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Wednesday, 27 January 2021
Myths Print
Myth: Things such as whining, temper tantrums, sleep problems, etc… are always "normal" baby/toddler behavior.

Many symptoms do mirror behavior that is considered "normal". It is the frequency, duration, and/or intensity of the behaviors that is cause for concern. Many toddlers throw temper tantrums but frequent tantrums or tantrums that last for long periods of time are not necessarily "normal" behavior. Most children have sleep problems at some point in their lives, but they do not usually encounter night terrors every night for weeks at a time. Children like to be near their mothers, but it isn't normal for a child to need to be 6" away from his mother all day, every day, as he leaves the baby/toddler years behind. All adoptive children are at risk of an attachment disorder because they have been separated from their birth mother. If a child has survived a brain tumor, one might consider a headache differently than if there were no history or predisposing conditions. In a similar manner, adoptive parents are wise to pay attention to the signs and symptoms of attachment issues in their children.

Parenting techniques that work for "normal" toddler behaviors are generally ineffective if the behaviors do stem from an insecure attachment. Timeouts, spanking, and other generally accepted practices only serve to accomplish what the child already feels--distance from the parents. Other parenting methods produce much better results even as they work to promote attachment.

Just as a parent would have a pediatrician check ears for a possible ear infection to explain chronic fussiness, it is just as valuable to seek an evaluation from an attachment therapist and learn how to parent the emotional issues that play out in the baby/toddler's every day behaviors. Attachment therapy serves to deal with the root of the behavior even as it helps parents know how to best address day-to-day symptoms.

FAQ: Isn't it possible that my baby is just entering the "terrible twos" early?

Babies and toddlers often demonstrate attachment issues through aggressive, controlling, intense, persistent, and/or strong-willed behavior. ** Because they do not have a strong and healthy attachment, they experience periods of feeling highly anxious and unsafe. The anxiety may manifest itself in frequent temper tantrums, aggressive behaviors such as hitting or biting, chronic whining, and other behaviors that seem intense or over-the-top. Often they try to overcompensate for not feeling safe by being controlling and strong-willed. But a child who is in control is not safe. It is too much responsibility for a child and it ends up making the child feel worse. If the behaviors begin at an early age, are intense and frequent at times (but maybe not all the time), or traditional parenting techniques lack effectiveness, the behaviors may stem from an attachment issue and it would be wise to consult with an attachment professional. Otherwise, the "terrible twos" may become the "terrible threes, fours, and fives". (And just imagine what the teenage years may hold.) Attachment problems are treatable and manageable if caught early. One professional gives success rates of 100% with infants, 90% with toddlers, and 50% for those 5 and up. Early intervention is the key!

**Note: A child with attachment problems may also demonstrate the exact opposite behavior. She may be overly compliant, quiet and/or easy-to-please. A baby who plays quietly alone for a long period of time, never interacting with or searching for a parent, would give cause for concern.

FAQ: Isn't a strong-will and independence just my baby's personality and not signs of attachment issues?

Could be. But given the child's history and early experiences he is at a greater risk for attachment issues that are treatable and manageable if caught early and dealt with appropriately, often with the help of an attachment professional. In terms of attachment issues, we generally consider the intensity, frequency, and duration of the behaviors. If your baby cried a lot for a couple days and nothing seemed to soothe her, you would most likely take her to the pediatrician to have her ears checked for a possible ear infection rather than chalk the crying up to a moody personality. Given her history, why not also check with an attachment professional when behaviors appear intense?

Sometimes adoptive parents attribute behaviors to personality because the child's preflight report and/or notes from the foster parent included information about the behavior (trouble sleeping, strong will, high needs infant, etc…) Parents say, "My child has been demanding since the beginning, so we know it's just his personality." But since attachment problems can begin with separation from the birth mother, the adoptive parent is wise to consider that the child may have already been exhibiting symptoms of an attachment problem while in his birth country with his foster family. One attachment therapist wisely told an adoptive parent, "You son stepped off the plane with attachment problems." In some cases, the signs of attachment problems may have been evident long before he reached his forever family.

Myth: Pediatricians, social workers and therapists are equipped to recognize and diagnose attachment disorders.

