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Session 9/15

Page 7/10 Insecure disorganised attachment behaviour

Insecure disorganised attachment behaviour

Some children have experienced such levels of anxiety and fear with caregivers that even their avoidant or ambivalent attachment strategies break down. This state is called disoriented and disorganised behaviour, and may appear for short whiles or become more permanent. When a child acts like this, it is so anxious that it has lost any coherent way of coping with intimacy and separation. This behaviour is often seen if nobody has stimulated or cared for the child early in life, for example if the mother herself was severely neglected as a child, or if the parents were severe drug abusers, or victims of war and crisis while their baby was young.


The baby or young child may:

  • Tend to show fear towards the caregiver even though the caregiver acts securely.
  • Actively turn itself away when for example sitting on the caregiver’s lap.
  • Respond in bizarre ways to care:
    • The baby or child may turn stiff in fear when the caregiver enters
    • Stare beside the caregiver and avoid eye contact,
    • Scream in a monotonous way without any intention of making contact, repeat the same meaningless sounds or words all the time,
    • Or tend to disrupt care seeking abruptly: It may start contacting you, but suddenly starts doing something else in the middle of contacting, like playing or trying to beat you physically.


The older child or youth may have:

  • Short and superficial contact with persons and things.
  • Be very restless and unable to concentrate or focus on persons and things. Constantly start new activities but never finish them or being able to enjoy them.
  • Have no sense of personal limits (talk about intimate or private things with strangers).
  • Show indiscriminate contact (talks to anyone it meets, seek comfort and intimacy with complete strangers). Perhaps even show sexually indiscriminate behaviour.
  • Lack feelings of guilt, regrets or remorse.
  • May be very charming and have many contacts, but the child or teenager rarely has long term friends or deeper relations with specific caregivers.


In the severe cases, the child may develop “Attachment Disorder” around age 5-7: The child is unable to relate socially to others in a coherent way, and is not able to develop long lasting social relations with others. This lack of a coherent attachment strategy is a serious condition, and children with this behaviour more often develop personality disorders when they grow up (such as “Borderline”, “Antisocial Personality Disorder”, etc.).


If a child has experienced deprivation and random changes in early caregiver relations, everything is “delayed”. Multiple and/or unbearable early stress and aberrant care will cause child development to slow down, especially concerning social development, emotional development and brain development.

Consequently you must perceive the child as much younger than it is:

  • Divide the child’s age by three – what kind of contact is good for child that age, how well does the child understand instructions, how long can a child at that age concentrate?
  • You should ask yourself: At what age are the problems of this child normal?
  • You should prefer individual child/caregiver contact as much as possible, before you demand child/peer contact.
  • Prefer activities and dialogues that are relevant for younger children.
  • Be very patient and not have great expectations for quick development.
  • In daily activities you may exercise what babies learn from their mother:
    • Prolong eye contact, have many conversations, offer much physical contact, but be very aware of how much touching the child can cope with and show consideration for it.
    • You should plan very short activities and a very scheduled activity plans during the day.


  • Do you see children in your care acting like this?
  • How do you respond when they act in the ways described?
  • Do you remember anyone in your family or social network who act like this?
  • What is difficult for you when children act in a disorginized way?