International adoption is a program wherein a couple will receive a child from abroad of varied ages, abilities, circumstances and cultural backgrounds. Creating a secure and lifelong attachment between the parent and the adopted child is very necessary to generate a harmonious relationship in the family. Different factors may affect attachment such as age, gender, cultural backgrounds, early childhood experiences, and other psychological issues. Understanding more about attachment can help adopting parents to build a happy-living family.
I. Theory of Attachment John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst and also known as the father of attachment theory, believed that attachment starts at infancy and persists throughout one’s existence on earth. He also stated that there are some natural behavioral control systems that are essential for survival and reproduction. The center of his attachment theory is about attachment and exploration systems. The infant’s caregiver will serve as the infant’s base of exploration establishing a strong connection with him.
It is natural for an infant to be fond of exploring new things, and its primary care-giver serves as its secure protection base in times of trouble (Lee, 2003). The attachment theory was developed because of Bowlby’s attempts of understanding the extreme distress that infants undergo when they are alienated from their parents. He had observed that the infants misbehave in a way that they are extremely crying, griping, acting anxiously, etc, to stop their parents from leaving or to be reunited to them.
The fundamental question of the attachment system is: Is the attachment figure close, available, and attentive? If the child perceives “yes”, he/she feels loved, secured, and confident to explore the environment and play with others. But if the child perceives “no”, he or she experiences anxiety and go to extreme lengths. Prolonged separation or loss causes depression and despair to the child (Chris Fraley, 2004). Moreover, Bowlby recognized the individual discrepancies in the way children assess the accessibility of the attachment figure and how they adjust their attachment behavior in reaction to a threat.
Mary Ainsworth, Bowlby’s colleague, systematically studied the infant-parent separations using the Strange Situation laboratory paradigm. Ainsworth and her students studied 12-month-old babies and their mothers and, methodically, separated and reunited. When the parents leave the room, the infants become upset but when the parents return, they enthusiastically seek the parent and are effortlessly comforted by them. This kind of infant-child relationship is called “secure”.
Some infants who are initially uncomfortable also showed extreme distress when they are separated from their parents, and when reunited they are not easily soothed and shows conflicting behaviors suggesting they want to be comforted but they also want to “punish” the parent for leaving. These children fall under the “resistant type”. Lastly, the children that falls under the “avoidant type” tend to stay away from their parents or ignore them. They are not bothered by the separation and actively avoid seeking contact upon reunion.
Moreover, the study showed that the children who are under the secure type have loving, and affectionate parents while those who appear insecure (resistant and avoidant type) have insensitive, inconsistent parents (Chris Fraley, 2004). II. Critics of Bowlby’s works There are many critics that questioned Bowlby’s works such as overemphasis on the role of the mother, limitations on attachment figures, and inconsideration in substitute care. Bowlby only focus about the mother as the major attachment figure of babies where in fact, there are other people whom babies can form attachment figures with.
He also did not put emphasis on other care that can be developed from the child’s siblings, father, and even peers but to only one attachment figure. Moreover, he did not consider the effects of good or poor quality of care in how children will undergo adjustment from separation. These criticisms gave way to other research about attachment such as the works of Kagan, Seifer, and many others. III. Modern Theoretical Perspectives on Attachment Despite the criticisms of early theories of attachments, Bowlby and Ainsworth’s works became the foundation of modern perspectives regarding the issue.
In general, in conclusion of the results of many studies and researches, attachment refers to the relationship between a caregiver or parent and an infant. The adult response of providing needs and affection form the basis of the reciprocal interactive relationship and defines the quality of the attachment between the baby and the attachment figure. Ages about six to eighteen months are the most important time for a primary attachment to develop (DoCS, 2006).
Today, there are three categories of attachment based on the child’s behavior in times of emotional distress: secure, insecure and disorganized (DoCS, 2006). Secure attachment develops when a caregiver provides consistent, responsive care which also helps the child to develop a sense of belonging and trust, enabling them to feel safe to discover and find out more about their environment. It also helps them to cultivate social skills, compassion and emotional intelligence, and learn how to relate to other people and understand what to expect from them.
Secure attachment to parents or caregivers is also connected to a variety of indices of well-being, including high self-worth and low apprehension (DoCS, 2006). Insecure attachment may lead to incapability to confide to others; lack of interest in learning; difficulty in recognizing their own feelings; a meager tolerance of other people’s behavior and a lack of empathy for others (DoCS, 2006). Disorganized attachment is commonly observed in children who experienced fright and helplessness from their own parents or caregivers (e. g. parents who are abusive, neglectful, drug addict, victims of domestic violence, etc).
It causes the child to be emotionally overwhelmed and distressed for a long period of time, since they do not possess a clear strategy for dealing with distress (DoCS, 2006). Attachment experiences affect the child’s personality and later relationship. Children who have secure attachment have positive outlook in life, while those with insecure and disorganized attachments view the world and the people as dangerous and unpredictable, and themselves as bad or unworthy of love and care (DoCS, 2006).
Due to experiences that they have encountered, such as maltreatments and neglects from family or orphanage, scarring their personality and emotional stability, adoptive children is said to be difficult children. (van IJzendoorn & Juffer, 2006). The children’s attachment experiences and problems are very important issues to consider for people who want to take part in adoption program, especially in international programs since the child that will be given to them comes from a different culture and experienced diverse early childhood experiences and circumstances as well (DoCS, 2006).
Children who had secure attachment from their biological parent may have a difficult time to adjust from the lost of their parents, however, they can easily trust and form new attachment with their adopted parents since it is easy for them to trust other people. In contrast, a child with insecure or disorganized attachment may not mind the lost of their biological parents and may also find it difficult to adjust to their new environment with their new parents. They are used to rejecting parents that is why it is hard for them to trust other people.