Instability or disruption in relationships in the care system may give infants or children major problems in their ability to trust and therefore attach to parents or caregivers.

The specific kinds of problems that are frequently shown by children who have experienced faulty attachments to their parents are as follows:

Conscience Development

1. May not show normal anxiety following aggressive or cruel behavior

2. May not show guilt when breaking rules or laws

3. May project blame on others

Impulse Control

1. Exhibits poor control; depends on others to provide external control of behavior

2. Exhibits lack of foresight

3. Has a poor attention span


1. Sees self as undeserving

2. Sees self as incapable of change

3. Is unable to get satisfaction from tasks well done

4. Has difficulty having fun

Inter-personal Interactions

1. Lacks trust in others

2. Demands affection but lacks depth in relationships

3. Exhibits hostile dependency

4. Needs to be in control of all situations

5. Has impaired social maturity


1. Has trouble recognizing own feelings

2. Has difficulty expressing feelings appropriately, especially anger, sadness, frustration

3. Has difficulty recognizing feelings in others

Cognitive Problems

1. Has trouble with basic cause and effect

2. Experiences problems with logical thinking

3. Appears to have confused thought processes

4. Has difficulty thinking ahead

5. May have an impaired sense of time

6. Has difficulties with abstract thinking

Developmental Problems

1. May have difficulty with auditory processing

2. May have difficulty expressing self well verbally

3. May have gross motor problems

4. May experience delays in fine motor adaptive skills

5. May experience delays in personal-social development

6. May have inconsistant levels of skills in all of the above areas

Unattached children have difficulty relating normally with others. How do the above problems relate to the lack of attachment? In the child's first relationship with his primary caregivers he learns what he can and cannot expect from others. Children who do not experience a healthy give and take in this relationship may not be able to experience it in other relationships.

It is most difficult for the unattached child to grow socially. They have great difficulty learning to build and maintain relationships of any sort. Having received little love, they have trouble giving it. They have not learned to care for others. They continue in their babyish ways---self-centered and acting impulsively. They have difficulty incorporating rules and laws. Their first concern is "What's in it for me?"

Because these children do not trust others, many of the kinds of behaviors seen in such children are aimed at keeping people at a distance. Some of the behavior patterns children exhibit to keep people at a distance are:

Poor Eye Contact

It has been seen that eye contact is important in bonding between the parent and child. It is not surprising that many unbonded children make little eye contact with others. Many are self-conscious or truly surprised that anyone wants to look at them. In many families there is a struggle for control. If a child looks the parent in the eye the disturbed parent may see that action as a challenge.


Many children with attachment problems withdraw from interactions with others. Some may do so physically; others seem to put a shield around them; they may be physically near, but distant emotionally.

A further kind of withdrawal resembles fear. As the parent reaches out to the child he cringes; if the parent hugs the child he pulls away or tightens up. All children who withdraw from physical closeness this way have not been abused. Some may simply have learned about the effect their behavior has on adults. The child learns that cringing, fearful behavior is effective in keeping adults at a distance.

Chronic Anxiety

When a child is confident that his parent will be available when needed, he is less prone to anxiety that is intense or chronic. The most frightening situation for the child is one in which he needs his parent and that parent is not available. This kind of anxiety is greater in children who have been moved without preparation, or who have had other major changes in their lives occur abruptly. Children who experience chronic anxiety are also often very possessive and clinging.

Lack of Self-Awareness

Some unattached or neglected children seem very aware of their environment, but very unaware of their own bodies. They may over-eat until their stomachs are distended, and they are at the point of vomiting. They may not react to pain and seem unaware of extremes of temperature. Many of these children are bedwetters. It is as if they never learned to pay attention to the signals of their own bodies or want to alleviate their own discomfort. Such behavior may develop in children whose parents are unresponsive to them, who take care of the child when they feel like it, rather than when the child needs it.


Some children with attachment problems appear to be over-competent and do not seem to need parents. They often insist on doing everything themselves. This is not normal childhood behavior.

Aggressive Behavior, Indiscriminate Affection, Control Battles, The Two- Twenty Syndrome,

Delayed Conscience Development are other behavior patterns that keep people at a distance.

These ideas are taken from a paper "Attachment and Separation" by Vera Fahlberg published by the British Agencies for Fostering and Adoption.

Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God by Donald M. Joy, Ph.D. Word Publ, 1985.
The Secret Life of the Unborn Child by Thomas Verny, M.D., Delta, NY, 1981.