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Anyone with knowledge ot experience of Insecure Attachment?

(18 Posts)
kindlekid Tue 21-Jun-11 22:25:09

I have a 5 year old dd who is seeing a Play Therapist. She wasn't referred by anyone but I felt she needed some help with anxiety and other issues. She ticks a lot of boxes as a Highly Sensitive Child.

She has had several sessions and we see definite improvement with her but we still have lots of problems.

I was discussing her clingyness/reluctance to leave my side etc with the therapist today and she is of the opinion that it is a problem of Insecure Attachment.

I have researched a bit about this and it is very worrying. I breastfed her for a year, co-slept and am a SAHM. She has never been in childcare although is attending pre-school ATM.

I had quite bad PND after her birth but for some reason no-one seemed to realise how bad I was. I asked for help when dd was 2 months old and the health visitor brushed me off saying it was obvious I was a 'natural' mother and she could see dd was cared for and loved.

After that I think I gave up hope. DH threw himself into work and left me to it. Eventually when dd was 20 months old I concerned a friend so much that she made an appointment with me to see a counsellor. I found it helped a lot and I improved and went on to have a second dc.

I did feel like I bonded with dd1 and we are very close so why is the attachment insecure?

I will be speaking more to the therapist soon but I am worried and upset.

Sorry for the long post.

Has anyone got any words of wisdom?


StealthPolarBear Tue 21-Jun-11 22:28:35

Oh no! I have no idea sorry but I think it was very bad of your therapist not to address your issues at the time.
Are you still with your DH?
You sound like a lovely mum with a fantastic bond to your DD who happens to be shy and clingy. I realise I'm no therapist !

kindlekid Tue 21-Jun-11 22:38:09

Thanks stealthpolarbear . It wasn't really the therapist's fault though as it came up at the end of a session and she had another child due in shortly.

I'm still with DH and things are way better between us now. He is a great dad and the dcs love him (as do I although I was guilty of pushing him away for a long time) He was overwhelmed by my depression and just shut it all out.

She is more than just clingy though. She hates me to go anywhere and cries when I leave her and now dc2 has started. It is very stressful. She is very emotional at school drop off and I have to reiterate to her that I will be back (she has been going for a year now and I'm never late).

Most nights she ends up in our bed and can't drop off to sleep alone. It is only in recent months that she will let DH put her to bed without a big drama.

StealthPolarBear Tue 21-Jun-11 22:40:05

So you are making changes and improvements smile
SOrry, I don't want to say so much as I know nothing about this stuff, obviously it's all very stressful but it sounds a bit as though you have decided this is all your fault and you are a terrible mum, which sounds like it couldn't be further from the truth

hellymelly Tue 21-Jun-11 22:54:15

Well my child is slightly similar.although she will go to,say,a friend's house quite happily without me. She is six,and we had to take her out of school last December as she was so terribly distressed and miserable. She is home-educated for now but we are looking at different schools. I also co-sleep with her,bf her until she chose to stop at 28m,I'm a SAHM. she has also never been in childcare.I think it may be just her temperment,she is sensitive and prone to worrying about things,although markedly less since she left school . Perhaps you feel a bit guilty about the PND and so are blaming it on yourself, but maybe your little girl is just a more needy and clingy child, and would have been like that anyway,as it doesn't sound as though you weren't giving her enough love or attention.You sound like a really thoughtful mother.All I can suggest is allowing her to be clingy,and showering her with love and reassurance,also having as much one-on-one time with her as you can manage.Could she also be responding to your worrying about her? She is still a very little girl- what does the school say about her? Could they help in building her confidence?

kindlekid Tue 21-Jun-11 23:04:22

Thanks for sharing your experience hellymelly. The school are quite happy with her. As it is pre-school she is one of the oldest in her class (not in UK and it is reasonably common here to start school at 5) so she is quite comfortable there. In general she prefers the company of younger children.

I think that because of the PND i was unable to be seperated from her so left her only occasionally with DH and never with anyone else so she didn't learn any other way than always being with me. Once we are apart she copes quite will but it is the idea of seperation she can't handle. It is dreadful if she knows I am going somewhere as she is stressed for ages before hand.

