Attachment issues are common among adopted children, but they may result from any kind of relational problem early in life, with family members, siblings, or even friends. They not only affect a child’s relationships but also their beliefs about their ability to achieve their goals. Many parents understand that their adopted child may have experienced significant developmental trauma before coming to their house or that they may struggle with identity issues as they get older but aren’t sure what they can do to help. Fortunately, there are a variety of therapeutic treatment options available for adopted children with attachment issues.

What Are Attachment Issues? 

Attachment refers to the ability to form emotional bonds and empathic, enjoyable relationships with other people. Relationships with family members typically model attachment style later in life with both friends and intimate partners. Regardless of how old they were when they were adopted, adopted children often struggle with feeling connected to their caregivers. For children who have lived in multiple homes, they often struggle with accepting that they belong with their adopted family and believe that their placement will be temporary. This may lead to self-sabotage to confirm their beliefs about relationships.

Teens who struggle with insecure attachment often become anxious and withdrawn around other people. They have often learned that their needs will be met inconsistently or not at all and are sensitive to perceived rejection. Others will seek out approval or attention in unhealthy ways to get their needs met.

Signs of attachment issues may include the following:

- Anger issues: Children may express anger by throwing tantrums or acting aggressively or more subtly through acting out during socially acceptable behaviors. For example, they might shake hands and squeeze until it hurts, or hug someone too tightly.

- Need to be in control: Children with reactive attachment disorder must feel as though they are in control at all times. This results in defiance issues and argumentation.

- Difficulty showing appropriate affection: Some children with attachment show the same amount of affection towards strangers that they show their adoptive parents. On the other hand, they may be more willing to trust strangers with personal details, which can be unhealthy as well.

- They don’t like to be touched: Children regard being touched affectionately as a threat rather than something positive. They may act strangely if touched, like laughing or flinching.

- A lack of interest in socializing: They may avoid eye contact or have difficulty maintaining conversations with others. They may seem socially withdrawn and struggle with reaching out to others for support, preferring to do things on their own.

Therapeutic Treatment Options

1. Outpatient Therapy. Some therapists in your area may specialize in attachment issues, adjustment disorders, developmental trauma, or adoption issues. This is a great resource for families who want their child to feel comfortable talking to a third-party adult about issues they may be struggling with after being adopted. Therapy may involve a few sessions or become routine to monitor adjustment.

2. Wilderness Therapy. Adolescents who are struggling with behavioral issues and defiance may benefit from participating in adventure activities in a wilderness therapy program. This option appeals to teens whose family, school, or social situation has interfered with their ability to cope with problems and those who learn best through active participation.

3. Residential Treatment Centers. These treatment centers work with youth struggling with mental health issues that have affected their ability to enjoy hobbies, maintain healthy friendships, and cope with stressors in a healthy way. These programs are focused on helping children establish a support system and healthy coping skills.

4. Therapeutic Boarding Schools. Longer-term therapeutic boarding schools are often a good fit for adopted children who have fallen behind in school or are struggling socially as they balance group therapy with academic support in smaller classrooms. These schools offer a nurturing community environment with plenty of support from peers and mentoring from authority figures that are less restrictive than residential treatment centers.

Asheville Academy for Girls is a therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 10-14. Students with attachment issues related to adoption and their family dynamic discover the tools they need to build healthier connections through relationship-based therapy. For more information, call 800-264-8709 or visit ashevilleacademy.com.