When you become a foster carer, attending courses is part of the role and I’ve found them a real help in my day to day life. One of the most important courses I’ve been on recently is about the importance of attachment and how to work with children who have attachment issues.
As most of the Looked After Children who stay with me are teenagers, I can occasionally see the negative affect of not forming attachments at an earlier age. ‘Attachment disorder’ is often a catch all term for children who struggle to form or maintain relationships but it is much more complex and far reaching than that. Hubby and I have spent a long time building healthy attachments with M and J, and although on difficult days it can feel like we are going around in circles, one of them then shows how attached they are to us in subtle ways and we know we are on the right path.
With Baby S, we are at the other end of ‘attachment’ and need to help her build a healthy connection with us, her caregivers, in order for her to be able to express emotions, have a positive self-worth, develop trust and relationships in the future. So how do we do this? Basically, it boils down to love, care and attention. By responding to her when she cries, making eye contact, changing her nappy when she is wet and talking to her, she will learn to accept that when something is wrong (wet, cold, hungry, lonely) she can cry and her caregivers will respond.
I’m not any kind of expert on attachment, and by attending a few course aimed at foster carers, I haven’t suddenly become knowledgeable; but what most parents and care givers do naturally is what babies need to develop both physically and emotionally. The theory of attachment was first identified by John Bowlby in 1958 (and expanded on with him by Mary Ainsworth in 1973) after his years of working with emotionally disturbed children. To learn more about his work click on this link, which outlines his theory (and the different types of attachment) eloquently and what happens when things go wrong or care is withdrawn or spasmodic.
Hubby and I instinctively respond when she cries and try to work through what could be bothering her. Most of the time it is hunger and she quickly goes from Zero to Full On in a few minutes with the classic tell-tale signs of hand to mouth, sucking, sticking her tongue out and rooting around with her mouth. Once hunger has been dealt with, then it’s comfort – does she have a full nappy, does she have tummy ache or wind or is she cold? By addressing these basic needs along with the little chats we have with her as we’re changing or feeding her, we’re giving her the tools to grow up to be able to face challenges, to learnt to trust and to build strong future relationships. In psychological terms this is called ‘Good Enough’ Parenting.
At 4am, when she’s screaming for her feed and I’m juggling a wriggling hungry baby and trying to cool down her bottle whilst wishing for more sleep is when I don’t feel good enough. As soon as her little mouth closes over the bottle teat and she snuggles contentedly in my arms and I whisper little nothings to her as she blinks up at me, that’s when I know the attachment is there.