Thought I would give you a quick review of a wonderful book I just finished reading. I’ve actually read this book a couple of times before, yet still managed to glean some very good stuff from it. Building the Bond of Attachment by Daniel A. Hughes, its a classic in the adoption library! Many people refer to it as the “Katie” book as it is the fictional story of a little girl named Katie who suffers from extreme Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Katie enters foster care at the age of five, already having failed to form meaningful bonds with her parents, she is at a serious disadvantage in life. Although the physical abuse that she suffered is the catalyst for her being removed from her parents, it is really the emotional neglect that she endured that causes the greatest barrier for future bonding. Hughes describes it as the “dance” between a mother and child, that never happened with Katie and her mom. It is the cycle of need and response, a give and take, the touch, tickle, eye contact and smiles that make up the emotional tie between a mother and child. Instead of bonding, Katie felt alone, scared and confused. All of which caused her to become angry and hardened, desperate to fulfill her own needs at any cost.
I have to insert a personal side-note at this point. Although this book was written about a little girl who lost her mothers love as an infant, it is applicable to children of all ages who lose this most significant relationship. The thought processes and patterns of behavior that Katie displays are found in children who DID have an emotional attachment with their mothers but then for various reasons that bond was broken. Unable to understand or process the grief, they are filled with anger, confusion and fear, just as Katie was. So don’t stop reading just because you think your child was bonding to their birth mom at a young age. Any break in that maternal bond, can cause some level of attachment struggles and therefore Hughes’ book can offer wonderful insight into their world and give great parenting strategies for coping with their behavior. Our motivation for educating ourselves on these issues should never be to slap a label on our child as an excuse for their actions, but rather to equip ourselves to better meet their needs.
If you don’t know whether your child struggles with attachment issues, Hughes offers a comprehensive list of general symptom patterns in the books appendix. Here are a few that I’m sure most people can relate to and will give you motivation to read the book; excessive need to control (top of the list!), hurting others and self (emotional and physical), intense negative affect (rage, terror, despair), lying, excusing, blaming, demanding, lack of empathy, lack of guilt or remorse, lack of joy or humor, lack of eye contact, etc…etc! Hughes explains that a child who has does not have proper attachment skills unconsciously feels that they are unworthy of love and that conviction is experiences as shame. Shame motivates all their actions, they behave in ways that confirm their view of themselves.
Building the Bonds of Attachment clearly defines the parents role as therapeutic caregiver. Katie chews up and spits out several foster families before she is finally places with a foster mom who understands how important it is to maintain a therapeutic attitude. She sees every moment and interaction with Katie as critical for her healing and strives to maintain what Hughes describes as “The Attitude”. Five aspects of ‘being’ comprise the critical components of ” The Attitude”; being accepting, being curious, being empathetic, being loving and being playful. Throughout the book, Katie’s foster mom and her therapist work intensely with Katie using “The Attitude” to lovingly, but firmly move her toward bonding.
Maintaining “The Attitude” on a daily basis is no easy task. At the heart of it is the ability to remain calm and engaging even in the most difficult circumstances. Understanding that the child is seeking at every turn to push you away and confirm her belief that she is unworthy of love and acceptance. Watching this play out through the story with her foster family, therapist and state social worker, keeps the interesting as well as educational.
I have pages of notes taken while I read and would like to share just a few tidbits that I gleaned from my reading. For instance, gaining control of their surroundings is a primary motivation for the child. They are convinced that if they can control their environment and the people around them, they will finally feel safe, possibly even happy. We need to help them by taking that control away from them and help them to see that they can be happy without it, that we are safe and can be trusted to manage their lives. They don’t need to be the dictators of their world, they can finally rest and live the happy childhood that they missed. We don’t take control because we want it, but simply because they have trouble managing it themselves.
Another great point was that often we are forced to change our parenting styles to better meet the needs of that child. This can be very difficult for some parents who have had a lot of success with a particular parenting plan. Understanding that trauma can cause stunted emotional growth, and lowering our expectations of what that child can handle. Yet Hughes challenges the reader to expect the child to excel at their ‘age’ level. For example, if a child’s chronological age is 12, understand that emotionally she is possibly 6, and expecting her to do VERY well at 6.
There are so many wonderful, yet challenging lessons woven within the fabric of the story of little Katie. Many times it is difficult to know how she will ever overcome her intense difficulties. Her foster mom endures so many frustrations. Katie battles the idea of trusting and becoming bonded by doing everything she can think of to turn her foster mom away from her. Through the story you both dislike her and ache for her. Finding yourself wondering how it is that she could do such horrible things! But Hughes does a great job throughout the book of teaching the reader what is going on inside the heart and head of a child who struggles to attach. And in the end, gives us reason to hope!
This book is an absolute MUST for any family thinking about adopting a child!