Mental Health Mondays
Secure Attachment Through Adoption
by Allison Ballew, PhD
Mental Health Clinican
Lucy Daniels Center
Adoption is one way to bring a child into a family. And just like the other ways, it can be joyful, challenging, complicated, or relatively smooth. Of course, there is nothing pathological about adoption, but it can bring with it some complexities that can impact a child in different phases of development.
An important developmental task of early childhood is emerging autonomy, when a child begins to figure out, “What can I do for myself?” Success at this stage depends upon having a secure attachment to a caregiver. Children in their preschool years begin to be curious about the world. They become aware of and think about complicated questions related to life, death, and everything in between. For adopted preschoolers, this is naturally a time for questions and thinking about their origins. Children with secure attachments to their caregivers can share their questions and curiosities. As with all questions, it is best to answer directly, honestly, and sensitively, keeping in mind what the child really wants to know and how much information they need at that moment.
For children to be securely attached to their caregivers, they must develop a coherent narrative, or story of their history and who they are. This story can include how and when the child came into the family, how their name was chosen, and all the places they have lived, visited, or gone to school. For a child with a complicated history, this may be more difficult or could include painful or sensitive information.
Adoptive parents should seek the guidance of a trusted professional if they have questions or concerns about how to respond to their child’s difficult questions, or if they are noticing signs of separation anxiety, low self-esteem, or other challenges. No matter how a family is formed, secure attachment between caregiver and child provides a solid foundation from which the child can learn and grow.