The following article was originally published on the M Health Blog about the University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Clinic.
Children who have experienced early social or emotional adversity, including institutionalization or numerous family transitions, are at risk for attachment challenges.
Attachment relationships are special bonds that infants develop with their parents or primary caregiver(s), often in the first year of life. These relationships serve many purposes in a child’s development, and can help a child become more resilient against long-term mental health issues.
Your adopted child may not have had the opportunity to develop an attachment with a caregiver, or he or she may not have received sensitive care during their first few years of life. As a result of this early adversity, adopted children may not have learned how to signal their needs or how to ask for help. This can lead to challenges expressing or regulating emotions. In some cases, children may not turn to a parent for help.
Initially, a child may demonstrate the following behaviors:
- Have difficulty sleeping
- Have unexpected tantrums or strong emotional responses
- Fail to seek comfort from caregivers, or signal distress when in pain
- Rely on self-soothing behaviors such as thumb-sucking, rocking, hitting his or her own head or scratching
It is easy for a parent to misinterpret these unclear signals. Parents may even believe these behaviors mean that their adopted child does not need their support or comfort. Developing a secure attachment to a primary caregiver is critical for helping children to know how and when to signal distress, for self-regulating behavior and emotions and for learning how to ask for help or comfort. For those reasons, it may be beneficial to bring your child to visit a mental health provider if he or she is exhibiting these or other challenging behaviors.
During your mental health visit at University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Clinic, we will assess your child’s attachment behaviors and the trajectory of his or her relationship with you. In partnership with you, we will work to understand your child’s needs and develop strategies to help you foster the sensitive, nurturing care he or she needs.
It is important to know that the development of attention skills, impulse control, and some specific cognitive functions can also be at risk as a consequence of early adversity. Early intervention is the most effective way to help these children reach their full potential. It is another reason you may want to consider scheduling this appointment.
Additionally, we will evaluate your child’s executive functioning and cognitive development during your visit to our clinic. We will help you to learn how you can promote your child’s brain development; we can also help build age-appropriate attention and cognitive skills to prepare your child for entry into the school system.
Early intervention has a great success rate helping children and parents form an attachment and to learn how to better identify emotional states, and communicate needs to prevent long-term mental health issues.
About the Author: Blogs for M Health are created by staff and volunteers of the Adoption Medicine Clinic at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. This column was written by Maria Kroupina, PhD, who specializes in research and clinical care for young children with a history of early adversity and toxic stress, including those with histories of institutional care. To make an appointment with Dr. Kroupina, call 612.365.8005.