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Attachment Issues

Young children are faced with a multitude of developmental changes that lead the child into an ever growing social and emotional world. These changes are often referred to as the tasks of childhood.

One of the tasks of early childhood is the development of a sense of security and safety. This secure base is a result of the close and protective interactions between child and parents. This process of connecting is referred to as "attachment". It is a crucial aspect of development that forms the basis of ALL relationships. Attachment and its flip side, the failure to attach, have been prominent in the news in recent years.

Children who were orphaned during wars and civil unrest and cared for in large institutions were among the first to display a consistent pattern of behavior, emotional and social problems associated with interrupted or failed parent-child bonding. Full scale attachment disorders are generally seen only in severe instances of traumatic childhood losses. However, young children who have experienced milder interruptions of parental security often exhibit some of the symptoms of attachment problems. These symptoms continue into adulthood evolving as the child matures. Attachment disorders often cause significant problems later on.

Families with young children that have experienced the loss or absence of one parent experience such interruptions to some degree. Whether the parental absence is due to the death of a parent, a short or extended illness, or an extended absence as is the case in military deployment, the remaining caregivers must insure that the child continues to experience safe and warm emotional bonds. An ill or grieving mother or father may be emotionally unavailable to their children for an extended period. It is vital, then, that family members assist in the care of children in homes where parental loss is experienced.

What are some of the indicators that your child may be experiencing difficulties associated with attachment problems? Children with intense emotional reactions (anger, temper), extremely oppositional, abusive, cruel to animals, and self-destructive behaviors are a few associated symptoms. If you feel your child could be described by any one or combination of these symptoms, please see your pediatrician right away. It is important to note that these symptoms are not just associated with attachment disorders, but are also seen in other childhood disorders as well. These symptoms are also not considered to be typical or "normal" behaviors of childhood. It is imperative to have your doctor conduct a complete assessment and make appropriate recommendations.

For further reading about Attachment Disorders, go to

Simple, Fun and Very Important

Youngsters can develop many life-long learning skills while simply playing. One of the most important of these skills is often a fun way to spend time with your young child. Referred to as sorting, or categorizing, or classification, or ordering the name is not that important - the activities, however, are crucial learning skills that will stay with your child for a lifetime. It enhances later learning and allows your child to develop the flexibility to organize his life. I cannot tell you how important this sometimes taken for granted ability becomes as your child grows older and tackles more complex learning tasks.

So just what is this activity? Gather together an assortment of small objects (age appropriate size for handling and avoiding swallowing) that vary in 1) size 2) shape 3) color and 4) type of object. As your child gains skills in what you are about to do, add and replace these objects to maintain interest and novelty. You can buy sorting trays, tackle boxes and the like, but that's not necessary if you have some basic items to start with. Beads, blocks, toy animals, all will work for this activity.

Once you have your assortment (about 10-20 items to start with), begin your play by sorting by shape (round, square) and color (all red, all blue). You can just arrange in a pile, place in a circle, exchange with your child, whatever seems fun. Add the other dimensions to your activity (all green horses and all red bears) as your child succeeds. Create spatial maps by taking large pieces of poster board and drawing circles, squares, etc. to match your objects and have your child place the matching object in the correct space. Begin to mix colors and shapes. Obviously, you can begin to develop counting skills (one horse and one ball, two horses and one ball). The possible combinations are endless. Remember this is a fun learning experience, so when an error is made, simply demonstrate the correct response and have your child repeat or copy you and then move on.

If your child struggles with too many concepts, back the items down to the level she can successfully complete. One color and shape at a time. When he seems ready to move on, add one more dimension at a time (e.g. a new color or a new shape). Remember this is developmental learning and each child moves along at her own pace.

How will these skills help later on? It's obvious that they are learning many concepts of early math skills with this exercise. What might not be as obvious is the organization and categorization skills that will help your child when it's time to handle multiple notebooks, papers, books, folders, schedules and on and on. The ability to quickly see how things can be organized is an essential academic learning skill. Sometimes she will see that size works best, others ordering or sequencing is most efficient. These skills all grow from sorting and categorizing.

To think you can build such an important skill while playing with your child!

Further resources on early learning can be found at

Sleep Disturbances

From time to time, people of all ages experience difficulties either falling asleep or staying asleep. Young children are no exception. In fact, as infants mature into toddlers and preschoolers, sleep patterns change a great deal. Even once a pattern of sleep is developed there are occasional nights of restless sleep or sleeplessness.

