Attachment and Trauma Network gives more behaviors which are associated with attachment issues:

  • Unable to participate in reciprocal relationships.
      • Infant does not respond to parent.
      • Infant looks away or pushes away when held.
      • [Toddler and older children] seem unaware or uncaring about others feelings (especially those of family members/caregivers).
  • Superficially charming, especially to those he doesn’t know well.
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Obsessive behaviors
  • Demanding
  • Lack of cause and effect thinking
  • Destructive, dangerous behaviors (This is more on the end of the spectrum that I talk about here.)
  • Lack of remorse

Please understand that your child may have attachment issues, but not display every behavior on this list. Also, note that their behaviors can change as they move along the Attachment Spectrum toward healing, sometimes seeming worse before they get better.

I am providing this list to help you recognize the pain your child is experiencing, because they are exhibiting these behaviors because of the hurt they feel internally.

“Ultimately what determines how children survive trauma, physically, emotionally, or psychologically, is whether the people around them – particularly the adults they should be able to trust and rely upon – stand by them with love support, and encouragement.” ~ Bruce Perry The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

Following this posting I received a comment from a woman regarding my list. I have written a follow-up post called, What’s Next? A Look at Life After Bonding Takes Place, that will help you understand what happens when our children still have some behaviors they hold onto after they’ve bonded.

Please be sure to visit the links within this post and the ones listed here, you can also find several posts under the Contents page:

2 thoughts on “detecting attachment issues (adoption/foster)

    1. So sorry this left you discouraged, so not my intentions. First I want to say that the list is a reference, and you are the deciding factor of whether or not your son is doing well. No list, no therapist, no book can tell you anything other than what you see in your child.
      Some of these behaviors exist in children in general, whether they have attachment issues or not. Also remember that your child has ingrained attributes that stem from his biological parents, their personality types, their behaviors. Say if a child’s biological parent is a law breaker extraordinaire, a mom or dad may see signs of their child trying to wiggle her way around rules and occasional lying.
      Most importantly, our child’s early lives formed their brains to some extent. Some of that can be changed, and I feel you are seeing that, but they will have some defined attributes that continue with them. For example, although my daughter has bonded/attached very well at this point, she is still hypervigilant, tries to control some situations (more so around her friends), and wants to be in charge. We take those characteristics and give her opportunities to have responsibilities. We don’t want to crush the abilities that will serve our children well in the future, they can be intelligent leaders, teachers, and do great things with what they learned at the beginning of their lives, but we direct them in positive ways.
      I hope this helps some and doesn’t leave you feeling so dispirited. If you think your son is doing well, then he is! 🙂

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