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by Mike

Attachment Disorders Table

Attachment Disorders

Attachment disorders are conditions usually found in children and young people who find it difficult to form emotional bonds with their primary carers. The reason children suffer from these disorders is usually because their emotional needs and need to be nurtured have not been met during their younger years.

There are several types of attachment disorders, however, the two most well know are Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Disinhibited Attachment Disorder (DAD). The inhibited form of RAD is characterised by a lack of expectation of care and comfort. DAD is characterised by a general and excessive familiarity, even with strangers.

There are several things that can trigger attachment issues throughout a child’s life. It can be linked to a major traumatic change or event or through the consistent failure of the child or young person’s primary care giver to meet their needs. For example:

  • Sudden/traumatic separation from main carer
  • Physical, emotional, sexual or neglectful abuse
  • Illness or pain that cannot be alleviated by the carer
  • Frequent moves/changes of placement
  • Inconsistent/inadequate care at home

There are several warning signs that you can look out for that may indicate a child is suffering from an attachment disorder:


  • Lack of eye contact
  • Self-harm – head banging, biting, picking skin
  • Problems making/keeping friends
  • Child shows affection to strangers
  • Speech problems – i.e. reverts to baby talk
  • Issues with food
  • Anxiously attached/clingy
  • Learning problems at school
  • Tantrums
  • Stealing from family
  • Child destroys own or others things

In order to treat attachment disorders it is important to understand where they come from and how they are formed. Typically there are six steps that can contribute to the development of attachment disorders. These usually occur in the first few years of life:

Step 1: Claiming

Claiming is when the key attachment figures recognise the new-born baby as their own and take on the responsibility for their care. This helps to build a core identity within the child.

What happens if ‘claiming’ doesn’t occur?

Children are unable to form a core identity. They may be puzzled by relationships. They lack a fundamental sense of safety and ‘contact’ may be meaningless.
Step 2: Attunement

Attunement is the relationship that develops as the carer and baby learn more about each other’s responses. Their bodies and brains begin to be in tune with one another and this helps to build trust.

What happens if ‘Attunement’ doesn’t occur?

Children may be unable to regulate stress. They may be unable to form trusting relationships and ‘contact’ may produce overwhelming stress which may lead to trauma.

Step 3: Affective Attunement

This develops when the baby or child tunes into the carer’s feelings and emotions. This supports the development of empathy.

What happens if ‘Affective Attunement’ doesn’t occur?

The child may have difficulty understanding or recognising feelings in themselves or others. They may get no joy from social interaction and a significant lack of motivation for ‘contact’ until, through later secure attachments, they develop the capacity for joy in relating to others.

Step 4: Impulse and Shame Regulation

Young children learn to control impulses through the regulation of shame. The carers reaction temporarily breaks the Attunement and the child stops what they are doing. This helps the child to develop morality and social learning.

What happens if ‘Impulse and Shame Regulation’ doesn’t occur?

Childhood shame has a strong relationship to parental discipline, focusing on the child’s self rather than behaviour. Without knowing, when Attunement has been broken, troubled and challenging behaviour can continue un-stopped by those around the child.

Step 5: Rage management

The child realises that the world can be a source of unpleasant feelings e.g. frustration, shame, fear. This causes them to want to lash out at the cause of their feelings. Secure attachment enables a child to inhibit their own rage. This leads to developing social acceptability.

What happens if ‘Rage Management’ doesn’t occur?

Lacking this ability to inhibit their own rage can lead to children and young people presenting unpredictable and threatening behaviours during social interaction.

Step 6: Pre-cognitive patterning

This takes place in a baby’s first year through repeated responses from the child’s significant carer. Those patterns will affect how a child can think later on in their development. This stage helps to develop the child’s thinking processes.

What happens if ‘Pre-cognitive patterning’ doesn’t occur?

A lack of developing this attachment can affect a child’s degree of intimacy in relationships. This also affects a child’s ability to distinguish between cause and effect and between fact and fantasy.

If you have trouble dealing with a child who has attachment issues, remember our team are here to support you. If you need someone to talk to or any expert advice please speak to your Supervising Social Worker or local office.