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Thursday, 20 July 2017
 
 
Siblings Print
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Many things come to mind when one starts thinking about siblings and attachment issues. How will a “normal” child be affected by a brother or sister with attachment problems? What happens when the struggling child is the oldest in the family? What if there are multiple children in the home with issues? How does one know when to add another child to the family if a child in the home is still struggling with attachment?


A Sibling with Attachment Impairment

When we adopted our youngest child, we expected all the “normal” sibling issues: rivalry, jealousy, perhaps regression or attention seeking behavior. Yet those issues seemed to pale in comparison to what it meant when our young toddler began demonstrating symptoms of an attachment disorder.

We have been fortunate that our other children, six or more years older than the youngest, have been old enough to understand how this child has been affected by the trauma of losing his birthmother and being moved to foster care before joining his forever family. They have shown patience beyond their years. Yet this doesn’t mean that it’s been easy. They’ve been hit, pinched, and yelled at by their young brother, usually without provocation. They’ve endured many of his screaming sessions, both through daytime tantrums and nighttime terrors. Countless hours have been spent traveling to therapy. On “high need” days, the other children have sometimes had to wait while Mom attended to her “Velcro baby.” Activities have been canceled or postponed because the stress on our youngest would have been too great.

On the other hand, our attachment therapist has helped us to understand how crucial it is to not allow our son’s attachment problems to hurt our other children. Therefore, when he needs a holding time, they know that they can have some computer game time or watch a video and have a special snack. Although the hours they spend traveling to therapy sessions are great, they readily admit that they enjoy the therapist’s waiting room, fully equipped with movies and video games…and the accompanying shopping trips and fast food stops aren’t bad either. We have tried to set aside special times for the older kids, such as trips to the mall or athletic events, or coaching their sports and leading their extracurricular activities.

When our younger son chooses to take out his anger on his siblings, we’ve had success with a variety of responses:

  • The offender must give something important (a toy, blankie, etc...) to the victim.
  • Time-in
  • Holding time for the offender, during which the victim can do something special like watch a movie or eat a special snack.
  • The offender must do some work for the victim in order to restore the victim’s energy level.
  • Attention is lavished on the victim while the offender is ignored. At times, it’s been helpful to treat the victim to some “energy restoration” (such as a popsicle.)




Despite all the difficulties, our “normal” children have benefited from this journey. Unconditional love is something they understand. Their level of empathy and compassion extends far beyond that of most children, for they realize in deep and lasting ways how trauma can affect a human being. When they see other children (or even adults!) acting out, they recognize that there may be far more to the behavior than is obvious in the moment. And, lastly, they have been proud models, for through their relationships with their parents and one another, they are teaching their little brother what it means to be part of a loving family.


Adding Children to the Family

Our first child has an anxious attachment. Between therapy and all that we do at home for our son I thought for some time that he would have to be an only child. Adding to our family felt selfish when our son had so many needs. Helping him heal was just so consuming and exhausting. I did not see how bringing another baby home could work or be fair for either our son or a new baby. But we did come to a point where adding to our family did not seem impossible or too much for our son to handle.

I don't know exactly when it happened. But it was a combination of the following that made the decision to add to our family something we felt was right for us.

  • Our son preferred both of us (Mom and Dad) to anyone else and equally. Mom or Dad could meet any of his needs at any time.
  • Our son needed less physical contact to help him regulate. When anxiety began to rise in him, he could be easily comforted by a hug the majority of the time and needed less Holding Times or long periods being worn in the carrier.
  • Our son had been putting himself to sleep, sleeping through the night and without night terrors for a significant period of time (months).
  • Our son accepted our love and our limits the majority of the time.
  • Our son was joyous and happy the majority of the time for a significant period of time (months).
  • We were able to see our son’s control issues for what they were and deal with them empathetically and without frustration.
  • We were able to categorize behaviors (“normal”, anxiety, SID, etc.) and deal with them appropriately and without frustration.
  • Parenting became easy and fun instead of difficult and frustrating.
  • We were able to stop walking on eggshells, breathe, and enjoy our son…even on a bad day.



In our case it was not a matter of how long our first son had been home or how long we had been helping him heal. It was more a matter of how our life began to feel manageable, peaceful, hopeful, and just plain old easy. Yes, we had our days like anyone else, but we knew why it was a bad day and what we needed to do. It all fell into place and felt “normal”…for once.


Topics Currently Under Development:

When the Attachment-Impaired Child is the Oldest

When Multiple Children Have Attachment Issues

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