Attachment Disorder: What Do You Do When A Child Attaches Too Quickly?

Author of 4 books, podcaster, parent trainer, wife and mother.

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We often talk about attachment disorder from the perspective of the long awaited real hug, or genuine "I love you." But what do you do when your child attaches too quickly?

February in the Midwest is guaranteed to be bitter cold and filled with snow… well at least until this year. For the last three weeks we have had temperatures in the 70s and sunshine almost every day. Consequently, the grass is turning green and bulbs which should be dormant for another month are pushing through the soft earth and blooming just a bit too early. I have enjoyed these last few weeks of stolen Spring. My children hauled their bikes out of storage, we grilled out and even had a campfire. As I was driving to work the other day the sight of crocuses in bloom made my heart skip a beat. I felt myself begin to grin, then quickly remembered the weekend forecast. Snow. The beautiful crocuses had bloomed too early. I found myself wondering if they would survive the weekend.

Attachment in adoption and foster care is much like waiting for the first blooms of Spring. Connecting with a child takes time. As each petal of bonding unfolds, the beauty of the relationship grows.

Attachment in adoption and foster care is much like waiting for the first blooms of Spring.

Children develop healthy attachment when trust is built over the course of time. Some children do not develop healthy attachment due to trauma. Attachment disorder can manifest itself in many different ways. Some children will resist relationships by pushing caregivers away. Others will seem to bypass all the steps of attachment and go straight to connectedness. The child who immediately gives hugs and kisses may seem endearing. Many foster and adoptive families feel overjoyed that their new child is attaching so quickly. This hasty bonding is actually unhealthy for the child in the long run.

A few years ago we had one such child in our home. She was a lovely little girl. She was joyful and funny. Her mom was ill and the little girl bounced between family and friends. She smiled brightly as she entered each new home and immediately hugged her new caregivers. She used the words, “I love you,” freely. It was easy to like her but there was something that nagged just beneath the surface. Her easy adaptability was a coping mechanism she had developed to survive. Not only was she missing out on real connectedness, she was also putting herself into unnecessarily dangerous situations. Upon noticing this, I began to ask around to other foster and adoptive families to find advice they had on protecting this little girl and helping her develop real bonds while forgoing the simulated attachments.

Here are three practices for foster and adoptive families who want to encourage healthy bonding:

  1. Communicate with the child– When a child first arrives in your home, explain who you are to them: foster mom, adoptive dad, safe family etc. Let them know what they may call you. If you are an adoptive parent verbalize that this is a forever home and they may take as much time as they like before calling you mom or dad. Give a few options you find acceptable for names and allow the child to choose. For instance, “You may call me Miss Kristin, Mrs. Berry, or Mommy Kristin, you do not have to call me mom, I want you to choose a name you feel comfortable with.” Set boundaries with affection. You may need to encourage your child to have a list of safe people to hug, or you may need to explain safe forms of affection and stick to modeling that behavior.
  2. Limit caregivers– Many people will be excited to meet your new child even if the child is only in your home temporarily. Your child may encounter day care providers, babysitters, a Sunday school teacher, classroom teachers, coaches and family friends all in one week. Make a list of who your child will have contact with and be intentional about communicating healthy boundaries with those people. Limit those who will be in direct care of your child. It is ok to attend activities with your child. You do not have to hover but your visible presence is important. As you child learns to build healthy attachment, it is important that they begin to become confident that good things come from mom and dad, mom and dad are safe, mom and dad always take care of their children.
  3. Communicate with Others– Explain to your friends and family that you are so happy to have their support. Help them to understand healthy boundaries when it comes to physical affection, nick names and provision of care. A person who creates healthy support for a child who is working on attachment, will always direct the child back to his or her parents to receive care. For instance, in our group of adoptive families, we do not give one another’s children treats. If a child asks for a treat we will say, “Let’s ask mom if it’s ok to have a cookie.” It is often fun to be the cool aunt or fun grandma but when a child is learning healthy attachment it is vital that parents create a plan and surround the family with people who support the goal of a healthy lifelong relationships.

These are just a few ideas to create a space for healthy attachment. What are some of your ideas?

We’d love to hear some of your practical tips on healthy attachment and bonding. You can leave those in the comment section below.

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.