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Taming the Tiger While It’s A Kitten: First Year Solutions for Babies at Risk for Attachment Disorder

infants and toddlers reactive attachment disorder (rad) Oct 30, 2022
baby playing in leaves

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 baby’s 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 don’t 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 results is ONE HOUR less pain when they are teens. If mom must be away for six or more hours a day, she must hire someone for the baby to bond to. This person becomes primary, and must remain in the baby’s 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 and rock infant with loving eye-contact, smiles, and singing, or reading in joyful “baby talk” each day
  • Feed sweet milk in Mom’s arms, with soft eye contact, touch – stroke baby’s face, hold fingers – and speak in a soothing, loving voice
  • Baby should nap daily resting skin-to-skin on Dad’s 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 carried 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 television for one full year
  • Delay painful medical procedures, if possible, until child is bonded
  • Play Mozart’s music to soothe baby
  • Respond to baby’s attempts to get your love and attention with joy!!


For more information:

  1. Taming The Tiger While It’s A Kitten 2 CD set
  2. “Attachment, Trauma, and Healing” by Levy & Orlans CWLA press
  3. “Hope for High Risk” by Foster Cline MD available at ACE (303) 674-1910
  4. “Holding Time” by Martha Welch MD Simon & Shuster publishing
  5. “When Love is Not Enough – A guide to parenting children with RAD” by Nancy Thomas


Photo by Tatiana Syrikova

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