Posted by: fatherof11 | March 9, 2006

The causes of attachment disorders

Having listed the “symptoms” of Attachment Disorders (ADs) in the last post, I want to discuss them in more detail outlining what I consider to be the causes.

First I think it is important to note that my biological children have all exhibited many of these “symptoms” at various points in their lives. So how are they different than these children with AD’s? The problem stems from the fact that, with my biological children, these behaviors occurred one at a time. They were typically dealt with and not allowed to become habits. Though, I confess some were not dealt with as well as others. Still most were dealt with and not allowed to collect.

With the AD children this did not happen. Because their parents were either absent or abusive, these issues were not dealt with and allowed to accumulate. Rather than being quickly extinguished, the behaviors became habits. Thus I would say that the central issue with these children is the lack of proper parenting. Notice I say issue, not cause. The causes vary, but they are all colored by the absence of proper parenting. For example, a child being harmful to another child is the result of sin. However, proper parenting would have taught the consequences of such sin and prevented it from becoming a habit. Other symptoms are the child’s response to abuse or deprivation becoming habitual. Now that the abuse or deprivation is removed they continue acting as they had before. In these cases, proper parenting would have meant that there was no need for the child to respond in the first place.

The good new in all of this is that previous poor or absent parenting can be made up for by good parenting today. Sure it is harder, because the problems are all present at once and they are often well ingrained habits. Many parents become overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and simply try to give up, passing them off to the “professionals.” However, with proper understanding, the Word of God contains answer to all of these problems.

So let’s look at the causes of these problems in a little more detail. There are several:

  1. Many of these are sinful habits. Some are responses to abuse or deprivations, but they are still sinful. Through repetition they become not just individual sins, but habitual sins, sometimes to the point of characteraological sins. Many will say, but wait this is not sin it is fear, pain, or something else. While these factors may be present, what the Bible calls sin is still sin. They may be responses to something in their environment, but they are still sinful responses.
    If we fail to recognize this, we will not bring the proper “cure” to the “disease.” Simply removing the abuse or fulfilling the need will not erase these sinful habits. This is perhaps where many parents get off track. They think that simply supplying them with all their needs and giving them a loving home they will magically be “cured” of all their problems. However, they also need to be shown how to break the sinful habits. Scripture gives clear council on how to deal with the habits of sin.
  2. Other behaviors are merely strange to our eyes. Some such as hoarding food are not necessarily sinful. These are the kind of issuese that are helped by the parents recognizing what their child has gone through. Consider food hoarding. Imagine that the child has been neglected. Papa is gone, mama is an alcoholic. When mama is sober she feeds the child, when she is drunk, she forgets. In these circumstances, it would be completely rational for the child to hoard food, because he does not know when he will get more. It is only when they are brought into a home where food is plentiful that their behavior seems strange. In the world they come from it was perfectly rational, now it is not. Recognizing this for what it is will help greatly. These are the kinds of issues that will often simply go away over time as the children recognize that their world has changed.
  3. Some issues are really unreasonable expectations with the current parents. For instance expecting these kids to act “age appropriately” is often unrealistic. In is unfair for a parent to expect a child who had little social interaction until the age of five to suddenly start “keeping friends for an age-appropriate length of time.” Likewise, they may be behind in school because of poor education up until the point of adoption. Expecting them to be “at grade level” immediately is unreasonable.
  4. Problems with the current parents. The best example of this is the parent who claims that the child “argues for long periods of time, often about meaningless or silly things.” The last I checked, it takes two to argue. Cases such as these are often more a problem of the parent not dealing with the issue than it is the child.

As you can see there are a variety of causes here. Often an individual issue will be a combination of these. We want to be careful to not just write everything off as merely sin. Often the sins were motivated by deprivation or abuse. Addressing these issues at the same time we address the heart issues will greatly improve our chances of success.

I would say where we most often see families fail with these children is by not understanding all of the issues that are related to a given problem. Some do not grasp the importance of sin in the equation. Others will write off complex issues as merely sin. Understand the causes and the motivations of these children will greatly help a parent deal with the issues.



  1. Excellent. EXCELLENT!!!!!

  2. Thanks Lisa.

    Note to self: Don’t post last thing before going to bed. Save til morning and review. I can’t believe the number of typos!

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