When Bonding With Baby Isn’t So Easy

Mothers love their children automatically, right? Well, not always, especially if Mom has pre-existing psychological problems. If Mom is lucky enough to find her way to therapy, there’s a treatment that could help.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/ Metropolitan Museum of Art/Public Domain

At the joint annual meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a case was shared of a mother who felt no attachment toward her child. The case is ongoing, and therefore the details are confidential, but Dr. Neil Boris of Tulane University (who did not present the case) detailed the treatment plan that was being used.

The Circle of Security is a model for helping a parent with attachment problemsunderstand how to respond to the child’s needs. Attachment isn’t just about the parent protecting the child, Dr. Boris said. Instead, “attachment and social interaction sculpts the brain” for future social interactions.

The Circle of Security protocol is designed to help parents recognize that a child needs to feel welcomed, but can turn away and become distant if a parent’s behavior is unpredictable. Parents should make the child feel safe when he or she needs safety, but give children space when they need to explore, said Dr. Boris.

In the case presented at the meeting, the mother was abused by her uncle as a preteen, then rejected by him at puberty. The doctor presenting the case used the Circle of Security protocol, which involves detailed assessments including video interviews with the mother and videos of interactive play sessions of the mother and child together. He helped the patient realize that her history of abuse was contributing to her fear of bonding with her baby daughter, to protect herself from being hurt should the child reject her.

Even the best parent/child relationships have their bad days, but for those with genuine attachment problems, there is help. And judging from the packed room for this clinical case presentation, psychiatrists want to provide that help.

—Heidi Splete (@hsplete on Twitter)

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Filed under IMNG, Psychiatry

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