What Are Attachment Issues?

Medically Reviewed on 11/1/2021
attachment issues
Attachment issues are mental health disorders in which children and adults have trouble making emotional connections with others.

Attachment disorders or issues are psychiatric problems that cause trouble making emotional connections with others. These issues typically begin in early childhood and may be recognizable by the time the child turns one year old.

2 types of attachment disorders

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are 2 types of attachment disorders:

  1. Reactive attachment disorder (RAD)
    • Children with RAD distance themselves from other people because of a history of troublesome childhood or insecure attachment styles in their early years, which may carry over into adulthood.
    • They cannot control their emotions in intense situations and do not find gestures of physical affection as comforting.
    • These children exhibit no emotions when interacting with others, and they may look sad, irritable, or scared most of the time.
  2. Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED)
    • Children with DSED do not have inhibitions when interacting with strangers. They may have an accepting attachment style where they accept anything from the stranger, such as food, and go with them anywhere.
    • It seems they cannot distinguish between the people they know and strangers. This puts the affected children at a greater risk of unsafe situations.

What are the signs and symptoms of attachment issues?

Parents and caregivers can suspect a child has an attachment style disorder by identifying the following signs and symptoms:

  • Dislike toward physical affection
  • Difficulty being comforted
  • Defiant behavior issues
  • Anger management issues
  • Inability to display care and affection toward parents or caregivers
  • Tendency to hurt others
  • Extreme clinginess
  • Lack of fear of strangers
  • Staying away from making eye contact
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Socially withdrawn

If parents or caregivers notice many of these signs in their child, they should speak to their child’s doctor at the earliest. Early treatment of attachment issues is linked with good results.

How are attachment issues treated?

Creating a stable, healthy environment and making young children feel secure is an important part of treating attachment issues. However, the attachment issues may not immediately disappear even if the child is provided with a loving and caring environment.

The affected child may require treatments that include:

  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy for attachment disorders involves identifying problematic behavior and helping the child to deal with it. It can help children overcome the impact of negative events on their emotional status.
  • Attachment-based family therapy: It is a type of family therapy in which a mental health professional helps a parent (or caregiver) and their child repair the damages in their relationship and reestablish an emotionally secure attachment.
  • Social skills training: Social skills training teaches the child the appropriate behavior of interacting with others around them. Therapists and caregivers can practice situations with the child so that the child feels more confident when speaking to others.
  • Parenting class: Children with attachment issues require special treatment from their parents or caregivers. Parents and caregivers can go a step ahead and join a parenting class that teaches them how to deal correctly with a child facing these issues. These classes teach strategies that can help them form a more secure attachment with these children.


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Medically Reviewed on 11/1/2021
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American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Attachment Disorders. https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Attachment-Disorders-085.aspx