Your dd sounds very similar. I do worry about how dd will cope with 'big' school.

hellymelly Tue 21-Jun-11 23:25:00

Well I didn't ever leave my dd either,nor my younger one who has just turned four. My husband has always spent a lot of time with them (he gives them breakfast so that I get a lie in,and he often takes them out ) But they haven't had anyone other than us care for them. I think that is generally thought of as a good thing though,in terms of secure attatchment? I was just with my mother as a small child and so was my brother,at least we certainly didn't have babysitters when we were very small and didn't go to nursery,although we started school at four. Seemed quite common for my generation (I am 47).Now there is more pressure to leave small children or to get them into childcare early,but there is no reason to do that unless you have to or want to.
My daughters do sometimes cry if I am going to meet a friend for coffee,usually they are fine as soon as I am gone and DH has chatted to them and interested them in something,but when dd1 was miserable at school,she really didn't want me to go anywhere at all and got very upset.I stayed with her then, and over time she got less anxious and I was able to go off for the odd thing without much protest. I found it helped her to be able to 'phone me if she really needed me and I would come home. I think there is a lot of pressure on children to "grow up" socially,but they will be more independant when they are ready.Your Dd is clearly a much loved child and that will give her confidence in herself,she is just a small girl who still wants to be with her Mummy and that is quite understandable,although it is upsetting for you. Try and focus on the fact that even six months can make a vast difference at this age.Everything is changing all the time.Don't worry too much that your PND might have affected her,just lavish her with love. (and yourself too.)

kindlekid Wed 22-Jun-11 10:23:07

Thanks hellymelly and stealthpolarbear for your kind words last night.

I do blame myself for dd's problems but I think I am an ok mother most of the time. I do feel unconditional love for my children and me and DH are always warm and affectionate to them. They both know they are loved.

hellymelly I think you are right about there being too much pressure these days for children to grow up. As a child my siblings and I were at home with my mum until starting school too but that is not the norm now.

I suppose I am now struggling because all the things I did that I thought led to a happy, secure child don't seem to have worked. She is an anxious, often unhappy, nervous child.

Piccadilly Wed 22-Jun-11 10:32:49

I wonder if the therapist is just comparing your child too much to kids who have been in daycare since they were very small. Of course, children who were cared for by other adults since a very young age are very familiar with the mother leaving. But, I can remember as a 5 or 6 year old my mum going out to an evening class and me holding onto her leg trying physically to stop her leaving and making a huge scene about it. My mum had ALWAYS been at home with me and so for me, her going to evening classes when I was 5 was my first time for dealing with the issue of my mother leaving me. If I had been at nursery since I was 1 year old, I would not have had to deal with the issue at 5.
I think as so many children are looked after by other caregivers nowadays, that perhaps people have forgotten a bit what it is like for SAHMs.
If your child is highly sensitive then it is no surprise that this kind of thing will be magnified...

cory Wed 22-Jun-11 10:39:22

It may be insecure attachment or it may just be natural shyness; I think you would need to be a professional to tell.

afaik I was very securely attached to my mother who did not suffer PND but thoroughly enjoyed caring for me. But I was painfully shy until around the age of around 7 or 8. Attempts to make me join the ballet class stranded as I clung to my mother's skirts and refused to get onto the floor. I was shy until my late teens but am quite confident and cheerful as an adult.

Ds was the same- he actually went selectively mute around the age of 4 so as not to have to deal with his shyness. Yet I remember him as a very happy and responsive baby; I can't think of any problems in our bonding. At 11, he is still a little shy but not cripplingly so; he is quite independent in many ways.

Dd was shy and clingy until she got to the age of 4 or 5 and is now socially confident. But even at a much older age she would cling to me screaming if I wanted to go out in the evening.

I really don't think it's anything I've done, just a stage they needed to work through, part of who they were.

This doesn't mean that your dd cannot be suffering from insecure attachment. Just that shyness can be due to many factors.

There does seem to be a presumption in this country (far more than in Scandinavia where I come from) that shyness simply Shouldn't Be Happening, that if a child isn't life and soul of the party something is Wrong and it has been Caused by Something. I'm not so sure. I think we can do lots of things to help our children enjoy other people, but I also think we can help them by accepting that everybody doesn't have to be the same.

One thing I would do is speak to your dd's teacher. Is your dd unhappy during the day? Does she find it difficult to function in a social setting? Or could it be that her crying at the start of the day has got to be a bit of a habit (I know it was for my dd) and that she settles down quite quickly?

