Attachment Disorders Part Three: Dear Mom

Friday, 28 December 2007
I’m only a baby, and to become emotionally well-adjusted later I need your help!  Do you think it will hurt Dad’s feelings that I asked you first?  I hope not.  His love and care are very important to me too!

Mom, I already have a special relationship with you.  Before I was born, I knew the warmth of your body, the rhythm of your heartbeat and the sound of your voice.  Now a stronger bond with you will help me learn to trust others for physical and emotional comfort.

When you see my sweet little face, can you imagine that later I could develop severe behavior problems or even commit serious crimes?  Probably not!  But if I fail to bond now I could develop an attachment disorder and have difficulty with human relationships when I become an adult.  Failure to bond with my parent(s) places me at high risk for growing into a manipulative, controlling, "unattached child" without a conscience and with extreme self-control problems.  We don’t have any time to waste!  It’s important that I develop strong emotional attachments with my primary caregiver within the first eighteen months of my life.

I could develop an attachment disorder if I experience abuse, neglect, or poor parenting skills.  I need to trust you for comfort and won’t understand if you are not aware that I am in pain or why you cannot always stop my pain.  Attachment problems could arise if our bonding cycle is interrupted due to illness, hospitalization, divorce, or death.  It can be dangerous for me to experience numerous changes in childcare, or an "emotionally absent" mother due to chronic maternal depression, drug abuse, or a severe psychiatric disorder.  Gee, Mom, that’s a lot of responsibility for you, but don’t get discouraged.

Healthy bonding is simple.  My part is to cry when I’m hungry, uncomfortable, or in pain.  Every time I cry, I have a need.  It may be a physical or an emotional need, but it is a need.  Your part is to soothe me with eye-contact, touch, motion, or food so I’ll learn to trust you.  If my parents want me to understand that I can trust them, they must respond each time I cry.  Some people will say that you are spoiling me.  Please don’t listen!

Experts agree that I cannot be spoiled during my first two years of life.  Every time you comfort me when I cry, I’ll learn to trust you and our bond will grow stronger.  When you respond to my cries over and over without interruption, I will learn that my environment is safe.

How will you know if I am forming healthy attachments?  You’ll recognize when I cry and you meet my needs, that I can be soothed.  I’ll gradually stop crying.  I will enjoy close contact, cuddling and playing.  I’ll smile, chortle, giggle and seem happy.  My eyes will seek faces, especially yours, Mom, and I’ll fixate on your eyes.  I’ll have a strong sucking response and watch your face while nursing.  Though I may display a variety of emotions, including anger and sadness, I’ll seem "normal" and glow with enthusiasm for life.

Do you hear a baby crying?  That’s me!  I’m just telling you that I want to get started on our bonding cycle right now!


Symptoms of un-attachment

Parents don’t panic if you observe an occasional sign of un-attachment.  Bonding and attachment require time.  However, you should be aware of these symptoms.  Babies with many of these symptoms might be a high-risk for developing an attachment disorder:

1.)  ABNORMAL CRYING PATTERNS — very weak or very rage full crying, crying without tears, or constant whining.
2.)  EXTREMELY RESISTANT TO CUDDLING — arches back or stiffens body in protest, doesn’t conform to contours of parent’s body when held, and fights to be set free from cuddling or physical touch.
3.)  RESISTS EYE CONTACT — turns gaze away from parents, uncomfortable with close face-to-face encounters.
4.)  NO SMILING RESPONSE — seems passive and ignores smiles of others, does not exchange smiles even with parents.
5.)  NO INTEREST IN PLAYING — does not "coo" or gurgle in response to gentle tickling or playful gestures.
6.)  NURSING DIFFICULTIES — does not adapt well to nursing, may fail to develop strong sucking responses.
7.)  NOT "NORMAL" — displays no sign of strong attachment to any other human, lacks zest for living.

Helping Baby Bond

Babies learn about their environment through their five senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste, and smell.  When parents provide the kind of nurturing and care the baby needs, the five senses are positively stimulated.  To promote healthy bonding, keep these tips from your baby in mind:

TOUCH — Each time I am held, I experience the sense of touch.  When I cry, I learn that someone will respond by picking me up to investigate my need.  When my diaper is changed, my sense of touch is relieved from irritability.  My discomfort after feeding is relieved by patting to help me burp.  My need for emotional comfort is soothed by cuddling, patting, or rocking.  I sense my parents’ feeling of tension or relaxation through my sense of touch.

SIGHT — If I am held facing away from my parents, I am robbed of the eye contact I need.  Studies show that very young babies prefer faces (especially their mother’s face) over other visual stimulation.  Hold me face-to-face to promote healthy bonding.

HEARING — I need a balance of quiet time and auditory stimulation.  I need quiet time for rest, but I also need my parents to talk to me.  I enjoy hearing my parents’ voices when they read or sing.

TASTE — Taste is stimulated when I am fed.  I begin to associate relief from hunger with my sense of taste.  Feeding time is an especially important time for me to be touched and nurtured.  If I am left alone to eat or with a bottle propped up on a pillow, I might not understand that my parents are involved in my relief from hunger.  Since I need food to live, holding me will help me understand that I can trust my parents to provide my needs.

SMELL — The smell of dirty diapers and soured milk is just as offensive to me as it is to adults.  I use my sense of smell to help me identify people and places.  To learn that my environment is a safe and pleasant place, I need clean, fresh aromas.
Edit Note:
Part one of this series is titled "The enemy within" and part two is “Teaching teachers" which is followed by this post "Dear Mom.”

This series was originally published in 1997 by Tulsa Today and is the most referenced work in our archive frequently republished with permission worldwide.  While the local Attachment Network is no longer active, parents seeking help are encouraged to contact the Tulsa Developmental Pediatrics and Center for Family Psychology.

About the Author:
Linda Ann Smith earned her Bachelor of Arts in Education degree in 1972, and Master of Education degree in 1980, from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Smith served as consultant for the Oklahoma Writing Project (affiliated with the National Writing Project), as education consultant for The Attachment Network, and on the Broken Arrow Public Schools Writing Cadre. Her other educational memberships include Delta Kappa Gamma, and Phi Delta Kappa, Broken Arrow Education Association, Oklahoma Education Association, and National Education Association. In 1996, Smith received training in the Talents Unlimited program and Six Analytical Writing Traits model.

In her spare time Smith is a dreamer, a freelance artist, and an Internet chat room enthusiast. She has a soft heart for Vietnam Veterans, Native Americans, and people who have a pulse. Her hobbies include interior decorating, raising herbs, and collecting dust.
Last Updated ( Friday, 28 December 2007 )