More on Attachment and Bonding

Yesterday, I posted a link to the Today Show episode about a family who disrupted their adoption of a little boy. The mother had written an article for Motherlode back in August because she wanted to share her story so others in similar situations would know they are not alone. I wasn’t able to read the article until this morning and must admit that it was a tough story for me to read. The Today Show touched on a very small piece of this story, so for those who are interested in reading more, go here. http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/26/terminating-an-adoption/?hp

Another adoptive mom and I chatted about this story which very quickly lead to discussion about attachment and bonding. Our discussion made me realize once again, just how important it is for parents to understand attachment and bonding. I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I feel very strongly that the information I have on the subject is important to share.

I posted information on 10 Way to Build Attachment and wanted to post information on the signs of successful and unsuccessful attachment.

Signs of Healthy Attachment

– Joyful the majority of the time.
– Seeks out primary caregiver for comfort and to meet needs.
– Likes to be cradled and held facing primary caregiver.
– Makes good eye contact with primary caregiver and initiates eye contact–both close & distant proximity.
– When primary caregiver makes eye contact, the child smiles back, showing signs of being happy with the interaction.
– Smiles and exhibits pleasure when seeing self in the mirror.
– Frequently engages in playful interactions with primary caregiver (interactions initiated by both parent and child.)
– Uses different cries to alert primary caregiver of needs and wants; easily consoled by primary caregiver.
– Accepts limits placed by primary caregiver.
– Willingly allows primary caregiver to hold bottle, hand feed, and nurture.
– Melts into primary caregiver when held; lays head on shoulder; holds on when held; faces primary caregiver rather than away.
– Enjoys cuddling, hugs, and kisses given by primary caregiver and initiates cuddling, hugs, and kisses without wanting something in return.
– Can co-sleep without major difficulty.
– Prefers primary caregiver to all others.
– Imitates primary caregiver regularly (actions, language, etc.)
– Content to sit on primary caregiver’s lap or stay in primary caregiver’s arms for an age appropriate amount of time.
– Settles quickly when held by primary caregiver.
– Enjoys skin on skin contact.
– Prefers close proximity to primary caregiver but not in an anxious, desperate way.
– Consistently sleeps well and peacefully.
– Wants to please primary caregiver because he knows it will make his parent happy.
– Reacts appropriately to pain; wants primary caregiver to nurture him when in pain or sick; easily consoled.
– Uses food appropriately. Recognizes when hungry and full.
– Shows true personality to primary caregiver and family and friends (discovering a child’s innate personality takes time.)
– Initiates “sweet nothing” talk with primary caregiver.
– Shows appropriate stranger anxiety.
– Displays age appropriate anxiety at brief separation from primary caregiver but is able to be reassured.
– Reunites happily with primary caregiver with eye contact and physical contact.
– Show signs of feeling safe in social situations; able to play and interact with others, but stays close and checks in with primary caregiver regularly but not in an anxious or desperate way.
– Is gentle to self and others.
– Gets along with other children & siblings most of the time.
– Is okay with primary caregiver leaving the room for short periods of time. Conversely, cares that primary caregiver has left the room and shows happiness when that person returns.
– Speech/language skills are developing appropriately.
– Angry outbursts/tantrums are infrequent, short in duration. Parent can soothe child.
– “Normal” discipline methods/parenting techniques are effective.
– Child can identify his own feelings (at an age appropriate level.)
– Child can identify the feelings of others (at an age appropriate level.)
– Child can delay gratification (at an age appropriate level.)


by Kali Miller, PhD

Symptoms of Unhealthy Attachment

– Cries; miserable all the time, chronically fussy
– Resists comforting or nurturance
– Resists or dislikes being held
– Poor eye contact or avoids eye contact
– Flat, lifeless affect (too quiet)
– Likes playpen or crib more than being held
– Rarely cries (overly good baby)
– Angry or rageful when cries
– Exceedingly demanding
– Looks sad or empty-eyed
– Delayed milestones (creeping, crawling, etc.)
– Stiffens or becomes rigid when held
– Likes to be in control
– Does not hold on when held (no reciprocal holding)
– When held chest to chest, faces away
– Doesn’t like head touched (combed, washed)
– Generally unresponsive to parent
– Cries or rages when held beyond his wishes
– Overly independent play or makes no demands
– Reaches for others to hold him rather than parent
– Little or reduced verbal responsiveness
– Does not return smiles
– Shows very little imitative behavior
– Prefers Dad to Mom
– Gets in and out of parents lap frequently
– Physically restless when sleeping
– Does not react to pain (high pain tolerance)


by Walter D. Buenning

For those who are interested, I’ll be posting more information regarding healthy and unhealthy attachment and bonding in future blog posts.

Published by debweeks

I am a wife, a mother via biology and adoption, a homeschooler and a lover of travel.

3 thoughts on “More on Attachment and Bonding

  1. Debbie, thank you for the information. I think of attachment on a regular basis waiting for Olivia to come home. To be honest, this is something that I most worry about given that she has been away for so long and has lived in an hogar for most of her life. I am both excited and anxious about the visit this week. Thanks for the information and resources.

  2. that was so painful to read. Especially because D was so little. Breaks my heart.I do know of an older child adoption that didn't work out … child was 15. SHE refused to bond w/ the family. She was angry and therapy wasn't cutting it. I know the mom did EVERYTHING. Broke my heart when that didn't work either.I'd like to say I would NEVER do this, because my child is my child and the love is overwhelming and unconditional. But you cannot say NEVER, because you cannot know what is happening in someone else's heart in the midst of such a trying time.Thanks for bringing this to our attention Debbie.

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