6 Practical Strategies to Improve Avoidant Attachment
Attachment is the reciprocal energy and unspoken dynamic in a relationship between a parent and child. Available, consistent, and sensitive caregiving forms healthy, secure attachments while inconsistent, insensitive and unavailable caregiving forms insecure or dysfunctional attachments. There is one secure style: secure, and three insecure styles: ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized.
A child can not be described by one style of attachment but will have a unique style with each caregiver based on the history of caregiving the child received from that parent. For example, the child can have a secure style with mom and an ambivalent style with dad.
When adopted or foster children enter a new family they have an expectation of attachment that was established with previous caregivers. As a result, parents have to lead the relationship with a secure style rather than follow the child and their assumption of how relationships work.
Let’s consider the connection you have with your child...when you return home after a separation and initially lay eyes upon your child, how do you feel? Do you notice an impromptu smile emerging on your face (Secure)? Do you feel a sense of nervousness or apprehension(Ambivalent)? Or do you feel yourself turning away, dismissing him or her(Avoidant)?
The Avoidant Style
This article focuses on the avoidant style. In the avoidant relationship the caregiver is repeatedly emotionally and physically neglectful, insensitive, or rejecting toward the child. Thus, the child turns away from the parent and learns to rely on him or her self for help or connection. Over time, the child emotionally shuts down and is inappropriately self-reliant.
THE KNOX FAMILY
Tom is sixteen years old and has been a part of The Knox Family for the past eleven years. Tom was removed from his birth mother’s home at the age of five when she was arrested for drug use and prostitution. Tom was very small for his age, had developmental delays, and had not received proper medical or dental care. According to neighbors, Tom’s birth mom slept most of the day and he was left to care for himself; they often witnessed him playing unsupervised in the yard.
Tom’s parents, Maxie and Robert, feel very frustrated with him. Maxie says, “Tom has made some major strides since he came home eleven years ago, but he still refuses to tell us how he feels or seek us out for help with anything. Sometimes I don’t even feel I know the real Tom.”
In session, Tom looks at me but only for brief periods of time. He shrugs his shoulders or rolls his eyes when I ask about his thoughts or feelings, but he will talk nonstop about any neutral subject like cars or music.
Maxie, Robert and I discuss how Tom’s early neglect has influenced his avoidant style in relationship with them. We discuss how they must lead the relationship in a different way, and we also talk about some practical strategies they can implement at home.
Consider some of these strategies with your child:
- Point out distancing behavior- When your child emotionally or physically turns away from you, let him or her know your experience. You can say, “I’m feeling ____because you’re ignoring me/turning away from me.”
- Use non-verbal techniques- Encourage your child to express thoughts and feelings through non-verbal means: draw or paint a picture, make a collage or sculpt using clay.
- Invite him to write instead of talk- Provide paper and pencil for your child to write feelings and thoughts. Many kids are willing to write their internal experience rather than talk about it.
- Be a good role model- Use your feeling words daily and praise family member’s for sharing thoughts and feelings.
- Play games to share feelings- Write or draw the basic feeling words (happy, sad, mad, scared, loving) on craft sticks. At a family time, allow everyone to choose a stick and tell one time they felt that way today or in the past.
- The Colors of My Heart- Download this worksheet, watch the video and ask your child to show you the feelings in his or her heart.
Parents, read about another attachment style --Ambivalent.
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