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Session 9/15

Page 5/10 Insecure avoidant attachment behaviour

Insecure avoidant attachment behaviour

If a child experiences caregivers who are not very accessible, who are very demanding and do not show much affection for the child, it may later develop an avoidant style towards the caregiver and other important persons. It may try to “be a little grown-up” or “be its own parent”.

  • The child will not react with cries or sadness when the caregiver leaves. For example, it might not react if moved to another placement
  • It will be very consumed with toys or other activities such as computer games, and it will not contact the caregiver when she comes back. It tends to ignore her care.
  • Older children and youth will not ask for help or care even when they need it.
  • They will try to control their feelings, and will not show clearly what they feel.
  • They will try to resolve problems on their own much too early in development.
  • They will have problems remembering and talking about sad or difficult events such as separation and loss.
  • They will value indepence and resist showing or talking about emotions.
  • They will often appear to be cynical, stressed, emotionally disconnected, and say things like “Who cares?”, “You can’t trust adults”, etc. They tend to be in a state of aloneness.
  • They often appear to be lonely and sad, but refuse to talk about it.

Children and youth with an avoidant strategy try to overcome loss and lack of care by giving up searching for care and instead attach to things, such as a teddy bear or a certain activity instead of people in order to create a feeling of security. In fact children with avoidant behaviour have a strong need for care, but they have learned to suppress it because the first caregivers were too demanding, unemotional and unavailable. This means that they are very often misunderstood as “cold”, and forgotten in daily work because they do not seek caregiver attention and help.


With children who tend to avoid care, some secure caregiver dimensions are important:

  • Give the child care whenever you can see that it needs care – take care initiatives even though the child or teenager didn’t ask for it or wants to be alone.
  • Show that you are always accessible and ready to pay attention or talk with the child.
  • Show your own emotions readily and “translate” what you think the child may feel into your own words. For example: “Oh dear, you fell on the floor – that must really hurt – come here and sit with me for a while”.
  • Be gently insisting and patient – the child needs you, but it is afraid to show it.
  • Use indirect contact: it can be very difficult for an avoidant child to talk about personal things, but it will often be interested in objects and much attached to them. So for example, you can look at an interesting object like the child’s teddy bear or a drawing and talk with the child about how “the teddy bear feels” or what the figures and objects in a drawing, a book or a computer game are doing, thinking or feeling. The child will then talk about itself “through the thing” you share an interest in.


  • Do you see children in your care acting like this?
  • How do you respond when they avoid your concern, interest, acknowledgements?
  • Do you remember anyone in your family or do you have friends who act like this?
  • What is difficult for you when children act in an avoid ant way towards you?