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Tips for coping with attachment disorders in foster children

As a foster parent, dealing with attachment issues experienced by children in care can be challenging. Covering what an attachment disorder is to helpful tips for coping with it, our guide will provide help, support and advice for foster carers who are taking care of young children exhibiting signs, or who are already diagnosed with, attachment disorders.

What is an attachment disorder?

Attachment disorders are described as psychiatric illnesses that can develop in young children, toddlers or teenagers who struggle to develop emotional attachments to others. Many children with attachment issues have had severe problems in their early relationships. For example, they may have suffered abuse, neglect or abandonment. There are two types of attachment disorder:

  • Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) – children suffering from this disorder appear to have little to no emotions when interacting with others. They’re less likely to interact in general; have difficulty calming down when stressed; and do not seek comfort from caregivers when upset.
  • Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) – children who exhibit signs of this disorder may appear overly friendly to strangers and not fearful when meeting new people; unafraid of physical contact with strangers; and are likely to find themselves in dangerous and vulnerable positions.

Although the exact cause of attachment disorder in children is not clear, it’s suggested failure to provide sufficient caregiving can have negative effects on a young child. The impact of attachment issues on child development, if not rectified, can affect their future perspectives of relationships, and their social and emotional development.

How to deal with attachment issues in foster children

As a foster parent, you may be taking care of a child who, due to not having had the best start in life, has developed an attachment disorder. So, what is the best way to deal with attachment disorders in children? Firstly, it’s important to recognise the signs.

What are the symptoms of attachment disorders in children?

Attachment disorder symptoms aren’t always black and white to diagnose – and each child may exhibit different signs and symptoms. However, the most common indicators of attachment disorders can include:

  • Physical affection – children may show an aversion to physical affection completely – yet they may also demonstrate behaviour that suggests needy and/or demanding traits. They may also be inappropriately friendly around strangers or people they do not know well.
  • Control – the need to be in control is a common sign of attachment issues in children, making it a challenge to manage as a foster parent. They may be prone to exhibiting defiant behaviour when they feel out of control.
  • Emotions – children may find it difficult to display or manage their emotions, such as anger or empathy. They may also find it difficult to be comforted and have hesitancy to social interactions.
  • Eye contact – struggling to retain eye contact during interactions is also a common symptom of an attachment disorder.
  • Failure to gain weight – feeding difficulties and inability to gain weight are common in younger children who are suffering from attachment issues. Infants may also demonstrate severe colic.

It is important to note that there may be other indicators which suggest a foster child may be suffering from an attachment disorder. It’s likely these will be unique to their own personality traits and characteristics they’ve developed through individual circumstances.

Tips on coping with attachment disorder in children

If you’re looking after a foster child with a pre-existing attachment disorder, information and guidance will be given to you upon the beginning of your placement. This should provide you with information about the way the child individually reacts to situations, and how best to deal with this as their carer. Some of the ways to do this include:

  • Establishing boundaries – setting boundaries and limits often comes with its challenges, but can be beneficial in the long run, as the child feels safe when boundaries are consistently reinforced.
  • Routines – setting schedules is a great way to create a sense of routine to the child’s life and allows them to feel more settled.
  • Establishing trust – it’s important that the child in your care feels safe and trusts you. Letting the child know they are loved and taken care of is vital to helping them – so continue to listen, talk and play with your child, dedicating quality time with them and continue to build on your relationship. Learn more about tips on connecting with your foster child
  • Health – keep them on track with a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Exercise, good sleeping patterns and healthy eating habits are likely to improve a child’s mood – so it’s important these are adhered to when tackling attachment issues.

And remember, it’s not always easy. Overcoming attachment issues in foster children is a challenge, and at times you may feel rejected or unappreciated. But maintaining patience, understanding and consistency will allow you to manage attachment disorders more effectively.

If you’re considering becoming a foster parent, or you’re already looking after a young child, there’s more information on how to deal with attachment issues in children through our extensive foster care training and support provided. However, if you’d like to know more, feel free to get in touch with a member of our expert foster care here at Capstone Foster Care today.

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