Child- Parent Attachment Problems


Recently, while reading a paper on the therapeutic aspect of attachment problems with children, I couldn't help but reflect on the many experiences that I've had with children and teens who have rejected a parent. Currently, there is much research on why kids might reject or resist a parent and how clinicians can help this child and their family. And although we may have specialized degrees, experience, and knowledge in these behaviors and the syndromes involved, we can still be at a loss while working with these families.


To support the need for attachment between child and parent seems obvious; yet perhaps not so in all cases. In order to fully understand the complexities of ruptured attachments, we have to look at the child and the parents, as well as the environment and atmosphere in which they live. Sometimes these family environments are complicated with factors such as neglect, abuse, trauma, mental illness, divorce, or death. Any of these variables have the potential to rupture the safety and security of the child-parent attachment. However-and this is the clincher-in the wake of these negative events, the child may still love and need the affection of both parents, even if one has been identified as the cause of the hurt. 


As a clinician, I am trained to look at the dynamics of connection between family members. I explore the ruptures within relationships as well as the aftermath (which may range from rejection to forgiveness). In order to do this work, it takes a lot of trust by the child, and trust by both parents as well. In attachment-focused treatment, we explore the good and the bad that has contributed to the current state of the child-parent relationship. For the child, I am often witness to the dance of responding/accepting and rejecting/resisting that these kids are struggling with themselves. Sometimes in treatment these same kids express a love or interest in the "good parts" or good experiences that they've had with the parent whose connection they've resisted, only to distance these thoughts when out of the session. As such, I become a container  of the positive and negative; this is the role of therapy. The key to treatment success is in allowing the child to use the "container" to invest their private thoughts and feelings into. Sometimes if the child is urged to share what they've talked about in therapy, they may decide to separate-or disavow-their true feelings for fear of hurting or upsetting others. To give the child space and to allow them to have their own experience is perhaps the greatest gift that a loving parent can give their child.