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October 2019   |   Archive   |   National Adoption Month   

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Attachment and Developmental Stages Throughout Childhood

Understanding how attachment can impact a child’s developmental growth is important for adoption professionals and adoptive parents. Secure attachment—the strong emotional bond between a child and his or her primary caregiver that makes a child feel safe and loved—positively affects a child’s brain development, social and emotional development, and self-regulation. It teaches children that their needs will be met and frees them to explore, play, learn, and develop relationships.

Children who have experienced separation and loss and/or relational trauma may struggle with developing secure attachments. Early insecure attachments can negatively impact a child’s brain structure and development, which can be displayed in a variety of ways. These problems may show themselves as developmental delays, difficulty with social relationships, struggles with emotional regulation, aggression, low self-esteem, and depression. Adoptive parents who are struggling with their child’s attachment style and development should know that asking for help is a sign of strength; helping a child connect with a professional who is skilled in evidence-based attachment therapies can be paramount to the child making developmental gains and building connections with their caregiver(s).

Below are some quick facts and tips for adoption professionals that incorporate attachment and brain development concepts. Integrating these tips into your practice will support and strengthen adoptive families:

  • Attachment issues and developmental delays can be normal responses to the losses experienced through adoption.
  • Brain development happens across the lifespan; however, infancy and adolescence are periods of high brain growth and restructuring. These time periods are ripe with opportunities for the brain to make connections about the child’s safety and security. These connections are best established through ongoing relationships with nurturing, consistent, and supportive caregivers.
  • It is integral to parent and interact with children according to their developmental age and not their chronological age, so they can grow and repair attachment.
  • Alternative discipline methods that are developmentally appropriate are encouraged for children with attachment issues and developmental delays, as their understanding of consequences and reactions to them may not be the same as those with healthy, secure attachments. Building relationships and establishing connections should be encouraged throughout the discipline process.
  • Children’s adoption stories and the reassurance that the child will forever be in the adoptive family should be shared early and often in developmentally appropriate ways. This gives children time and space to process their grief and loss, while also reinforcing the connection they have with their adoptive families. It gives children a narrative and sense of identity through difficult transitions that may cause fear of separation and abandonment, like being watched by a babysitter while their parents are out when they are young or leaving home for college or a career when they are older.

The following resources share more information on how adoption can impact developmental stages and how professionals can support children and families:


3 Resources on Attachment and Developmental Stages

Developmental Ages
and Stages [Webinar]


By Mandy Jones,
L.C.S.W., J.D., from the Cradle

Hosted by the Quality Improvement Center for Adoption and
Guardianship Support
and Preservation


Healing Series: Foster Care and Complex
Trauma [Podcast]


By Adoptees On,
featuring Jeanette
Yoffee, M.F.T.

Tip Sheet: Focus on Module 3: Attachment
and Separation: The Impact on the Development
of Children

By the National Adoption Competency Mental
Health Training Initiative



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