development stage or attachment issues? (adoption/foster)

“My child is five and she lies a lot, is this a developmental stage, because I know some kids lie, or is it an attachment issue?” Questions like this come up often in the foster and adoption community. No matter the age of their child, parents wonder whether a behavior (usually one they don’t particularly care for) is age appropriate or whether it stems from an attachment issue.

No matter what it stems from it needs our attention,

and I have a simple way for you to deal with this question. If your child has shown any signs of attachment issues (go to Detecting Attachment Issues if you aren’t sure), then treat their behavior as an attachment issue, or at least through that lens. Regardless of what our hurting child is doing; lying, yelling hateful statements, wetting the bed, getting angry over the simplest answer to a question, it can stem from the pain that has not been dealt with.

Why can’t you treat developmental stages (potty training regression, a teen throwing rude hurtful comments at you) and attachment issues differently? Because, as you may have read here before, our hurting kids who’ve been traumatized don’t respond the same way to consequences, discipline, and rewards. Does that suggest we don’t use those three components with them? No, but it does mean that we do it differently, we have to be creative, and we also can’t expect the same outcome. A child with attachment issues will not turn on the sweetness because you offered a reward of ice cream, it will take a significant amount of bonding before behavior changes because of a reward system.

Our children, no matter where they came from (even biological ones), go through stages.

Our hurting kids who go through those “normal” stages seem to take them to the moon and back, everything is amped up on adrenaline.

Every action, reaction, and emotion is taken further with our kids a majority of the time. Why? Because of all the things I write about; fear, need for control, inability to process, inability to focus, attention on something else, not on behavior, etc.

Treating a developmental stage as what it might be won’t work because your child’s brain actually looks different than another child’s who hasn’t experienced trauma. So reacting to them as you would a child without their background will be counterintuitive.

I like to say that our kids need special parenting, and a child who’s been neglected or abused has special needs. Your child is hurting, and you will need to see that pain to help them properly. That doesn’t mean baby them, it doesn’t mean don’t have expectations, but understand your child is looking at the world through different eyes. Their reactions and acceptance of how you respond will be very different from another child’s.

Worries and life fill our minds and we sometimes tend to over-think situations, and sometimes we don’t give them enough consideration. I think this is one of the former. It’s more simple than what one might think. It sure isn’t simple to help our children heal, to dig to the bottom of each issue, each behavior, but in the instance of this question of development stages verses attachment issues, I feel there’s a clear answer. I hope the list in the link at the beginning helps you identify if your child is suffering from some attachment issues.

More information on attachment: You can find several more topics related to attachment on the Contents page, but here are a couple to get you started:

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