Tips for coping with attachment disorders in Foster Children


An attachment disorder is not easy to deal with – for both foster parent and child. Attachment disorders are treatable - however, they are easier to treat when diagnosed early. Children who are not treated for this disorder may experience the effects throughout the rest of their life. So, as a caregiver, it is important you understand the signs and help them where you can.

What is an attachment disorder?

Attachment disorders are a psychiatric illness which can develop in toddlers, young children or teenagers who struggle to develop emotional attachments. The two types of attachment disorder are:

  • Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) – children with DSED often appear overly friendly to strangers and not fearful when meeting new people. They are often unafraid of physical contact with strangers, which can lead to dangerous and vulnerable positions.
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) – children with RAD have little to no emotions when interacting with others. They’re less likely to interact and have difficulty calming down when stressed or angry. If your child does not seek comfort from you when upset, they are likely to have RAD rather than DSED.

What causes attachment disorder in children?

Attachment disorders are regularly associated with parental behaviour - most children who suffer from attachment disorder have experienced poor parenting and, more often than not, some form of trauma. If a child has experience abuse or neglect or grown up in an institutionalised setting, such as an orphanage, they are more likely to develop an attachment disorder.

Attachment disorders develop differently for different children, so it is hard to truly determine the causes. It is common, and completely healthy, for children to develop an attachment to their caregivers and become anxious or stressed when they are apart. When your child does not display any emotion, or is too friendly, you should look at your behaviour or how they were treated by their past caregivers to determine why they are behaving the way they are.

What are the symptoms of an attachment disorder?

An attachment disorder can manifest itself in many different ways – it is never the same in every child – meaning that it’s important to know the symptoms. This list is by no means exhaustive, but demonstrates the sorts of behaviours you might notice

  • Bullying or hurting others (emotionally or physically)
  • Oppositional behaviours – doing the opposite of what you ask
  • Clinginess
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Failure to gain weight
  • No fear of strangers
  • Poor impulse control
  • Random anger
  • Self-destructive behaviour
  • Refusing to join in play
  • Withdrawn
  • Lack of affection for caregiver

Tips on coping with attachment disorders

When you foster with Foster Care UK, we can work with you to identify the necessary support require if your child displays symptoms of an attachment disorder. However, there are a few things you can do in and around the home to help them feel secure and settled:

  • Routines – daily routines create a sense of normality to the child’s life that they may have previously lacked. With a routine, your child will feel more settled and is more likely to start building the desired attachments.
  • Establish boundaries – it can be difficult to set boundaries and limits for your child, but doing so can be very beneficial in the long run. Your child will feel safer when boundaries are consistently reinforced.
  • Establishing trust – it’s important that the child in your care feels safe and trusts you. Connecting with your foster child may not always be easy but the rewards are worth it. Continue to listen, talk and play with your child – let them know they are loved and build a strong relationship with them.  
  • Health – often overlooked when it comes to attachment disorders is the benefits of a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Exercise, good sleeping patterns and healthy eating are likely to improve a child’s mood which is vital when tackling attachment issues.
  • Look after yourself – an attachment disorder is no easy thing to deal with, you may feel rejected or unappreciated. Without pent up stress, you are much more helpful to your child - so make sure you set aside time for yourself to clear your mind.

Whether you are looking to become a foster parent or currently struggling with an attachment disorder in a current placement, FosterCare UK are here to help. Our extensive foster care training will give you all the tools you need to cope with any challenging situations. Contact us today for more information on attachment disorders in foster children.

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