Third in a series of articles sponsored by the Adopt America Network.
Have a Kid with Attachment Issues?
Since the diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder has become so popular for children who have spent some of their lives in foster care or institutions, there are hundreds of resources out there for living with children with these issues. It is important to remember that nearly all children coming from these backgrounds have attachment issues, regardless of weather or not they have an official diagnosis.
Parenting kids with attachment issues is hard work. The reason it is so difficult is that they do not inspire the kinds of responses that they need. Let me explain.
A child or teen with attachment issues has a goal to keep people as far away as possible because they are afraid of emotional intimacy. Their behavior is ugly, nasty, rude and mean. They push people away by disobeying, cursing, or being consistently oppositional. After a while, parents just want to STAY AWAY from their attachment disordered kids.
So when a therapist like Dan Hughes suggests that what parents need to do is to practice playfulness, love, acceptance, curiosity and empathy, our internal response as parents is “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!” After weeks or months or even years of being barraged with negative energy from kids, the idea of being playful and loving seems it will take more emotional energy than we can find within ourselves.
But it’s what they need. Unfortunately, we did not cause them to be this way but in order for us to help them heal, we need to practice very intentional parenting. Here are three tips that will help you be able to give your kids what you need.
1) Make sure you take care of yourself. You’ll need to be in the best emotional shape possible in order to continue to give when not receiving in return. Hang out with people who support you. Get enough sleep. Exercise and eat right. Consider yourself to be in training for a special mission – because this is harder than almost anything else you will ever have to do.
2) Pick your battles wisely. If you are consistently arguing about small things, there won’t be time to engage positively. Arguing with a child who has attachment issues simply gives them what they want. Distract them by changing the subject. Do unexpected things to make them laugh. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in an argument that has no end in site. It’s not easy to be playful, loving, accepting, curious, or empathetic when they have gotten you to a place of anger and frustration. So be the adult. Don’t let them take you there.
3) Find things that you really like about your son/daughter and focus on them. Bring to mind positive memories you have shared. Focus on them as people, not their behaviors. Challenge yourself to make positive moments in each day that will create memories to look back on tomorrow.
If you have met me in person you know that I seldom get this right, but I do understand the importance of doing it. It’s not an issue of having the right personality or temperament. It’s about reframing the way you see things, and changing your response to your kids – because it is going to take a long time for them to change, if they ever do.
In conclusion, living with a kid with attachment issue requires living by the principles found in the revised serenity prayer, which I repeat to myself and quote often (even though I’ve never seen it attributed to anyone except “anonymous”):
Lord, give me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change;
The courage to change the person I can;
And the wisdom to know it’s me.
YOU CAN DO IT. Believe you can and start making small changes today.