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Taming the Tiger While itís a Kitten 

First year solutions for babies at risk for Attachment Disorder 

By Nancy Thomas


    By watching for the signs, knowing the causes, and following the keys to bonding for high-risk infants you can:

  • Avoid a lot of heartache

  • Have a child who trusts and respects you

  • Have a child who knows how to love and cares about others

  • Avoid raising an angry, aggressive, defiant child

  • Stimulate brain development so your child can be successful in school and in life


Any of the following conditions occurring to a baby during the first 36 months of life puts them at risk:

  • Unwanted pregnancy

  • Pre-birth exposure to trauma, drugs or alcohol

  • Abuse (physical, emotional, sexual)

  • Neglect (not answering the babyís cries for help)

  • Separation from primary caregiver (i.e. Illness or death of mother or severe illness or hospitalization of the baby, or adoption

  • On-going pain such as colic, hernia or many ear infections

  • Changing day cares or using providers who donít do bonding

  • Moms with chronic depression

  • Several moves or placements (foster care, failed adoptions)

  • Caring for baby on a timed schedule or other self-centered parenting

High Risk Signs in Infants

  • Does not use crying appropriately to get someone to address needs

  • Often does not settle when needs are met by Mom (primary caregiver)

  • Overreacts or often startles to touch, sound and/or light

  • Listlessness with no medical reason (infant depression)

  • Limited holding onto or reaching for caregiver

  • Lack of appropriate stranger anxiety between 6 and 9 months of age

  • Poor sucking response

  • Does not smile back or respond with activity to smiles or baby talk

  • Developmental delays

  • Poor eye contact, lack of tracking

  • Self abusive behavior (head banging- self biting- hair pulling)

  • Is resistant to cuddling (stiff)

Keys to Bonding High Risk Babies-Every minute you invest holding your child, smiling into their eyes is 1 HOUR less pain when they are teens. If mom must be away four or more hours a day, she must hire someone for the baby to bond to. This person becomes primary and must remain in the babyís life for the first three years to prevent a bonding break during this crucial time.

  • Breast-feed if possible

  • Always hold bottle (NEVER prop it)

  • Carry the baby in a snugli or fabric carrier on the front, facing mom 4 to 6 hours daily

  • Massage baby 20 minutes each day while smiling and using high voice

  • Hold & rock infant with loving eye contact, smiles and singing or reading in happy "baby talk" each day

  • Feed sweet milk in Momís arms with soft eye contact, touch (stroke babyís face, hold fingers) loving voice.

  • Baby should nap daily resting skin to skin on Dadís chest,

  • Baby sleeps with or near parents at night, be careful to avoid falls

  • Do not allow baby to self-feed

  • No "baby carrier," baby is in arms

  • No stroller facing away from Mom

  • No one feeds baby except Mom

  • No one holds baby except for Mom and Dad unless less than 5 min per day

  • Baby must not be left to cry alone for longer than 3 minutes

  • Hold baby facing you-heart to heart

  • No exposure to TV for one full year

  • Delay painful medical procedures, if possible, until child is bonded

  • Play Mozartís music to soothe baby

  • Respond to babyís attempts to get your love and attention with joy!!

For more information:

High Risk Children without a Conscience by Magid and McKelvey

Attachment, Trauma, and Healing by Levy & Orlans CWLA press

Hope for High Risk by Foster Cline MD available at ACE 303 674 1910

Holding Time by Martha Welsh MD Simon & Shuster publishing

When Love is Not Enough a guide to parenting children with RAD by N. Thomas