Psychologists and Evergreen Psychotherapy Center co-founders Terry Levy and the late Michael Orlans developed Corrective Attachment Parenting (Orlans & Levy 2006) to meet the needs of children who have experienced maltreatment, significant losses, and disrupted attachment. Parenting such children — especially as a healing parent — is quite a challenging task because these youth are typically mistrustful, angry, defensive, defiant and reluctant to be emotionally close. Effective parenting requires the maturity to look in the mirror (have self-awareness); the patience to remain calm; the firmness to set appropriate limits; the heartfelt desire to give plenty of caring, compassion and love; and the flexibility to meet the unique needs of the child. To be a therapeutic parent, parents need the right information, skills, support, attitude, self-awareness and hope.

Maintaining a positive attitude is a key to success, but it is not easy to do. Parents often feel hopeless, demoralized, and powerless to help their children and create family harmony. When parents are demoralized, they lack the motivation and determination necessary to create positive change, and they may project their hopeless feelings on to their children. How do parents increase their sense of hope and then instill it in their children? Hope is increased when you believe you are able to produce a workable pathway toward your goals (“I know I can do this”), and have the ability to move consistently toward these goals (“I have the skills”). This leads to success, and hope is a by-product of success. Confident parents are more likely to succeed with their children, and children feel more hopeful when their parents are confident and optimistic.

The importance of a positive expectation of success is found in the placebo effect. A placebo is a harmless substance (sugar pill) given as if it were medicine. Research has shown many people have positive reactions because they believe they will get better—they have a positive expectation of success. In other words, if we believe in something enough, we can make it happen.

Therapeutic parents realize that their relationship with their child is the primary vehicle for creating positive change. Through thoughtful and corrective actions, reactions, and a safe and constructive emotional environment, parents can foster positive behaviors, character traits, mindsets, and brain growth. Parents help shape the growth of their child’s brain by helpful and healing experiences. Brain cells (neurons) “fire” during social and emotional experiences, and neurons firing together facilitate the growth of new connections, causing a “rewiring” in the brain.

By employing the concepts and skills of Corrective Attachment Parenting, children can develop the following skills and abilities, which are essential for success in life:

  • experience secure attachments with parents/caregivers; give and receive affection and love; feel empathy and compassion; and have a desire to belong;
  • view oneself, others, and the world in a realistic and positive way; have positive core beliefs, mindset, and self-esteem;
  • identify, manage, and communicate emotions in a constructive manner; exercise anger management, stress management, and self-control;
  • make healthy choices; solve problems and deal with adversity effectively;
  • utilize an inner moral compass, prosocial values, morality, conscience, and a sense of purpose;
  • be self-motivated; set and persevere toward goals, and achieve a sense of mastery, competence, and self-confidence;
  • maintain healthy relationships; able to share, cooperate, resolve conflicts, communicate effectively, and be tolerant of others; and
  • experience joy, playfulness, creativity, and a sense of hope and optimism.

Many children with attachment disorders are adopted by well-meaning parents who are ill-prepared to handle their severe emotional and behavioral problems. These children are unable to give and receive love and affection, constantly defy parental rules and authority, are physically and emotionally abusive to caregivers and siblings, and create ongoing stress and turmoil in the family. As a result of insufficient preplacement services (education, training, support, matching) and postplacement services (individual and family therapy, parent education, support) family members and marriages suffer.

Many parents of attachment disordered children have been “through the mill” of mental health and social service programs. They are commonly blamed for their child’s problems, denied access to social service records, and thoroughly frustrated in their attempts to get help. They are angry with their child, feel guilty and inadequate, and are often on the verge of relinquishment. The therapeutic challenge is to enhance parents’ motivation, positive emotion, faith and hope, and encourage a more effective framework for conceptualizing their parenting role and understanding their child.

Specialized parenting skills are required in order to be successful. Listed below are specific parenting concepts, skills, goals and methods that are learned during treatment:

Parents’ background: Parents’ or caregivers’ attachment histories play a significant role in their current lives. They must be aware of how prior family-of-origin issues influence their parenting attitudes and practices, marital relationships, and current psychosocial functioning.

Attachment begins with the parents: Parents and caregivers are responsible for creating a framework of love, sensitivity, empathy, caring, security and protection. They must model effective communication, coping and problem-solving skills, and management of emotions for their children.

New ideas and skills: Parenting concepts and techniques that are effective with many children fail miserably with attachment disordered children. Parents must be willing and able to learn totally new concepts and techniques of parenting that are effective with attachment disordered children.

Parenting for attachment: Effective parenting with attachment disordered children must provide the same key ingredients as secure parent-infant attachment. Parents provide a balance of structure and nurturance, which changes based on the developmental needs and capabilities of the child.

The “Four R’s”: Parents are taught that children are expected to be responsible, respectful, resourceful and reciprocal. Children are held accountable for their choices and actions, and for responsibilities as a family member (e.g. chores).

Support: Parents must have sufficient support from both inside and outside of the family. A united front is crucial in the parental team, as is support from extended family.

Hope: After years of unresolved conflict and failed attempts to remedy the problem, most parents come to us hopeless, demoralized and burned out. The parenting framework must instill and enhance a sense of hopefulness, enabling parents to experience success.

Specific parenting goals and skills:

  • Creating a healing environment
  • Providing clear and consistent structure
  • Caring for self and partner
  • Communicating effectively
  • Providing choices and consequences
  • Increasing family participation
  • Parenting creatively
  • Competency-based parenting

Basic objectives of effective parenting (goals for children):

  • Develop the capacity to form secure attachments and reciprocal relationships; the ability to give and receive love and affection.
  • Develop the internal resources necessary to make healthy choices, solve problems, and manage adversity effectively.
  • Cultivate a positive and realistic sense of self and self-in-relation to the world.
  • Learn to identify, manage and express emotions in a constructive manner.
  • Learn prosocial values and morality, as well as the self-discipline and self-control necessary to function successfully in society.
  • Develop the capacity for joy, playfulness and a positive meaning in life.