Understanding your adopted daughter: Addressing Reactive Attachment Disorder

When you adopt a child, the last thing you want is for them to be unhappy. Adoption can be a difficult process for both parents and children. Oftentimes, an adopted child has come from less than desirable circumstances and has experienced some form of trauma. Because of that, some adopted children develop reactive attachment disorder.

What is reactive attachment disorder?

Adopted children may have attachment issues. These fall on a spectrum from mild issues that can be solved easily with a little bit of extra attention to reactive attachment disorder which severely impacts a child’s ability to relate to others and can even cause developmental delays. Reactive attachment disorder commonly occurs in children who have lived in orphanages, been abused, or removed from a caregiver they have established a close bond with.

What does it look like?

Being able to tell the difference between a less severe attachment issue and reactive attachment disorder is crucial to getting your child the help they need. Here are some common signs of reactive attachment disorder:

  • Anger issues: Children may express anger by throwing tantrums or acting aggressively or more subtly through acting out during socially acceptable behaviors. For example, they might shake hands and squeeze until it hurts, or hug someone too tightly.
  • Need to be in control: Children with reactive attachment disorder must feel as though they are in control at all times. This results in defiance issues and argumentation.
  • Difficulty showing affection: Some children with reactive attachment disorder show the same amount of affection towards strangers that they show their adoptive parents.
  • They don’t like to be touched: Children regard being touched affectionately as a threat rather than something positive. They may act strangely if touched, like laughing or flinching.
  • Issues with Conscience: Children don’t seem to show remorse or guilt after they do something they know is wrong.

What can I do to help?

As your child begins to show symptoms of reactive attachment disorder, it may seem like a helpless situation. But there are a few things you can do to make the situation better:

  1. Be patient. There may be a few bumps along the way, because the process of integrating an adopted child into your family circle is not easy. Focus on the small things. Remember, it will get better!
  2. Take care of yourself. Although a lot of the focus right now is going towards helping your child with attachment struggles, you need to take time for yourself. Set aside an hour or two a day to read something you like or take a walk to clear your head. This is essential to manage stress.
  3. Seek help. Talk to friends, support groups, therapists, and family about your child’s attachment issues before it becomes too stressful. Having a supportive circle to rely on can take a huge weight off of your shoulders.

Asheville Academy can help

Young girls with attachment issues related to adoption and their families find the therapeutic tools they need to build strong relationships at Asheville Academy, a therapeutic boarding school for young girls.

For more information about Asheville Academy, please call 800-264-8709.