If you are thinking of bringing home an adopted infant, attachment issues may be a concern of yours. For those worried, there is good news: although adopted infants have bonded with their mothers in the womb, they are open to attachment with their caregivers. Attachment is the two-way process in which the baby and mother create an emotional connection. Through caring for the baby’s needs and spending quality time together, new parents can establish the trust needed for a healthy attachment between parent and child.
Healthy attachment between an infant and their caregiver(s) is a predictor of positive mental health outcomes later in life. So, it is natural for adoptive parents to worry about attachment issues in adopted infants. Researching the indicators and solutions for attachment issues is an excellent first step in ensuring secure attachment between child and parent.
Experts in human development have identified four different attachment styles.
- Secure attachment is the first that adoptive parents should strive to establish, as it is characterized by infants feeling close to their caregiver. This is accomplished through parents demonstrating that the infant can trust them. For instance, when their infant cries, adoptive parent address the infant’s needs in a timely manner. They also hold, talk to, and play with their infant in order to spend quality time together. Most importantly, secure attachment parents protect their infant from harm.
- Insecure-ambivalent is an attachment style characterized by an infant’s over-attachment to their caregiver. In other words, adopted infants who are not comfortable exploring on their own from time to time. Parents of these infants are described as emotionally inconsistent. Even though they meet the needs of their infants, they are not always warm. Insecure-ambivalent parents often express a wide array of emotional states to their infant, some of which may be “negative” such as distress upon crying or occasional detachment. It is difficult for new parents to always be “on.” It is certainly possible for a parent to reflect and work on their emotional constancy in order to establish a more secure attachment style going forward.
- Insecure-avoidant is an attachment style in which the infant is resistant to connection with their caregiver, and sometimes strangers as well. In this situation, adoptive parents may not often connect with their infant through physical touch and language. Thus, attention is lacking. Increasing quality time with an infant through eye contact, play, and singing can help to remediate this disconnect.
- Insecure-disorganized is considered the most insecure attachment style. These infants display distress when separated from their caregiver, but then do not necessarily show signs of comfort when the caregiver attempts to comfort them. The infant’s reaction to their caregiver is often characterized as confusion. Strongly unpredictable caregiver behavior can lead to this attachment style.
Attachment styles are often passed down from generation to generation. A parent who had an insecure attachment with their own parent is susceptible to passing this down. For this reason, new parents should reflect and identify the attachment style that resonates most true for them. This information can help a new parent to find room for improvement and steps necessary in order to form a secure attachment with their child.
Reactive Attachment Disorder
Most commonly, this disorder is found in those who have experience trauma. An adoption later in life, especially after an abusive situation, can increase the likelihood of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) or other difficulties in forming secure attachments. In infants, RAD can manifest as an infant’s disinterest in their caregiver. These infants may not make eye contact or express a greater sense of calmness with their adoptive parent than they do with strangers. However, it is easier to identify symptoms of RAD as a child grows up, as these, like personality traits and behavior patterns, will become more noticeable.
What can parents do to form secure attachments with their infant?
Adoptive parents can begin to form a secure attachment with their child right away. Time spent with the infant can increase attachment. The more positive interactions a parent and child have, the greater sense of security the infant will feel while in the presence of the parent. Many activities that create positive bonds between parent and infant are centered around close physical contact. Bed-sharing, “kangaroo care” (skin-to-skin contact), and holding all can help the parent and infant to attach.
Infants adopted at birth may also struggle to attach to their adoptive parents, and parents may not find it easy to jump into nurturing right away. It is okay if building a relationship takes time. Parents can ease into the care of their new infant by practicing responding to their baby’s cues at first. This looks like parents observing and attuning themselves to their infant by answering cries with solutions to the baby’s potential needs. This should be done instead of anticipating needs in advance of the infant’s cues. When an infant’s cries are met with the physical proximity, touch, and attention of their caregiver, intimacy between the two begins to build.
Adoption is a monumental step, and it is normal for adopted parents to feel worrisome about their ability to form an attachment with their child. The first few weeks may be full of fear and anxiety. That is okay. New parents should trust that their efforts to educate themselves and carry out what they have learned will make a difference. Confidence can be built through small steps. It does not need to be present right away. By taking time to get to know each other, both parent and infant can absolutely beginning to form the attachment desired.
Adoption Choices of Colorado
For more information on adoption please contact Adoption Choices of Colorado. We can be reached via our website or phone 303-670-4401.
Support Adoption Choices
Adoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.
However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.
About the Author
Marisa Cabrera is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park. Her lifelong love of writing led her to pursue a Bachelors in English Language and Literature in college. Along the way, she wrote and edited for The Writer’s Bloc and The Paper Shell Review. Though she grew up with the intention to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a teacher, her final semester in college made her rethink this path. While working as an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant, Marisa found that reading student essays and helping them to improve their writing was her favorite part of the job. Thus, she decided to take a gap year to explore careers in writing.
Marisa was born and raised in Long Island, New York, but currently resides in Denver, Colorado. She is making the most of her gap year by hiking, running, and immersing herself in Denver’s food and music scenes in her free time.
“Adoption and Attachment Issues.” Focus on the Family, 18 Sept. 2019, www.focusonthefamily.com/family-qa/adoption-and-attachment-issues/.
“Developing Emotional Attachments in Adopted Children by Lysa Parker.” Developing Emotional Attachments in Adopted Children by Lysa Parker | Attachment Parenting International, www.attachmentparenting.org/support/articles/adoption.
Steinberg, Gail, and Beth Hall. “Bonding and Attachment: How Does Adoption Affect a Newborn?” Pact’s Point of View: the Newsletter for Adoptive Families with Children of Color, 1998, www.pactadopt.org/app/servlet/documentapp.DisplayDocument?DocID=235.