Part of the problem with the attachment issue is that troubled children often indulge in difficult, disruptive, troublesome behavior. They certainly do that in the initial stages when they are trying to get to know a new range of practitioners. It is, at that time, very easy to misconstrue the nature of this behavior, because it is so troublesome, demanding, awkward to handle, and irritating. It is also easy to try to control or stop this behavior, whereas, in fact, much of this behavior is what is best described as attachment behavior.
It is the way these children have of making contact with practitioners. It is searching behavior. They are searching for ways of getting attached to practitioners and that is exactly what has to happen. However, if practitioners misconstrue the nature of the behavior, they may intrude into it in an inappropriate way and simply act in a controlling way as opposed to listening to what the behavior is about – finding out, in fact, about the demand that is being made.
What actually has to be considered is the appropriate way of responding so that the child can feel reassured and cared for, and therefore reach a point at which he/she is able to relinquish the difficult behavior. Practitioners have to hear the music behind the words and find a way to pursue the analogy further, strike the right note. Now this is not to say that there are not some situations in which limit setting is highly appropriate.
How those limits get set is, however, important because these can be set in a way that responds to the underlying need, as opposed to simply imposing controls in a rather heavy-handed way. Moreover, because attachment behavior is essentially behavior that children engage in, in their struggle to make links with adults, it actually gives practitioners an opportunity to get close to them. If practitioners are going to have an impact on a child and actually assist with personal development, then the child and practitioner have to get close to each other.
Many children who enter residential and daycare programs have had a hard time; they are stuck at a particular point in their development and they need caring adults who are not afraid of their awkward behavior or of being near them. This close involvement between child and practitioner is, in fact, a necessary part of the work practitioners have to do. Effective work with children cannot be done from a distance.
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