However, when sleeplessness or what is termed "disturbed sleep" occurs more than once a week for several months, there is reason to be concerned. Certainly, it's time to look for underlying causes.

Disturbed sleep is described as difficulty falling asleep, frequently awakening during the night, and/or difficulty falling back to sleep. When these disturbances occur more than twice a week for a period of weeks, our bodies and minds do not get the rest and recuperation required to function at full capacity. This is especially true for children. For each continuing week of disturbed sleep, their body and brain functioning will be more and more impaired.

In children, these physical and mental symptoms are expressed as irritability upon awakening and often continuing during the day, dozing during quiet or inactive times, inattentiveness, and, oddly enough, difficulty falling asleep the following night. Children may awaken fretful during the night for no apparent reason. You can easily see how this pattern can result in problems during normal daytime activities.

Sleep disturbances are also common in children (and adults) experiencing grief. Experts on grief indicate that children who have lost a close family member, teacher or friend often experience a period of disturbed sleep. Allowing children to express their feelings of sadness through creative activities such as drawing pictures, writing letters or stories, and so forth can allow the child to release repressed feelings, thus allowing the mind and body to rest better at night. A warm bath and a few minutes of bedtime reading together assists your child in falling asleep. If your child appears to regress to a younger age (e.g. wanting a nightlight, sucking thumb) allow him the comfort of such expressions and monitor his willingness to gradually return to normal bedtime patterns. It shouldn't take too many days for your child to begin to sleep better and return to normal behavior patterns. If disturbed sleep continues for more than a month, please consult with your pediatrician if you have not already done so.

Web links for further reading: 
Excellent article on children's sleep issues, with developmental benchmarks and helpful strategies.

Choosing Your Daycare and Preschool

Most parents ask themselves when is the right age to introduce your child to preschool. While preschool is for many a natural transition from daycare, for others it is the first time their child has entered a "classroom" environment. This article discusses some of the questions and issues surrounding the selection of both daycare services and preschools.

Full-time daycare is now available for children of all ages. Daycare for infants is usually less classroom-like and more home-like with far fewer children (no more then 3 children per adult is recommended). As the children grow older the ratio can increase, but there should never be more than 5 toddler age children per adult. There really is no right or wrong age for attending either daycare or preschool. If you're not sure whether out-of-home care is for your child, talk to other parents or visit some facilities and see what goes on. Then take an honest look at how you and your child spend your day and ask if these services might benefit either you. Children can thrive at home with a stay-at-home mom and that same child can thrive at a care giving facility surrounded by other children who are all learning to be part of larger social groups. Stay at home parents will want to provide their infant and toddler social experiences with other children since socialization is an important process for your child's development.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children website offers parents valuable information. For further reading on choosing a child care service and other related topics, go to

Early Learning Strategies

Parents of young students are often surprised at the complexity of kindergarten and first grade requirements. We seem to remember more playtime and naps then reading from books, taking high pressure skill tests and having to write in journals. Well, you're right. Times have changed those first years in full-time classrooms.

Most educational systems have adopted the findings of research which tells us those early years are the best years for learning. These are the years where brain cells are at the peak, neuronal activity is most active and the acquisition of new material (learning) is most effective. Alternative approaches to traditional instruction are based on the belief that the early years are best suited to exploratory or discovery learning. An example of this can be found in Montessori school settings.

So, kindergartners are exploring their reading and writing skills through activities that seem far advanced from what we knew. Exactly how does a kindergarten student keep a journal? In whatever way they can. Actually, this activity is generally non-graded and allows each student to express themselves at whatever developmental stage their writing may be. For instance, most entering kindergartners are drawing in their journal. Then they are asked to begin to add print letters to their pictures (not necessarily correct letters) that they can use to re-tell their journal story. Eventually, correct letters are used. Along the way, the teacher is gradually correcting and encouraging the students to practice their developing skills.

While this is designed to be a non-graded, non-pressured activity, there will be students in class who know and can write most (or all) of the alphabet. Others will not be able to write their names. These differences should not be a focus of the lesson, but will naturally become apparent with time. How the teacher (and parent) handle differing skill levels can determine whether a child feels a sense of accomplishment or a sense of failure.

The key is to celebrate the successes. However slight, however slow, however great; it's the growth we celebrate. Improvement is an individually determined concept and is the true goal of learning. So, equally and without prejudice, celebrate the successes of your young learner.

Read more about early writing strategies by clicking here.

Updated May 14, 2010


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