MoonFaceMamaaaaargh Wed 22-Jun-11 10:39:53

Kindlekid i just wanted to say you sound lovely. smile You have done everything to build security in your child. Imagine if you had forced her into her own bed, enforced separation so she could "get used to it" etc. She would be far more nervous. She night have learnt to hide it better, been taught that her fears were not acceptable to you. But she would be nervous inside. As it is she is a naturally clingy child, but she is able to be open with you about her feelings and this gives you the opportunity to acknowledge her emotions and reassure her. Well, that's what i think anyway. grin

hellymelly Wed 22-Jun-11 10:50:37

I agree with piccallily. Children when I was small were expected to be with their mothers and not to be independant until much later.I talked to a child phsychologist about my dd and I said the same thing you just said,that I couldn't understand how her confidence had dropped so quickly when I'd done all the things that are supposed to help a child feel confident and secure.He said that in the long run it would make her more secure, it just can make school etc hard at first as they don't have much of a tough "skin" or school persona,they've never needed it. Has she a good friend in her class? My dd found school much harder when her two friends left. Could you have any of the class children round regularly? Would the school consider flexi-schooling for a while? I would talk to her teacher again about boosting her confidence,perhaps she could have extra praise and other things that will help her feel more confident there.And for other times could you chat with her and ask her what might help her not feel so sad when Mummy has to be away from her? I used to fill my dds pockets with kisses that she could "take out" if she needed them,and she would tell me when she got home how many she had used up! You can get teddies that play a little recorded message,my friend had them for her dds,her saying "Mummy loves you darling" or similar.She might like to play that message if she is missing you? Or text whoever is with her,if its not a school day,little pics of what you are up to,would she like that? I know just how horrible it is to see your little girl anxious and sad,so I really sympathise.

FrozenNorthPole Wed 22-Jun-11 11:16:04

Kindle - firstly, unmumsnetty hugs. I agree with previous posters that it sounds like you are blaming yourself for this, which is a consequence of the tough time you've had recently ... and a consequence of a lot of the nonsense about attachment that is out there, which is almost inevitably all to do with blaming the mother angry. I'm a psychologist with a background in child development, so although I can't give you any definite answers on your DD, I have some points to make that will hopefully help you see that things are not as bleak as they seem.

Looking at your description of your DD, I presume that the play therapist intended to imply that your DD fitted into the insecure-ambivalent category, because of the preoccupation with departures that you mention. I can imagine that this is massively stressful every time it happens. However, since your DD is fine once the separation actually occurs, I don't feel that this attachment category accurately describes her behaviour at all (you would expect that DD would be angry, distressed and withdrawn during your absence, and strangers/teachers would find it hard to calm her/ deal with her in your absence - but that's not what you report; she's doing well at school. Moreover, you would expect her to be reluctant and withdrawn when you return, but as far as I can tell from your account of events, this doesn't happen either). This says to me strongly that the issue is not with attachment.

Attachment, contrary to the initial implication of Ainsworth/Bowlby et al, is not all or nothing. Their system is categorical, but a big study of 12-18 months old indicated that instead there is a continuum of attachment behaviours and relationships. To think of attachment as dichotomous (secure/insecure) is simply misleading to parents: this is not the way that we see development take place in real life. Children exhibit different attachment behaviours between time and situations, and with different caregivers. And it is very important to note that children themselves actively contribute to the construction of the relationship with the attachment figure - temperament has a big and often neglected role to play in this.

It is pretty hard to measure attachment in the older child, and indeed there's no really reliable way of doing it. It's certainly not a diagnosis in the way that the term diagnosis is usually understood i.e. carrying implications about aetiology and prognosis, implying a categorical difference from a different, non-pathological state. Your play therapist needs to explain why she thinks this explains your DD's behaviour and, more importantly, why it is helpful to frame your DD's behaviour in these terms i.e. how should it inform interventions and strategies? If, after explanation, you think this IS a helpful way (for you and for DD) to understand her difficulties, then that's brilliant. If not, however, don't feel like you're rejecting a 'diagnosis' - attachment theory remains just that, a theory, with lots of ongoing debate about it. Feel free to question what you're told, and remind yourself that you know your DD best. Have you and the play therapist discussed separation anxiety? It sounds like your DD is struggling with this rather than anything else, and the good news is that with loving support, this tends to decrease with age. Finally, do ask your GP for a referral to a different source of psychological support for DD if you feel it would be helpful - something like cognitive behavioural therapy can be very useful in this kind of a situation, and most children tend to find it fun and confidence-building.

Wow, I've written an essay. I hope some of that's useful ...

kindlekid Wed 22-Jun-11 11:16:41

Lots to think about here.

DD settles well at school once I leave - she has never cried during the time she is there. It seems to be the moment of seperation she struggles with. She needs lots and lots of reassurance that I will be back to get her and that I love her, lots of hugs and reminders.

