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Attachment issues - too soon to know?

54 replies

dibly · 30/08/2014 14:01

Hello, our nearly 12m old LO has been with us for almost a month now, and is generally settling in really well but I'm noticing some attachment issues - namely the fixated staring/prolonged flirting with strangers, and avoiding eye contact and displays of some 'fake' emotions with me (but seems fine with dad).

Intros all went fine, but the problems started after the placement. Have already mentioned to SWs, who think attachment is good, but I'm really struggling.

Do you think this is too soon to ask for help and to keep working on building the bonds? Or would you try and get some help at this stage? Any advice very gratefully received, I think hubs thought I was losing it at first!

OP posts:
Copper13 · 30/08/2014 14:43

Hi dibly, I'm no expert (DD with us almost 1 year, she's just over 2 years old now) but, I would say that it's far to early to be worrying about attachment right now. At only 1 month with you he/she is still very much working things out and learning about who you and your DH are. It's tricky also because some babies love interaction with anybody so the "staring and flirting" are probably just normal development for him/her. Give yourself a lot longer,it's very very early days, as the months go on you'll have a better idea of any issues.
FWIW, I have similar concerns about my LO, EVERYBODY loves her, she's chatty, smiley and engages easily with anyone. Everyone loves this, I don't. I don't want to stand up from sorting my bag out at the bus stop to find her holding hands with the admittedly lovely elderly lady with no reticence at all, chatting about whether our bus is going to be green or blue. I don't want her asking the complete stranger in the library to "read it please" and thrust a book at them. People find it charming and cute but I worry that this behaviour is a throwback to her very early life and may cause repercussions in the future.

Italiangreyhound · 30/08/2014 19:05

dibly do you feel you need help?

Personally, after an initial period, I am not sure there is a too soon (IMHO).

We asked for help pretty early on and I don't regret it. It is not a problem to say that you are finding something hard or think your child is. Our son was over three and half when he came to us so very different from a baby and our main issues were with our dd and our ds connecting but the principle is the same, for me, if you need help, ask.

Copper I would also feel your little one might benefit from help in this area, a friend has adopted a child who is very outgoing and it has been difficult. Our little was very clingy and I found it hard at first but I feel it is easier as the clingyness (not sure that is a word!) is easing. i am not sure what 'professionals' can do but I bet they will have something useful to say. Our support has really been good, empowering and always positive, not at all undermining what we are doing. Maybe we have been lucky but I have always felt they really wanted to help us succeeded in a positive way.

Whatever you both decide, good luck, adoption is hard work at times!

RhinosAreFatUnicorns · 30/08/2014 19:05

I'm with Copper on this - very early days. I would work on continuing to build the bonds. But if you continue to have concerns raise them again.

I am also with Copper on the rest of it! DD (3) is like that with everyone.... She talks to everyone - she asks people who they are, where they are going, what's in their handbag, what's their dog called, can she try their bracelet on......

Although I am hoping that she is just taking after me - apparently I was just the same :)

dibly · 30/08/2014 19:32

Thanks for the advice - we've typically had a really lovely afternoon with no issues at all (daddy there). I do feel that there's something amiss, but appreciate that there's been so many changes that it's pretty normal, and yes I think we've definitely got a naturally sociable one - it just seems to go beyond the norm.

Oh and the obsession with handbags, and necklaces, and phones!

Will keep an eye on it for now, and mention it casually again to the SW, so if I need to take it further then it's not a new phenomenon. Thanks again, much appreciated.

OP posts:
prumarth · 30/08/2014 22:02

Dilby, we have a LO that's a similar age. We've also seen a noticeable fixed staring at particular adults. He definitely focuses in on one person and then can stare at them for long periods. At the moment I'm just being watchful with it - in our home or amongst immediate family, the attachment feels like it's improving daily and we have lots of positive engagements. However when we are out in public, I find it a challenge to maintain his concentration with me and find myself calling his name repeatedly and often being broadly ignored.
I'm interested to see others experiences with this.

dibly · 30/08/2014 22:14

Thanks, that's interesting Prumarth - sounds exactly like what our LO does. I've even noticed the recipients can start to feel a bit uncomfortable after a few minutes, so it's very real.

