Attachment are the threads that bind us to humanity. They help to form the path for how we interact with others and how we see ourselves in the world.
To children who have experienced trauma or not raised in an environment where a concentrated bond with a caregiver can form, the world is a very scary place.
As we help a child grow these broken attachments, the threads are often very fine and difficult to see.
Dr. Erik Erikson, renowned researcher on human development, believed each stage of development needed to face a conflict in order to successfully emerge with a sense of mastery of the stage; the conflict often being the turning point.
I witnessed this when I received a call from the school stating my seven-year-old daughter had beaten up three boys during recess. She had been suspended earlier in the year for pinching the class rabbit to make it cry, so their tolerance level was already low. Understandable.
They stated I should pick her up immediately and they would deal with the details later as this might involve expulsion. I understand their frustration but when I picked up my little girl she looked beaten down. God prompted me not to speak, but to listen.
I made lunch for us and told her I wanted to understand what upset her and to see if I could help her find a better solution.
What I learned, and was later verified, is that she beat up the boys because she noticed them surrounding and kicking at a little girl cowered against the wall. She told them to stop and when they responded, “oh yeah, well, make us"; well, she did.
This was her pivot point, the conflict that presented her with a choice; and she chose what was unfamiliar but exampled as the right thing to do. I told her I was proud of her for defending the little girl and offered another a way to handle such a situation might be to tell the playground duty. As a child without attachment until the age of 20 months, I knew she did not trust adults and healthy autonomy was still obscure to her, so going to the duty was the last thing she would think of, but I planted the seed.
I then tucked away “she will defend the weak” and partnered with God on next steps.
From the moment I learned she recognized the need to care for someone in need, I created opportunities for this unfamiliar emotion to grow within her. When a spider came into the house, I called upon her to rescue it by catching it in a jar and setting it free. When her sister fell and skinned her knees and palms, I invited her to place damp paper towels on her sister’s gravel stain skin. Anywhere empathy or nurturing could be injected, I called it out.
As I allowed for opportunities to unfold, I also prayed that God would work to make compassion not just a learned response, but something that was growing innately within her.
One of many threads perhaps, but how powerful they become when woven together!