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Attached at the Hip: A Parent’s Guide to Healthy Attachment

by SOAR Marketing

Happy Valentine’s Day! With roots dating over 1,500 years, this Holiday has seen many iterations. From its very beginnings with ancient Roman fertility rituals, to Christian martyrs (Saint Valentine), to the creation of extravagant paper cards in 16th century Great Britain, to the early 1900s pastel “sweetheart” candies we still enjoy to this day – it’s a Holiday that is constantly evolving. Be it romantic love, affection between friends, celebrations for children, or gifts between family members, Valentine’s Day is a great time to learn about all kinds of relationships.

To celebrate (and educate) we’re sharing a short piece on “Attachment Styles.” Developed in the 20th century by John Bowlby, the attachment theory explores relationships between humans with special emphasis on children and parents. We asked SOAR Executive Director, John Willson, to elaborate on these relationships for ADHD/LD communities. It is important to note that attachment styles can change over time and with different experiences (like those offered here at SOAR), along with increasing healthy support networks. Please enjoy the resources below:

What is attachment style?

Attachment styles refer to the patterns of behavior and emotions that develop between a child and their primary caregiver. In children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), different attachment styles can impact their behavior and emotions in different ways.

What are the four attachment styles?

The four attachment styles are anxious, avoidant, disorganized, and secure.

How do each of the four styles present themselves in the ADHD/LD populations?

Children with ADHD who present with an anxious attachment style tend to distrust the people charged with their care and enter into situations with fear and trepidation. Their anxiety and insecurity can amplify hyperactivity and impulsivity. An overwhelming belief that something will go wrong, or that the experience will result in disaster.  These children tend to take longer to adjust, and may have difficulty forming close relationships. We often see these types of children take steps toward growth and development once the anxiety is reduced.

Children with ADHD who present with an avoidant attachment style tend to believe the people charged with their care won’t follow through and therefore enter into situations with the belief they will be let down and therefore avoid new situations.  These children struggle to share honest emotions and appropriately self-advocate for their needs.  Trust is hard to come by and they will continue to wait for individuals to fail them. 

Children with ADHD who present with a disorganized attachment style have similar challenges to both anxious and anxiety attachment children with the addition of anger and frustration.  This can occur due to chaotic and inconsistent relationships with their caregivers. They tend to not only distrust the people charged with their care but have a very short fuse and will have bouts of anger that manifest verbally and physically.  These children really struggle with emotions and are prone to escalate easily.

Children with ADHD who present with a secure attachment style are significantly more grounded and are more likely to feel confident and secure.  These children typically have a stable support network, are encouraged to try new things, and have their needs met at school.  These children are often seen as leaders in groups here at SOAR and are able to handle obstacles significantly better than children in the previous three groups.

Remember, attachment styles can change over time and with different experiences (like those offered here at SOAR), along with increasing healthy support networks.

What attachment style is most common?

While we see all four types of these attachment styles in our program, it is important to note that many of the children that attend our program present as secure.  Parents who find us are actively looking for opportunities to support their kids and therefore, these children often come with healthy support networks and schools that meet their needs.  That being said, we still see a large number of campers that present with the other three attachment styles, but in particular, many struggle with anxiety. COVID certainly hasn’t helped, but it is important to note that children today do seem more willing to share their feelings, even if less able to cope with struggle and change.

How can we promote a secure attachment style in our children?

I have developed an acronym for helping children with ADHD move towards a secure attachment style (CRAMPS):

Consistent routines and structure: Children with ADHD benefit from having a structured routine and clear expectations for their behavior. Follow through and be reliable in your interactions with children.

Respect boundaries and provide positive reinforcement: When you create a culture of respect and validation, children become more comfortable opening up and striving towards goals and objectives. Taking the time to listen to children with ADHD and validate their feelings and experiences can help them feel understood and build trust.

Accountability is an important component in creating structure. Children respect what you show you truly expect from them.  Therefore, it is critical to provide healthy expectations.

Medication: In some cases, medication may be necessary to manage symptoms of ADHD and help children focus and concentrate, allowing for more effective therapy and improved relationships.

Playful interactions help keep children engaged and safe.  Understanding the balance between having fun and maintaining healthy boundaries is important.

Support networks are critical to helping children with ADHD learn and grow. Collaborating with teachers, therapists, and other support systems can help ensure that children with ADHD receive the comprehensive care they need to thrive. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy can also help children with ADHD learn coping skills and improve their behavior.