Most medical and mental health professionals are not trained in attachment disorders. Since much of the literature talks about older children, even professionals trained in attachment disorders often fail to recognize symptoms in babies and toddlers. We still encounter attachment professionals who say that children adopted young out of foster care do not have attachment problems. Unfortunately, that is not the case. When looking for an attachment professional for a young child, ask questions about how many babies/toddlers the person has successfully diagnosed and treated.

Myth: Advice from a pediatrician designed for a normally attached child will not hurt a child with an attachment disorder.

Parents often turn to professionals like their pediatrician for advice on their child's development. While their advice may be beneficial to many, it can sometimes be detrimental to a child who does not have a healthy and secure attachment. Pediatricians often base their advice on the child's chronological age so it is crucial that parents have an understanding of the attachment process so they are aware that their child's needs are different from the norm. Many attachment professionals will advise parents to consider the emotional age rather than the chronological age of their child while guiding their children through the developmental stages. Often the emotional age of the child begins at zero months when he or she comes home to the forever family. While pediatricians know babies and children well, they are not well versed on the attachment process of a baby who has experienced loss and grief. Just as you would ask your pediatrician to evaluate your child's physical health upon arrival, it is also recommended that parents consider an evaluation with an attachment professional to evaluate the baby's emotional health as well.

Q & A: Pediatricians
While working with your pediatrician consider the following questions.

1. My son is 12 months old and his pediatrician wants me to wean him off the bottle. He's been home forever for 5 months. Is it too soon?

Yes. You might consider your child emotionally as old as the number of months he's been home. It is highly unlikely that a pediatrician would want a 5-month-old baby off of the bottle. In your child's case, the bottle is a valuable attachment tool. It is a perfect opportunity to hold your child close and encourage eye contact. He should not be holding the bottle himself nor having it anywhere other than in your arms. All other drinks can come from a sippy cup but bottle time at this age is still valuable for forming a healthy and secure bond between mother and child. Pediatricians are often concerned about teeth. Be sure to brush and/or wipe teeth with a washcloth after each bottle.

2. When I asked my pediatrician about attachment at our last check-up, she said that my son was very attached to me because he sat in my lap and appeared to like me. Does that mean we have a secure attachment?

Many people believe that a child who has attachment issues looks like he does not like his parents. Often, this is not the case. Children who struggle with the attachment process all look different. And a short visit with a pediatrician does not allow for adequate assessment. For example, some of our anxiously attached children received clean bills of attachment health because they clung to us in the doctor's office. It took an attachment professional to identify the difference between normal anxiety and attachment anxiety. An anxiously attached baby struggles with feeling safe and trusting that the mother won't leave. After all, that's been his experience so far. In contrast, some of our avoidantly attached children were deemed emotionally healthy because they were happy and outgoing in the doctor's office. Unfortunately, they are happy and outgoing to most strangers.

Adoptive parents need to be familiar with attachment parenting and the attachment process and parent according to the child's emotional needs regardless of how he appears to other people.

FAQ: But my agency said that grieving doesn't last very long. My social worker said he looks fine. Wouldn't she know if there was a problem?

Not necessarily. A short visit with a social worker or pediatrician will often not reveal attachment problems. Especially if the adoptive parent hasn't been educated about what signs to look for and discuss during post-placement visits. Many symptoms only occur with the adoptive mom when home alone. If she doesn't know what to look for and report on, this could make the job of the social worker much more difficult, especially if the social worker has not had in-depth training on the subtle signs of attachment problems in babies/toddlers. Additionally, most children go through a "honeymoon period" that can last weeks or months. Sometimes the first symptoms of a problem do not show up until after the last post-placement visit.

Early on, our social worker encouraged us to let him cry-it-out at times. It didn't take long before he was sleeping well. He was a very happy baby. Our honeymoon period lasted for 6 months. Our social worker never saw an attachment problem because our last post-placement visit (at 6 months) was before his first real symptoms.(a. 5.5mo, FC)

The class my husband and I took before adopting prepared us for having a multi-cultural family and how to do the family tree type assignments at school. The only thing they mentioned briefly about attachment was what they called the "adjustment period" and they said he would need two weeks to "adjust" to our ways of living. When that baby came happily off the plane and happily accepting every new thing we presented we said "What adjustment period?" and didn't worry about people holding him or the signs of avoidance until it was out of control. My SW came to my house 30 days after our baby was home and told me that I MUST leave him with babysitters and I MUST go on dates with my husband...I thought she knew what she was talking about.... I now know that the times I left him made it worse.(a. 6mo, FC)
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