Understanding Attachment Disorder

What is Attachment Disorder?

Attachment disorder is a generic term used to describe a range of emotional or behavioural problems that some children develop, specifically with making bonds and emotional attachments to their caregivers. 

The bond we develop with our parent or caregiver when we are born is extremely important, it enables us to learn trust and to feel safe and secure.  Children who develop a strong bond early on in life will generally make better relationships, be more confident and independent and are likely to cope better with stress in their later life.  


It’s not really known what causes a child to develop attachment disorder, however, it is widely believed that the following situations can all be contributary factors.

·      Childhood neglect

·      Physical or sexual abuse

·      Parents with psychiatric conditions

·      A deprived childhood

·      Having prenatal exposure to drug or alcohol abuse or parents that abuse drugs and alcohol

·      Growing up in care

·      Loss of their caregiver

·      Frequent changes in their main caregiver

Types of Attachment disorder

There are two types of attachment disorder:

Reactive Attachment Disorder

Occurs in early infancy or childhood where the child fails to seek or respond to comfort from their caregiver, this can be due to an earlier negative experience.  They can show irritability, avoid physical touch and be hypervigilant.  Children with reactive attachment disorder can go on to develop anxiety, depression and hyperactivity.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder

Children with disinhibited social engagement disorder will show no distress when their caregiver is not present, and happily seek attention or comfort from strangers or be overfriendly towards people they don’t know.  They are unlikely to let their carers know if they leave a safe area to go explore potentially endangering themselves in the process.  

Symptoms of Attachment Disorder

Some of the symptoms and signs that a child may have an attachment disorder include:

·      Listless moods

·      Showing signs of being withdrawn

·      A tendency not to smile

·      Refusing to join in with other children when they’re playing

·      Being very clingy

·      Show little or no affection for their caregivers

·      Lack of fear towards people they don’t know

·      Rarely make eye contact

·      A tendency to outbursts of anger or problems expressing anger

·      Reject affection or comfort when it’s offered

·      Self-destructive behaviour

·      Lack of impulse control

·      A tendency to hurt others

·      Bullying behaviour

·      Rarely seek comfort when upset


Providing a child who has attachment disorder with a loving home or caregiver, does not mean their symptoms will improve immediately as they often push away their caregiver, and this behaviour can be challenging for people.  Therapy is essential in helping children to overcome their attachment disorder and play therapy and family therapy will be a big part of this.  Psychotherapy will help to identify and reduce negative thinking and behaviours by retraining the brain to think in a more positive way.  Encouraging them to develop social skills will help children, particularly those of school age to improve their confidence over time.  Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK).  For more free information click above link.