Biblical Approaches to Attachment

Writing on this blog has become highly therapeutic.  There are days that I need to remember the good and others I need to process the difficult.  It’s been good to look back at the fun posts over the past 5 weeks, laugh, and see evidences of God’s grace at work.  

So today I’m writing again to process some of the attachment/bonding issues we’ve seen displayed over the last few weeks.  This post will hopefully also come in handy to keep records for our post placement visits.  I know many people have adopted infants who show signs of poor attachment, but since we have older kiddos (5 and 7) that’s what I’m hoping to focus on. 

I recently read an  informative article by: Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD entitled “Attachment Problems: Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Signs”

Some of the Not-so Subtle signs we’ve seen include:

  • Superficial engaging, charming behavior
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Indiscriminate affection with strangers
  • Lack of affection on parents terms
  • Poor impulse control
  • Lack of Cause and Effect thinking
  • Preoccupation with fire and/or gore
  • Persistent nonsense questions and chatter indicating a need to control
  • Inappropriate clinginess and demanding behavior

Some of the more subtle signs we’ve noticed are:

  • Avoiding comfort when the child is physically hurt or feelings are hurt
  • Over-valuing looks, appearances, possessions, and clothes
  • Precocious independence
  • Reticence and anxiety of changes
  • Picking at scabs and sores
  • Secretiveness
  • Difficulty tolerating correction or criticism

The article goes on the explain that we must be careful not to simply focus on these symptoms, but to search for the underlying cause.  Dr. Becker-Weidman suggests that the cause is a break in the early attachment relationship that results in difficulties trusting others.  The child experiences a fear of close authentic emotional relationships because prior situations have taught the child that adults are not trustworthy, and that the child in unloved and unlovable.  He further suggests that this break in attachment causes:

  • Fear of intimacy
  • Overwhelming feelings of shame
  • Chronic feelings of being unloved or unloveable
  • A distorted view of self
  • Lack of trust
  • Feeling that nothing the child does can make a difference
  • A core sense of being bad
  • Difficulty asking for help
  • Difficulty relying on others

So my question is as Christians how do we parent the adopted child who is showing signs of poor attachment?  Many of the things listed above can be seen in any range of children and sometimes its difficult to know what behavior is just a kid being a kid and what is something so much deeper.  I’ve read Christian Parenting books, and Adoptive Parenting books and can’t find much middle ground between the two.  So how is it that we teach adopted children the Biblical concepts of authority, discipline, obeying right away, telling the truth, showing kindness and so forth.   Is it possible to simply say, “Sin is sin,” with no regard to past experiences?  How would you Biblically counsel an adult who wasn’t trusting, had a core sense of being bad, a fear of intimacy, overwhelming feelings of shame?  Obviously by pointing them to Christ, but what if these issues were resulting in, stealing, immoral behavior, self-sufficiency, vanity?  As adopted children of God how have we been dealt with and what is expected?  Does this translate into how we parent adopted children?  I’d love the thoughts of adoptive parents and non-adoptive parents alike.

These are just the questions that I’ve been mulling over as we traverse this new road of parenting.  We have loved diving in off the deep end of the pool, and have regularly been reminded that God’s grace is sufficient, and that ultimately He’s in control.  I just want to do my best at getting wise, daily I’m so aware of my need!  So please leave your thoughts, advice, Bible verses, awful parenting stories, and success stories, and I’m off to do some study of my own.



Filed under Adoption, Attachment

5 responses to “Biblical Approaches to Attachment

  1. Great post! I will tell you that everything in parenting is a journey. It’s a process. What you need to do every day is keep praying, teaching, loving and resting in God’s goodness. I am always reminded that I have the opportunity to raise these amazing creatures that God has already designed a plan for! I’ts humbling and exhilarating at the same time! God trusts me with them, so I had better do my best… but He trusts me with them, so I know He has called me especially to the task needed for these kids that He gave me! Keep asking questions, keep reading, keep seeking God, and keep loving on those kiddos. He chose you to do it…….yea!! I do think God gave us an amazing picture of how to raise kids through His adoption of us. Even with our own kids, they are each so different and have different struggles and needs. I have been through the ringer with number 3, but I look back and see how God has worked in her life and in ours! She accepted Christ a couple of weeks ago as well!!! You may not see the results of your work quickly, but I pray you do get to look back and see the fruits of your labor!!

  2. In response to the question regarding “Many of the things listed above can be seen in any range of children and sometimes its difficult to know what behavior is just a kid being a kid and what is something so much deeper,” it seems there are several issues here. First, a history of chronic early maltreatment might suggest that some of these behaviors may have a deeper origin. In addition, by taking the time to explore with the child in an accepting and empathic manner, what may be driving the behavior…searching for the underlying meaning of the behavior, can help make this distinction. Finally, if one can develop a deep sense of connectedness with the child, real attunement and empathy, one can sense some of this….just as the parent of an infant quickly learns the differences between the “I am wet” cry and the “I am hungry” cry because of the time spent together and the deep attunement that develops.

  3. Katie Redfern

    So glad you’re asking these questions! I think we had a conversation along these lines at your house the day before we left for Ethiopia… And I’m still wondering how to think Biblically about attachment issues– it’s tricky! Are there any other SG families or pastors who have adopted older children? I’d love to hear from some of them on this… or, say, Paul or Tedd Tripp or Ed Welch or Lou Priolo or David Powlison! 😉

    Anyway, I’m not dealing with this to the same degree that you are, because we adopted a baby. But we’ve talked about adopting older children in the future, & our minds always turn to this issue. So, I’m eagerly awaiting any further thoughts you may have on this or counsel you get from other wise people. Please share! 🙂

  4. Reggie

    My opinions:
    The signs listed above are not research-based. They are indicative of a bogus diagnosis called “Attachment Disorder,” the use of which has been condemned by APSAC and the APA. The only therapists to utilize this list of signs are “Attachment (Holding) Therapists,” a fringe group of pseudo-psychotherapy.

  5. i am glad you talked about this. i am struggling w/ this whole thing since we will be bringing home a toddler. she will be my third child, but 1st adopted…what’s a crazy calvinist to do w/ attachment parenting???? AGH!!!

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