She is advanced verbally but quite immature in other ways. She is overwhelmed by groups of children but will talk easily to my friends for example. She startles very easily and hates loud noises. She hates the unexpected. I took her on a day out recently and we got through the few things we had planned much quicker than I thought and I wanted to do other things but even though everything I suggested was fun dd couldn't cope outside of what we planned and we ended up going home after a couple of hours.

I feel like I can't describe her very well on here. She is a lovely child, bright, affectionate, very kind to her younger sibling but there is another side to her too.

Every little thing is a struggle. She has issues around clothes, food, sleep (she still has a soother blush ) I just want her to be able to enjoy life the way dc2 does but I suppose it is mainly personality and me forcing her into situations won't help. It upsets me that she is a worrier already at such a young age.

She has 2 good friends in pre-school but unfortunately they are not going to be attending the same school as she is. She knows a little girl outside of pre-school who will be starting school with her so hopefully that will help.

kindlekid Wed 22-Jun-11 11:30:09

Cross post with you Frozen. Thank you for taking the time to write all that down. I did a bit of reading about Attachment Disorders and came across some of what you referred to.

The mention of attachment problems really threw me as previously I had encountered it with a couple I know who adopted a little boy from Russia when he was 2 and in a programme on TV about a woman who had severe PND and her baby would not make eye contact with her.

The bond I have with dd is worlds apart from these examples and I suppose I took the suggestion at it's worst.

I think your suggestion of seperation anxiety is more accurate to describe the problem as she does settle quite well once I am actually gone and is not distant or withdrawn when I come back.

We will be seeing the therpist again in a few weeks so I will discuss this with her then.

Is it unusal for a 5 year old to have seperation anxiety though?

FrozenNorthPole Wed 22-Jun-11 11:44:29

Kindle - it's certainly not unusual for separation anxiety to be particularly acute around this age. At around 5 there's a tremendous host of challenges for a child, and one of the biggest is coping with increased autonomy and separation from the primary caregiver. For a child with your daughter's sensitive temperament, I can understand why this challenge is particularly difficult (my oldest DD is very similar). You'd be really surprised at the number of families who experience this kind of problem: a lot of people just don't talk about it, but quietly bed share / give comforters / alter their routine to help their DC cope.

You mention two very extreme examples of 'attachment' disorder there, and it's what springs to mind for many people when they think about attachment problems. I understand why you feared the worst thinking about those examples, but in a way their rarity is exactly why they've stuck in your mind. Now you've reminded yourself of the warmth and depth of your bond with DD, I hope you realise that you're really not to blame for any of this (not that I mean to imply that your DD is, either!). These problems arise frequently - not all adults handle transitions well and neither do all children. The good thing is that your DD feels secure enough to communicate her feelings to you as a way of scaffolding the transition, albeit in a way that makes you both stressed grin.

You should still seek any help that you feel would be helpful to you both, mind you - I hope I don't sound like I'm trying to minimise your problem. But, for instance, part of my current research has involved administering an anxiety questionnaire to 7 and 8-year-olds - this is not to diagnose them but rather to look at normal variations in anxious feelings amongst children at this age. By some margin, the average separation anxiety score for this age group is higher than for the other anxiety dimensions. By the time I come back to assess them again, two years down the line, their separation anxiety scores have decreased quite dramatically because they've become older and more independent.

cory Wed 22-Jun-11 12:02:50

My own memories of putting two children through primary school seem to suggest that there was at least one school child per class who had to be be peeled off her mother every morning at this age. I think it's a prime age for separation anxiety; usually gets a lot better by age 6.

hellymelly Wed 22-Jun-11 12:29:42

My dd was certainly not the only five year old crying every morning at school drop off time-the reason we (and one other set of parents with a child in her class) took the decision to remove her was that dd was miserable at home too,she was stressing all weekend (literally counting the hours) about going back on Mondays. I too felt terrible sad to see my five year old so worried ,made me think of the Sylvia Plath poem here At five they are getting to grips with all sorts of big issues. And yes,there is so much pressure from tv etc for us all to be the life and soul of the party,as the above poster said,whereas it used to be fine for a child to be a bit more sensitive or worried or shy,now we are made to feel there is something wrong if they are not all uber confident and madly outgoing.There is room for all sorts of personalities,and she will be a great friend and mother in the future ,being so sensitive and kind. Honestly cut yourself some slack and just keep up the reassurances and love that you are giving her now.At five they are only just grasping how time works and that may be why she needs so much assurance when you leave. You sound a lovely Mother,truly.

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