Has anyone else experienced and overcome this?

OP posts:
GrimbleGrumble · 30/08/2014 22:18

My ds was similar although he was 2 at placement. He was over friendly to people but struggled to maintain eye contact with me. 18 months on the difference is huge - he looks to me for confirmation before engaging with strangers and is much better with eye contact although still sometimes finds it hard. I did wonder in the early days if some of the people he was drawn to reminded him of birth or foster family. It sounds like you're doing really well - a month is early and LO is bound to be confused.
Have you read 'first steps in parenting the child who hurts - tiddlers and toddlers' by Caroline archer? Lots of useful stuff on attachment activities.

prumarth · 30/08/2014 23:29

We don't have a major issue with eye contact although in the first few weeks, when bottle feeding, he would push my face away. That seems to have improved (or he just loves his bottle so much he doesn't care)! The main issue I have is the moving around to look at another adult and being utterly captivated by them. We went out for a meal and for the full hour he was twisted in his chair looking at a lady behind. We made light of it but it's happened a few times and I struggle to bring his focus back to me.
I haven't read that book grimble - will take a look.

RhinosAreFatUnicorns · 31/08/2014 07:18

Yes at home DD is very engaged, but occasionally when we are out she will see someone and that's it, she's off! Not all the time but it happens. It has improved though. But if we are walking along sometimes she will want to hold a persons hand in addition to mine - usually a lovely older lady too Copper.

Floraclare · 31/08/2014 09:55

I don't think that many social workers really understand attachment very well. When they talk about attachment, they aren't really referring to how much the child likes you or needs you - they are referring to their attachment style, which is more about how they relate to their main care giver and later to how secure they feel in their close relationships - and this will usually depend on their early experiences and whether they experienced good and consistent care from their initial primary care giver.

After 1-month, I would doubt that your DD has any real attachment to you - although she probably likes you lots and definitely needs you to survive. However, if she has previously experienced good and consistent care and was able to previously form an attachment to either a birth parent or foster parent, she will hopefully be able to form an attachment with you. However, this will take lots of work from both of you. At 12-months I would be trying to use a sling as much as possible, would try to encourage skin-to-skin contact and lots of eye contact, rocking and giving bottles etc. Keep close and keep contact to people outside of immediate family to a minimum and make sure that you and your partner meet all her care needs.

I think all adopted children will have some insecurity in their attachment, at the very minimum, their worlds will have been turned upside down when they are very young, and this is going to have some effect on how they view the world and their relationships.

Barbadosgirl · 31/08/2014 12:21

Thanks for the tips, Floracare. Dibly hope you do not mind me hijacking this thread but this is of great interest and thought we could share attachment building tips and pick the brains of the experts!

Our eight month old has been home for just under a week. He is coping well and seems to like us, but as you say, attachment is more than that. Unless he is tired he wants to crawl and explore so mostly resists the sling so we are doing the following:

Making sure one of us is in the room while he sleeps so if he stirs we are there to reassure him. If he is clearly tired but fighting sleep we either rock him and sing or put him on our chests.

When he is playing on the ground one of us sits at his level and we talk to him about what he is doing- he is great with eye contact/smiles. We also check in regularly and touch him/cuddle him until he springs loose. He seems to like a little cuddle and then wants to be off again.

As much as poss have him forward facing in his buggy and talk/sing when walking along (people must think I am potty). His only outings have been to the local shop or to the park with us, no noisy or group activities yet (although he LOVES being noisy!). In the car my husband sits in the back seat with him and talks/plays when I drive.

When bottle feeding I look at him and tell him how much we love him and let him stroke my face/kiss his hands.

We took a shower together this morning. Not sure he was massively keen!

We cream his skin at least twice a day and when doing it, lots of eye contact/telling him we love him.

Family and close friends know that when they first meet him, the visits will be low-key, on neutral territory, short and there will be no cuddles until we think he is ready. They have seen him (but not he them) via FaceTime.

