by Alyssa Hasson, MAMFT
What is the relationship between attachment and adoption? Well, healthy, secure attachment is the goal when a family adopts a child and brings him into the home. Remember, however, that your child’s view of himself and the world around him is influenced by his early experiences (from birth to about age 5). Because children begin learning about relationships from the day they are born, most adopted children will have had “teachers” before entering their forever families. These early experiences will affect his view of you and how he interacts with you. As an adoptive parent, your job, in part, will be helping your child relearn how relationships work.
To understand how experiences affect a child, it is helpful to understand the process by which attachment is (or is not) developed. The drawing below illustrates the attachment cycle. Successful movement through the cycle requires two parties: the child and a caregiver, whose role is to recognize the child’s need and respond appropriately (step 4).
Over time, as a child experiences repeated movement through this cycle, attachment is created. So, attachment is created through experience. A child’s experiences are not simply external events; experiences shape and affect brain biology. Daniel Siegel, author of Parenting from the Inside Out, states,
For a brain, “experience” means the firing of neurons… psychiatrist-neuroscientist Eric Kandel [recently] won the Nobel Prize for demonstrating that when neurons fire (are activated) repeatedly, the genetic material inside those neurons’ nuclei becomes “turned on” so that new proteins are synthesized which enable the creation of new neuronal synaptic connections (p. 33-34).
Here’s the translation: repeated experiences of movement through the attachment cycle actually wire the brain toward security, trust, and capability.
In contrast, when a caregiver is not present to accomplish step 4, the attachment cycle is halted. Children who live in institutional settings, like orphanages or group homes, often do not have access to caregivers who consistently participate in the attachment cycle. The wiring in their brains is different. Tune in next time to find out how.