What happens when these risk factors interrupt or upset the normal attachment process? Here are some of the most noteworthy signs, symptoms, and consequences of attachment dysfunction.

Signs, Symptoms, and Consequences

Manipulative Behaviors

If your child seems to be extremely needy or uses manipulative behavior, it’s worth checking with a licensed professional to see if she’s displaying attachment issues. Manipulative behaviors include:

  • badgering: asking you over and over and over again for the same thing;
  • throwing a tantrum: attempting to intimidate you;
  • threatening: saying things like “I’ll never talk to you again” or “I’ll just kill myself”; and
  • flattering: saying something like “My, Mommy, you look great today. Can I have a cookie now?”

Attachment can be harmed anytime a child’s needs, whether tangible or intangible, are frequently not met.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

A child who can’t trust and doesn’t feel safe—even when he truly is safe—will not be able to attach to others. The child with reactive attachment disorder will not be able to attach, not even with an extremely loving and nurturing parent. Feelings of fear and insecurity will push him into survival mode. In this condition, he reacts without thinking with a fight or flight behavior, and he’s incapable of responding to his environment in a rational way.

This reactivity in this child’s brain comes because an unattached child sees the world—accurately or not—as an unsafe place and is in a chronic state of panic. This child perceives every new stimulus as a threat. Living in an unsafe world (as the child sees it), means he always has to be on guard. Since he can never know when, how, or from whom the danger will come, being superalert becomes a way of life. Under these conditions:

  • the right hemisphere of the brain is overly activated (emotion, intuition, reactivity);
  • the left hemisphere of the brain is underactivated (reason, logic, linear processing, evaluation);
  • normal thinking becomes impossible, as a result.


A person who lacks attachment often has little or no concern for others. As a result, she has the potential to become destructive or violent.

Confusion with Other Symptoms

Attachment that isn’t secure can mix with or be hidden behind any number of legitimate social, psychological, and medical disorders. This makes it all the more difficult for you to figure out exactly what’s going on with your child. Attachment issues may be misinterpreted as

  • processing disorders,
  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • developmental delays,
  • learning disabilities,
  • separation anxiety,
  • post-traumatic stress disorder,
  • slow learning,
  • oppositional defiant disorder,
  • autism spectrum disorder,
  • being strong-willed,
  • anger management issues,
  • compulsive lying
  • kleptomania,
  • laziness,
  • eating disorders,
  • conduct disorder,
  • obsessive compulsive disorder,
  • sexual promiscuity, violent, aggressive behaviors,
  • sleep disorders.

If your child has been labeled with several of these issues, yet nothing seems to really fit well, consider professional help to see if attachment disorder is the underlying root cause.