He seems to be getting more confident and happy with us at home. He was always fairly relaxed with us, his FC home was noisy and busy and he has always liked people. However, compared to just over a week later, I can see he was a bit subdued then. He charges around all day bellowing his head off (he has been a shouter for a while), laughing and smiling. He is much more solemn when out and doesn't really smile at people (the waitress at a cafe got a ghost of a smile yesterday) but is not upset, just seems to be taking it in. I can see, as he gets used to his park outings he is a bit more relaxed but we keep them short. He does stare at things and people very solemnly when out but when face to face in buggy has good eye contact and interaction.

As you say, most sws seem to have quite simplistic notions about attachment and I thought this would be a better place to get ideas/comments. Very much want to get this right for him!

dibly · 01/09/2014 13:09

Thanks again for all the input, and no apols for g/c necessary- a lot of us seem to be at the same stage with newly placed little ones. It's encouraging to know that hard work and effort can help to overcome this.

Does anyone have any specific tips on what to do when they are deliberately avoiding eye contact? I don't like the idea of 'forcing' it, and it's generally good, but at times my baby is very avoidant.

OP posts:
odyssey2001 · 01/09/2014 16:59

Be patient. It takes a lot of time.

We are nine months in with our 3.5 year old and although six months ago I though he was becoming attached to us, I see now that he wasn't really. It has only been in the last month that we have seen a leap forward. And still I know we have a long way to go.

Recent events have made me realise that bonding with a child and us becoming familiar to our child (as happens in the first few months) has nothing to do with developing a secure attachment, which I have heard takes 2 years (assuming the child is capable of developing a secure attachment).

Italiangreyhound · 01/09/2014 19:43

odyssey2001 where did you read it takes 2 years? if you can remember, please.

odyssey2001 · 02/09/2014 14:12

I didn't read it anywhere I'm afraid but this was something social workers have told us and we have heard from fellow adopters further down the line than us. Also, based on my personal experience in the last nine months, 18 to 24 months feels about right for our son too. So nothing more than circumstantial evidence I'm afraid. Their might be something out there though.

Italiangreyhound · 03/09/2014 01:10

Thanks odyssey.

It does feel like our son is very well attached at the moment but I wonder if I will look back in the future and say 'Oh he was not, it just felt like he was!' It is such a hard thing to know, and to measure. I'd really love to know how one does!

We have been lucky and have had a lot of help, partly because our dd is 9 and has struggled with adjusting (although social workers all say she is doing brilliantly). I feel like it is hard to know what is right and to be honest dd is very fond of him and people who see us all together say they argue like any other brother and sister! He is 4 so older than most of the other children mentioned on this thread. Anyway, thanks odyssey.

And good luck dibly.

dibly · 10/10/2014 22:36

Just to update, we're still experiencing the fixated staring, and after reading several books following pace etc, still feel concerned about this; so have requested further support from our SW to set up a meeting with the psychologist. Even if we just get some additional techniques to try it would feel like progress, as despite LO seeming far more settled with us, the prolonged staring and approaching strangers remains a problem.

Has anyone else had experience of seeking support? Social workers seemed quite reluctant...

OP posts:
Floraclare · 11/10/2014 17:41

You are still fairly early into your adoption - and I was wondering how much contact your LO was having with other people? It might be worth trying to cut back on his exposure to other people - and keep him very close for awhile, so that he can't approach strangers. We kept to a very boring routine for the first few months and I avoided toddler groups etc., which helped limit the people that AS was exposed to - and I strictly funneled all his care.

Have you been doing theraplay activities?

KristinaM · 12/10/2014 14:49

I think you should trust your instincts and get help

SW will be reluctant of course as it costs them time and money . That isn't your problem

There Is also a view that anyone who gets a young baby should be suitable grateful and not kick up a fuss asking for support . Again, that's not your problem

As other have said, many of them Don't know much about attachemt, it's just a Trendy word they band about .

You shoudl assume that your child DOES have problems and take all possible measures to promote attachment .

Do you have the Caroline archer book on this , I think it's called toddler and toddlers ?

KristinaM · 12/10/2014 14:53

I'm a bit confused about how a 12 mo baby is " approaching stranger " .

Surely he is in the buggy when he's out with you at the shops etc ?

And if you are at the park, aren't you holding his hand ? I'm assuming that he's just learning to walk ?

