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Wednesday, 27 January 2021
Red Flag Phrases Print
You may not think of these phrases as red flags. The scenarios we describe could all be "normal" or "age appropriate." Many parents, especially first-time moms, are likely comforted by moms of biological children who share stories about their children with the same traits—sometimes even more severe!--who grew up to be perfectly "normal."

First, let us say, attachment issues are not exclusive to adopted children. (For a thorough account of attachment studies with biological children, read Becoming Attached.) Second, similar symptoms can have very different causes and may need very different approaches.

Think of it this way. Your child doesn’t want to go to sleep. OK. We all know it is perfectly normal for children to sometimes have trouble sleeping. But what if you knew your child had gone to sleep with one family and woken up with another family? Would you think and treat his/her fear in a different way? That's what it's often like with attachment issues…something that could be “normal” takes on a different light when put into context of a child’s life experience. We cannot know what our children have experienced. But we do know two things--they have been separated from their birth mothers and have endured at least one, if not more, subsequent moves—enough loss to incite symptoms.

Many of us had a nagging feeling that something just wasn’t quite right. But many of us also admit to using these phrases to spend some time living in denial; time that is precious and irretrievable for finding and implementing the correct treatment.

Red Flag Scenarios

You notice something one day, something you'd taken for granted. You realize your daughter never faces you. Hmmm, you think. You notice she always takes a hug with her back to you. Not only that, she doesn't like it when you two are face to face. You mention it casually to your husband who says:
"She's probably just more comfortable that way."

Your daughter is the sweetest child in the world--everyone says so--your playgroup, school, church. Sometimes you wonder how you got so lucky. You realize that at home, she is very directive. You're glad though, because you want your girl to be strong. It's just that sometimes you wish she'd listen to you without so much opposition. She tells you what she wants to wear, what to play, how to play, whether she wants pretzels for a snack. But, you remind yourself:
"She's just strong-willed."

You child is in the "I'll do it myself stage." All children go through that, right? You just didn't think it started this early or was this persistent. If you help her with something, she flies into a rage! Your cousin says:
"Independence is good. Consider yourself lucky!"

You go to the playground with some friends. Your son takes off across the grass toward another family. He allows them to pick him up, laughing and chatting all the while. Your friends reassure you, saying:
"He’ll probably be a politician!”

A friend comes to visit. She also has a baby, 11 months old, the same age as your son. You notice that her child comes to her for comfort and will sit contentedly with her. You try to hold your son on your lap for a quick cuddle, but he slides right off and heads back to the toys. You mention to your friend how your son never seems to stop long enough to snuggle with you. She replies,
"He's just curious. A busy boy!

Your 16-month old son doesn't handle crowds very well. Whenever you go to a party or gathering, he will have a meltdown within 20 minutes. Of course you are embarrassed and you say your son is just tired and over-stimulated. You are glad people around you seem to understand:
"That's just early two-year-old behavior; he's maturing early."

Your toddler has started hitting. He occasionally smacks you in the face. Nothing seems to deter him from hitting his siblings. Your neighbor says that, just like her son:
“He's all boy!”
(Adoptive mom's note: "all boy" should apply to the fact that my son would sleep with a matchbox car if I let him. It doesn't apply to him hitting me or being oppositional.)

Ever since your child was very young, he would play quietly by himself. In fact, he doesn't seem terribly interested whether you come or go. He pays attention to a toy for long periods, playing it over and over again. You secretly think he must be highly intelligent. Something nags at your heart, though, but the nursery school teacher says:
“He's just the quiet type."

You love your baby to pieces but she just won't give you any peace. She watches your every move and must have you within arm's reach every waking second. It's wearing on your nerves. When you confess this to a friend, she says:
“She's a Velcro baby. Enjoy it! It won't last." Or, "You should have seen my (bio) daughter! Don't worry!"

Your 10-month-old throws fits. He pitches food from the highchair and screams. Your mother-in-law, a teacher, says:
“He's just frustrated because he can't talk to communicate what he wants."

You visit a new church. Your baby reaches out her little hands to strangers to be held. Everyone tells you that she is the cutest thing they’ve ever seen. You’re proud, but wish she would look as adoringly at you as she looks at the strangers. Everyone says:
“She's just such a friendly, out-going baby.”

He's drinking his bottle ... you look into his eyes...and he turns away. You also think it a bit odd that he doesn't hold you back when you hold him. You mention this to your doctor who says:
“He's just not an affectionate/cuddly baby." (Phrase courtesy of a pediatrician who did not recognize this symptom in a child with attachment impairment.)
Or, "Boys tend to be like that." (From a registered nurse friend.)

You call your son and he doesn't respond. This is happening so frequently that you begin to wonder if he's hearing impaired. You take him in for a hearing test and he passes with flying colors. Yet the minute you get home, it appears that he can't hear a word you're saying. Your mom says:
"Selective hearing. All kids are like that. It's payback time for when you used to do it to me.

And, a note from an adoptive mom, "If you have to ask, "Is this normal?" it's worth getting it checked out by an attachment therapist.
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