Reactive attachment disorder is a psychological condition affecting children who have recently been through some type of stressful event other than the death of a loved one. This stress might come in the form of school problems, bullying, serious medical treatments for non-psychological health issues, or the divorce of the child’s parents. It is characterized by mental health experts as an unusually high emotional response to the stress that exceeds that which any other child might have to it. For this reason, it often goes untreated because the child is simply labeled as “overreacting” to the situation. Dismissing a child who has reactive attachment disorder can lead to other more serious emotional issues if it goes untreated though. So this article will address what some of the signs and symptoms of the condition are to help parents know when to get their children the help that they need.
Difficulty With Affection
Children who develop reactive attachment disorder feel abandoned and alone. They also have difficulty trusting anyone because they don’t think that anyone understands what they are going through. So they often avoid gestures of affection, such as hugs, kisses on the forehead, or even a pat on the back. Some children also avoid eye contact and refuse to reach out to parents who try to pick them up or tuck them into bed at night. This symptom can be very alarming to mothers who want nothing more than to comfort their child in their time of need. But it can also occur in situations when a child of any age has been neglected, abandoned, or abused by either of their parents. In fact, even infants have been known to develop the condition.
One of the more serious signs that a child has developed reactive attachment disorder is a drastic change in their behavior. A once well-behaved child will suddenly start skipping school, talking back to their teachers and parents, and struggle to get along with their friends or siblings. They may also begin engaging in risky behaviors that could injure themselves or others.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are both mental health issues that can occur separately or together. They can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain or specific stressors, which means that the same stressor that is causing the reactive attachment disorder can also be what triggers the anxiety and depression. The symptoms of anxiety and depression are both different though. Anxiety causes a constant state of fear wherein a child struggles to relax, sleep, or focus on their homework. And depression induces feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and futility. Parents may notice that their child has developed anxiety or depression when they avoid others, stop changing their clothes, and won’t perform regular hygiene tasks without a battle.
Since children with reactive attachment disorder often have never been taught how to handle their pent-up emotions in a safe and healthy manner, they may lash out in angry fits that leave all those around them in shock. This symptom can be seen as they scream, cry, and throw themselves about in tantrums. Some of them may even hit, kick, or bite others too. The way to differentiate this behavior from other more serious types of mental health disorders is that it only begins after the stressful event takes place. And it only lasts for a short time period of six months or less. Children who have been acting in a violent manner for the majority of their lives most likely do not have reactive attachment disorder.
As you can see, the signs and symptoms of reactive attachment disorder are very serious. If they are not treated as quickly as possible, a child can end up having long-term consequences to their mental and physical health. They can also experience delays in their education or get into serious legal trouble. Luckily, there is help available to parents who are at their wit’s end with what to do for their children. Centered Health has a team of experts who specialize in specific methods of treating reactive attachment disorder in children. They offer counseling to help children understand how to handle the new stressor and safe and healthy ways to deal with the drastic changes that they are experiencing.