Where are you going that he's free to go up to strangers ?

dibly · 12/10/2014 18:48

Hello, the tiddlers and toddlers is on order, and yes we're trying theraplay, thanks though, we're trying to absorb all advice.

Kristina LO is approaching strangers at soft play, no amount of high energy distraction seems to work, removing her from the situation results in craned neck. She's crawling towards people so limited opportunities, but if this isn't sorted then dreading her walking. She will literally wave at everyone she passes in her buggy. She wasn't like this during introductions. We haven't introduced her widely yet, still trying to funnel as recognise behaviour is insecure, but can't avoid general errands, especially as also have a dog which needs walking. She's only been to soft play 3 times on play dates with another adopted baby, initially very clingy but then shows no interest in other kids, just adults and usually women. She's quite rejecting of me in general and much closer to DH.

We're also being advised to apply for AO ASAP which I'm quite reluctant about at the mo. I feel really strongly that she gets help, but starting to need some for me as well, it's tough being on the receiving end of a child who's pushing you away. I can rationalise why, but it's still hurtful that after years of fertility treatment etc we finally have this beautiful baby who seemingly prefers anyone to me.

OP posts:
ghostisonthecanvas · 12/10/2014 19:02

How long was she neglected? Do you know anything about her relationship with her birth parents? You should be able to build a picture of her first year. Don't want answers to these questions btw, you need to know. As she is so young she should eventually attach. She may sense how anxious you are. Can you talk to someone? The CAHMS team would work with you anyway. Help you process your feelings as well as her behaviour. Thats if you get a good team. You may be told she is too young to work with. However lots of us here can offer you advice and support. Its a long road, knowing the issues doesn't always make dealing with them any easier. Spend time doing something relaxing just for yourself.

Buster510 · 12/10/2014 20:00

Hi Dibly

I have no experience of very young children, but our DS (placed now a year go when he was 4), preferred absolutely everyone around aside from me, especially DH.

I was in a very very bad place, I never realised (my own lack of understanding/preparation) that it would ever be that bad. It hurt me a lot! Then I'd feel so guilty about how upset I was about it all, and not focusing on his feelings. It was a vicious circle. I spent months adiment he needed help, and possibly he will in the future who knows? But the best thing was time. It was a long hard struggle but we've made it a year, and he now trusts me, just very recently openeded up to me, grieved, offers his own opinions / shows his real feelings. He would never ever have done any of this before.

It is still early days for you (and for me!) but please be rest assured that children who have faced such change in their lives, can & will try to reject the person they are most scared of rejecting / hurting them. I never understood this, & it always upset me! Once I got past that, & realised I needed to be there for him, to understand it, things slowly started to improve.

He almost undoubtably picked up on my anxiety & stress that was caused by it, thus made him feel more in control as a result, seeing me reacting in those ways / making him feeling unsafe to let his guard down.

Use the help that is available to you, I was calling / crying / emailing SWs etc every other week! Sometimes we need help just as much as the children & that isn't something you should feel bad about.

I am completely talking from my own experience here, so please ignore me if it does not apply to you at all. But please try to relax, seek help if you need it & things will improve in time Thanks

dibly · 12/10/2014 20:43

Thanks buster and ghost, yes I think I'm feeling worn down with it this weekend and it's time to get some support for me too. DH is fab at weekends but works long hours during the week so it's mainly just me.

OP posts:
prumarth · 13/10/2014 10:18

When we were on our prep group, we met an adopter who experienced issues with her 18 month old son being more excited/appearing more attached with her husband. She felt that one of the issues was that she was the "dull" one who was home all day, doing everyday things. Then daddy would come home in a flurry of excitement and baby would be flung around, played with, high excitement etc. They made a pact that daddy would come in and be less immediately focused on the baby, but greet mum, and mum would hold baby while daddy then greeted them both. This helped them reinforce that they are a unit and improved things overall.
It's hard for your husband if he has been working long hours so has limited time with your little one, but maybe in the short term you could try making his available time less of an "event" and you have more physical contact (so essentially funnelling through you for your LO's primary needs).
Also, just wanted to add - I completely understand how it can feel rejecting to you and how painful that can be. Don't let the agency fob you off - this is affecting you and therefore needs their support.

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