According to Kathleen J. Moroz, DSW, LICSW, parents and other caregivers need to understand what is an appropriate amount of arousal in children. Her research shows that when a parent/caregiver is unresponsive or aggressive, one result is chronic hyperarousal in children. What this may look like is an inability to selfsoothe or little capacity for
containment of strong emotions. What may help a parent/caregiver better understand how they can help children manage mood is a look at attachment theory.
Bowlby theorized there are 4 components of attachment:
1. Safe Haven. When a child feels fear or sadness, s/he turns to the caregiver for comfort (a tetherball is a good metaphor to keep in mind, the ball is the child, the tether is the attachment bond).
2. Secure Base. The caregiver is the secure base (the pole) from which the child explores the world.
3. Proximity Maintenance. The child stays close enough to the caregiver to maintain feelings of safety (the ball can rest at the pole if afraid).
4. Separation Distress. The child will become distressed when separated from the caregiver (tether seems broken because the pole is not in sight).
Ainsworth tested the first three components by exploring the fourth. What she found was that there are secure and insecure attachments.
* Exhibit distress when separated from caregivers
* Can be soothed by other caregivers
* Will return to play in absence of parent
* Happy when their caregiver returns
What to do: Keep it up–you are responding consistently and appropriately to the child’s needs.
Insecure Ambivalent Attachment
* Become extremely distressed or ambivalent when parent leaves
* Will not be soothed by other caregiver
* Often increase proximity to parent when not under stress
* Lack secure base for exploration, will not return to play
* May be ambivalent or angry when caregiver returns
What to do: Make a change–pay more attention to the child when they are not under stress (positive interaction), encourage exploring but position yourself in a safe proximity to the child so they know they are safe, and comfort them when they under duress. In other words, repair the so they feel safe to explore.
Insecure Avoidant Attachment
* Avoid parents or caregivers even when needing comfort
* Show no preference for caregiver over a stranger
* Will explore without a secure base, manage stress alone
* Ignore parental departure and return
What to do: Make a change–Comfort the child, not shush them, when crying, aknowledge s/he’s feelings, and encourage a return to base for comfort. In other words, repair the safe harbor.
Insecure Disorganized Attachment
* Erratic behavior upon parental departure and return (e.g., approaching but with the back turned)
* May try to self sooth by freezing or rocking
* Behaviors are confused, and often mismatched with situation
* No secure base and no secure exploration
What to do: Check the contexts your child is in–this one is often associated with maltreatment. Look for abuse or neglect by some caregiver. If none is found, make the tether and build a safe harbor, but most of all be patient. This child needs time and consistent effort on the part of the caregiver to help them reorganize the attachment bond.
Best Wishes for parents and children as we build our relational selves!
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