Attachment is a term used to describe the dependency relationship an infant develops towards his or her primary caregivers. The development of strong and secure attachments is a critical developmental task of infancy and early childhood. Attachments influence the developing child’s emerging beliefs about themself, others and the world in which they live. Infants become attached to the people who provide physical and emotional care on a continuous and consistent basis. Quality of care and the infant’s early experiences influence the type of attachment the infant develops. When care is grossly deficient and early experiences are characterised by physical and emotional distress, the infant’s attachment to its caregiver is also disturbed. Children who display markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate social relatedness in most contexts, and who have experienced grossly deficient care, might accurately be diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) or Disinhibited Attachment Disorder (DAD).
Attachment-disorders arise under conditions where the infant’s caregiver(s) fail to consistently offer experiences of their accessibility to the infant, of their understanding of the infant’s physical and emotional needs and responsiveness to these needs, and of their emotional connectedness to the infant and regulation of the infant’s emotions. Inconsistent regulation of the infant’s experiences of distress, and the infant’s associated high levels of physiological arousal, is particularly detrimental. The outcome is children who think of themselves as unlovable and undeserving, of others as mean and uncaring, and of their world as a harsh place. Their experience of inconsistent caregiver accessibility leaves them excessively preoccupied with influencing their environment in order to access their needs. Their experience of inconsistent emotional connectedness with their caregiver(s) and inconsistent soothing when they are distressed leaves them prone to poorly regulated emotions and behaviours.
Successful management of attachment-disordered children and the remediation of their attachment difficulties begins with enriching their experience of caregiver accessibility, understanding, responsiveness and emotional connectedness. Achieving lower levels of physiological arousal is also critical.
In my first book A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (JKP, 2009), I share my insights regarding the care and management of attachment-disordered children. In my forthcoming JKP title A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children, I extend these ideas to the promotion of positive adjustment and resilience, not just among attachment-disordered children, but among all children.